Children's Literature Research
The Changing Representation of Female Characters and Feminist Heroines in Children's Literature from Baum to Montgomery
Once children can read, they are cast into the literature world – characters, themes, settings, and plots. Children's literature brings concepts like friendship, nature, education, discovery, religion, and the structure and operation of society so that the child feels connected to the material. Some have argued that children's literature only comes to existence when it can portray child or child-like characters or appeal to the child's point of view (Grenby, 2007, p.277). children's literature has a long, global history that originates in the traditional and folk oral tales. In Britain, children's books can be traced back to the eighteenth century, with such classics as John Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744). In the nineteenth century, children's books formed a distinguishable genre within the literary world. Expansion of children's literature to the international level in the nineteenth century saw the female protagonists' advancement, considering early children's readings used the male-child protagonists only. Some of the influential literary works in producing strong female protagonists are Lyman Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of OZ (1900), together with Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908). This paper will explore the changing representation of female characters in children's literature by focusing on these two literary works.
Born in 1856, Lyman Frank Baum spends most of his early years indoors after being diagnosed with a week heart. This allowed for extensive reading. His cultural career began with writing articles for local newspapers. Baum's life experiences permeated the setting and plot structure of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. at some point, Baum attended the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which included the White City, a model city with lights that created the impression of a jewel. This impression is credited with assisting Baum to create the Emerald City in the novel (Rogers, 2002).
On the other hand, Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in 1874, and at the age of twenty-one months, her mother passed away. Shortly after that, Lucy's father remarried and moved with her new wife, leaving her daughter to be brought up by her maternal grandparents. In her childhood, Montgomery undertook extensive reading and led a life with strict discipline, for she lived in an isolated area with few friendships (Bienert, 2009). Both Baum and Montgomery had a reading culture that stimulated their imaginations and influenced the passion for writing.
These selected readings, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables, creatively allude to the two writers' personal life experiences. Despite being born in different decades, in different counties, and their gender differences – Baum is male and Montgomery a female, they both produced two strikingly similar children's novels that deal with female protagonists and their respective journeys (Becker, 2013). Given the difference in publication dates for the two novels, they are well placed in exploring the change in women's representation in children's literature.
Feminist Theory and children's literature
The nineteenth-century saw the initial shifting of the representation of women in children's literature. An example of this is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Alcott writes a perfect read for young girls, but the novel transcends most gender stereotypes of the nineteenth century. For example, through the characters Jo and Laurie, Alcott portrays the two as nonconforming to their gender-stereotypical roles. Jo vacillates between a more traditional role and feminist character, while Laurie has more stereotypical feminine attributions (Bender, 2017). Though Alcott explores the women's roles in the nineteenth century, the book Little Women is also a strong affirmation of feminist's beliefs, and she presents them with respect and empathy. The enduring effect of this book is evident in that it has been adapted into a film (Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2019).
Exploring children's literature all through the decades has been done through various literary theories; however, feminist literary theory is considered to provide the most insightful approach for this paper. For this paper, analysis is done using the concept of influential feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir (Simons, 2010). Concerning The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Anne of…traditional role of women is changing (Montgomery, 2004, p.6). Diana Barry is described as being "a very pretty little girl" who is "good and smart" (Montgomery, 2004, p.38), which is an indication of her inclination to the feminine attributes of a woman by society.
2.3. Analysis of secondary male characters
The characterization of secondary male characters in Anne of Green Gables emphasizes their subservient behavior, which shows the reversal of male and female roles in society (Becker, 2013). First, male characters in the novel are scarce, which illustrates females' significance and counters male leads' reliance. Only two male characters are identifiable in the novel; Matthew Cuthbert and Gilbert Blythe. Matthew is portrayed as "the shyest man alive" who "hated to have to go among strangers or to any place where he might have to talk" (Montgomery, 2004, p.3). Gilbert Blythe first appears strong and dominant, but as the story progresses, he is gentle and soft (Montgomery, 2004, 72). These characters serve to cement the emancipated role of the woman in the twentieth century.
Classical children's books are meant to be educational and entertaining, and through-provoking to make the reader explore imaginative freedom and excitement. Baum and Montgomery have developed vivid imageries of female protagonists; however, consider that these books where written in different centuries. The level at which feminist ideologies have been employed can be seen. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, penned in the nineteenth century, has employed feminists at a fairly subtle level; moreover, at this time, it was only when the society had begun to challenge societal ascribed gender roles. On the other hand, in Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, feminist concepts are well developed, and the setting of the literary piece indicates this. In Baum's work, the female protagonist still has some major stereotypical elements of the female. Even though the secondary male characters do not largely measure male stereotypes, they still are present and still shine throughout the novel.
On the other hand, Montgomery significantly develops female protagonists while simultaneously making secondary male characters very dime. Therefore, it…
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