Orphan Stories

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Throughout our lives we move from one story to the next. Whether we are listeners, readers or writers "we live our lives immersed in stories.' From the many stories we encounter, both fiction and non-fiction, the orphan figure stands out as one of the most prominent figures in literature. Orphan figures have prevailed in the literary arena for centuries, from ancient poetry, folktales, and myths to modern day novels. This constant recurrence of the orphan figure in literature emphasizes the need to understand the significance attached to it. However, according to the editors of Bastardy and its Comparative History literatures great interest on the orphan figure is poorly reflected in literary criticism. It is further stated that if at all criticism on the orphan is dealt only as an element in the commentaries on the literary works in which they appear. Thus far the orphan has failed to seek out a treatment of its own in most literary criticisms. Since the extent of literary criticism dedicated to the orphan is diminutive, this thesis undertakes the task of filling this critical gap by examining the thematic and formal importance of the orphan hero in the works of three major eighteenth century British novels. Although the orphan has existed in the literary arena for centuries, the representation and attitude towards the literary orphan figure has transformed over time. Alison Findley's research on the portrayal of the orphan figure in English renaissance drama assert that fifteenth and sixteenth century literature positions the orphan along with the thief, the beggar and the prostitute that symbolized the malfunctioning social institutions. Her research further states that the orphan figure is an embodiment of the illicit relationships and degenerating moral values of society. Unfortunately, it was the child who was born fatherless or abandoned by the parents that was deemed responsible and punished by the social institutions for threatening the existing social order, the patriarchy, the traditional family structure as well as undermining religious and moral values. Social institutions denied the orphan the right to inherit, the right to own property. Furthermore, until law reformation in 198- a child that was born out of wedlock was declared illegitimate in the eyes of the law and of the church? Even if the parents got married after the birth. Society marginalized the child that resulted from extramarital affairs rather than the adults who theoretically should bare all responsibility for this alleged moral depletion of society, and the destruction of the order of nature. ------- notes that the orphan figure shed its untamed and negative representation of the past and entered the developing novel as a heroic figure in eighteenth century English novel.(ck article). The establishment of orphan as heroic figure in eighteenth century literature is commonly associated with the dawn of the enlightenment and romanticism in the eighteenth century. Furthermore, the socio-historic explanation correlates the increasing philanthropic gestures for example the establishing of foundling hospitals and the increased attention on the child with the rise in positive orphan figures in literature. This literary revolution was perceived as a reflection of the rise in the care and protection of orphaned and abandoned children, in other words an expression of social concern. This study is committed to the eighteenth century English novel because this was when the literary orphan came to be celebrated as a heroic figure in English literature, thus marking a notable departure from earlier representations of the orphan. This socio-historical commentary is valid however; it disregards the fact that the novels are not accurate portrayals of society. Important facts: first the philanthropic attitude in the novels is simply not a reflection of the literal changes in society, the novels cannot be classified an expression of social concern or as a...
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