Life Journey as Gendered Rites of Passage ----the Use of Journey and the Socializing Nature of Children’s Literature

Topics: Gender role, Gender, Boy Pages: 7 (2603 words) Published: December 13, 2012
Keren Zhu
Children’s Literature
Tutorial: AT02 (Monday 10:30-11:15)

Life Journey as Gendered Rites of Passage
----The Use of Journey and the Socializing Nature of Children’s Literature The plot structure of children’s literature constructed in form of a journey represents the process in which children gain knowledge of the world through exploration, transforms from innocent children to experienced adult. Readers of children’s literature go through rites of passage from childhood to adulthood by identifying themselves with the transformed characters, turning the experience of reading about the journey into a process of socialization. This is manifest in children’s literature’s differentiating approach to depicting male and female protagonists’ journey and its gendered socializing effects on readers. In this essay, by analyzing two of Grimm Brothers’ well-known fairy tales—Little Red Cap and Iron John through compare and contrast, I will demonstrate how life journey gone through by the two protagonists serves as rites of passage for both themselves and the readers, and how the socializing function of children’s literature is illustrated by gendered depiction of their life journey. This essay is divided into two parts. In the first part, I will apply Arnold Van Gennep’s famous theory of rites of passage in analyzing three stages on the journey of growth that the two protagonists go through, and connect it with the nature of children’s literature. In the latter part, I will contrast the journey of the male and female protagonists and show how the gendered journey as rites of passage reinforces gender stereotype and reveal children’s literature as a form of ideological imposition. The plot structures of both stories are constructed in the form of a quest or journey that substantiates the coming of age process of the two protagonists. Journey as a metaphor symbolizes the process in which a child explores the unknown world, gains knowledge and experience, and comes to terms with his or her inner anxieties. For example, at the beginning of both stories, the palace where the boy lives in and the girl’s cottage are located in the forest, which symbolizes the dangerous and unknown surrounding them. It is by leaving home and embarking on the journey into the forest, that they start exploration of the unknown adult world. The journey is a process of self-transformation. As the journey goes on, they gain deeper understanding of the adult world, which transforms them from innocent and ignorant children into experienced and knowledgeable adults. For example, Little Red Cap learns the lesson of not talking to male strangers through her experience of encountering and being devoured by the wolf, and becomes more alert and experienced. The boy gains experience of suffering and hard work through his contact with Iron John the wild man and transforms from a carefree boy to a qualified and mature monarch. According to Van Gennep’s theory on rites of passage (21), the ritual process of coming into age is divided into three stages: separation, transition, and re-incorporation. When it is applied to the two stories, we find that young protagonists experience exactly the three stages on their journey of transition from childhood to adulthood. Both children attempt to disobey with their mother through stealing or deviating from a set path. This marks their assertion of self-identity. This drives them to separate themselves from their family and embark on a journey to the unknown world. On their journey, they experience transition of identity through a rather drastic process that usually involves pain and hardship. It is through this process that they eventually reincorporate into the adult world with newly gained experience and skills. In Iron John, in separating himself from his parents live to follow the wild man, the boy also temporarily separates himself from civilization represented by the...
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