November 25, 2012
Images of Childhood
“It is my opinion that a story worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” ― C.S. Lewis(Lewis, 38) Stories read in childhood influence, invoke thought, and open doors that we find ourselves going through as adults. What happens in childhood defines how we live our lives today. However, the luxury of “childhood” and the plethora of literature that is available to us at the present was not always accessible. In the past the view of childhood was quite different, but through gradual reform became what it is today. The image of childhood has had three major steps of change, starting with the “adult” child of the early 15 and 1600’s, the true “child” that the Puritans discovered and finally, the innocent and playful child of the Victorian Age. Before the reform happened, it is important to set the stage of what childhood was like. Picture a home in England’s mid 1500’s, where the family sits after dinner around the fireplace. The father and son are dressed alike, as are the mother and daughter. The father reads the Holy Bible in a solemn tone, telling the story of Lot’s wife who turned into a pillar of salt for disobeying the Lord. Other than the Bible, the only thing that the children read are school lessons or stories that are heavily dressed in morality, full of admonishments, exhortations and instructions, solely for the purpose of didacticism. The children are viewed as smaller versions of adults, given the same responsibilities and duties that were to be upheld. There was no “childhood”; the sons and daughters would take on roles of the parents soon as possible. In a time where the lifespan was short and healthy babies were a rare thing, children were introduced to the adult world quickly, no line being drawn between child and adult. As a result there was no specific literature for children.
“ I do not know of any survival from the age of manuscript that can be called a children’s story. But there were manuscripts that embodied lessons for children.” (Townsend, 17)
The next step in children's literature came with the Puritans, who strived for religious excellence and, through their concern for the children’s souls, finally recognized them distinct from adults. They felt that children were full of sin and unless there was something to help guide the children out of that sin, then the children would die in sin. The result was the first literature specifically for children. (Riverside Anthology, pg 2) They were mostly poems and short stories designed to lead toward God. Sandford and Merton(Day, 4, 1795-98), were stories about two boys,Harry Sanford, the example of pure good, and Tommy Merton,a snobbish and naughty child. The two are taught by the elder man Mr. Barlow, who helps them and gives the boys a virtuous outlook on the world and science. They have long discussions about what is right and how to follow God; in the end the naughty boy repents and is changed into a good boy. It was a common theme of teaching a lesson or a moral to a child through story. In the same manner Aesop's Fables were a popular reading material, offering a short, sweet parable where the moral was apparent and it was enticing to the children through the thought of characterizing animals and inanimate objects.
“A Lion often prowled about a pasture where three bulls graze together. He had tried without success to lure one or the other of them to the edge of the pasture. He had even attempted a direct attack, only to see them form a ring so that from whatever direction he aproached he was met by the horns of one of them.Then a plan began to form in the lion's mind. Secretly he started spreading evil and slanderous reports of one bull against the other. The three bulls, distrustingly, began to avoid one another, and withdrew to a different part of the pasture to graze. Of course, this was exactly what the lion wanted. One by one he fell upon...
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