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Ethics in Pinocchio, Little Snow-white and Other Children’s Literature

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is Ethics?
  3. Tremendous Ethical Problems
  4. Internal Struggle and Imbalance of Power
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works Cited


Ethics has a twofold meaning. First, ethics is based on the standards of right and wrong which prescribe what humans do in terms of right, obligations, benefits to society, and fairness. Ethics refers to those standards that force the logical obligations to abstain from rape, theft, murder, violation, and fraud. Ethical standards also refer to those that enjoy honesty, sincerity, and sympathy. Ethical standards include standards that are related to rights, such as the right of life, the right of freedom, and the right of privacy. These standards are appropriate standards because they are supported by consistent and well-founded reasons.

Second, ethics refers to the study and development of one’s standards. Feelings, laws, and social norms can swerve from what is ethical. Therefore, it is important to consistently check one’s standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well founded. As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expressess my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to extent of the difference, is not democracy. ‘

This research paper deals with ethics in children’s literature. The stories that are used for this paper are The Big Friendly Giant, Pinocchio, Little Snow-White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rainbow Fish, and Urashima Taro and the Turtle. The research question for this paper is: “To what extent do certain characters struggle with a problematic ethical attitude, and how could that internal struggle lead to an imbalance of power? Accordingly, the thesis statement chosen for this paper is: ‘Certain story characters have a tremendous ethical problems which lead to an internal struggle and imbalance of power.’

In this paper, the characters of the chosen fairy tales come across a lot of problems. Therefore, they have enormous ethical problems. Despite the different motives behind their ethical problems, in most of the stories, story charaters do indead overcome moral troubles and live their lives.

What is Ethics?

Ethics is not primary about sex, not based on religon, not relative to the society that you live in, and ethics is not good in theory. Then the question is what is ethics? There should be a distinction between living according to what people judge to be the right ethical standards and living according to what people judge to be the mistaken ethical standards. After hearing the word ethics, we might think about who believes it is wrong to lie, cheat, steal and so on, and who does not.

We found out that people who do not live according to the conditional ethical standards and believe for some reason that they are not doing anything wrong then they are living according to ethical standerds. When a person is doing something wrong according to us, but he can justify his actions, it shows that he is living according to the ethical standerds. Justifiation must be of certain kind. For example, justification for self-interest will not do. When Macbeth thought about killing Duncan that he could be king was not justified.

Since ancient years the philosophers have expressed that ethics is accepted from a point of view that is somehow universal. The Golden Rule that was attributed to Moses, found in the book of Leviticus and is also connected to Jesus tells us ‘ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’- in other words it is saying be kind to other people as you want them to be kind to you. The Stoics in the Roman era held that ethics derives from universal natural law.

The idea was developed on the hand of a man called Kent and his idea was to ‘ Act on that only maximum through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.’ The question is can we derive an ethical theory from this universal aspect to guide us about what is right and what is wrong? A lot of philosophers tried to do this, but it was without general acceptance. The issue is if you try to describe the aspect of ethics in formal ways there will be a wide range of ethical theories that have been done before; on the other hand, if you try to let-up your own description of the universal ethics you will be charged with contradicting your own beliefs about this topic.

After the World War Two was over, the choice of books for young people increased. The books includes subject about ethical issues, the present, and about what is happining around them allowing the children and adolescents to stat thinking about these issues. In the essay of Claudia Mills her new text Ethics and Children’s Literature indicates that the history of children’s literature is predicated on the hope that these stories will change the readers to become better. This hypothesis of the power of literature to change its readers to become better could present a dilemma. The child reader is sometimes unable to understand the moral of the story. Therefore, an adult must enhance this.

Methods of ethics determine what individual human beings want or what is ‘right’ for them to do. According to Rawls ‘ Both ethics and politics are distinguished from positive sciences by having their special and primary object to determin what ought to be, and not to ascertaine what merely is, has been, or will be’.

Most people believe that there is a strong relationship between morality and motivation. People not only seek the object but also do the right thing for the good reasons. In fact, we are often willing to forgive someone for doing bad things if it is for the right reasons. Ruth Grant claims that there are two very different types of motivations: incentive and praise. Incentive motivation uses the method of ‘If-then’. They set up expectations before the task is attempted. The message is: if you do something for me then I’ll do something for you. Praise motivation works differently. It uses the ‘Now-that’ method. They admit a job well done after the task is completed. Now that you have done something well, they will admit your achievement.

Plaisance shows in her book how communication interacts with the practice of care, and how ethics of care informs communication and media by posting a moral injunction to maintain relations. Plaisance says that ‘ethics underscorses the significance of pregnancy as a form of mediated communication, really childhood relations and gender dynamics of care-giving in the development of communicative ability, as well as the role that communication plays in shaping care ethics as a moral orientation’. Here Plaisance explaines how pregnancy affects on the communication with others, how the relationship between the two sex helps in developing the ability of communication, and how communication played a role in forming ethical care as a moral direction.

In the book Entrance by Story Crago argues that the the brain instructs readers preference either for stories based on emotions or those based on reason, and it is age-related. While Maria Nikolajeva is not fully subscribing to Crago’s model, Maria’s article shows how children and young readers could balance between emotions and ethics. Crago’s argument was built on the study of Iain McGlichrist, The Master and his Emissary (2009) which examines how the hemispheres in our brain works.

The right hemisphere is emotional while the left is rational. Recent brain research shows that the hemispheres develop at a different pace. In infanthood and childhood the right hemisphere dominantes the left. The left developes over adolescence when young people learn how to control their emotions and desires. Patrick Hogan claims that emotions are predominantly egoistic and ethics in constant of egostic emotion in favour of the well being of others. Blakey Vermeule, in her book ‘Why Do We Care about Literary Characters, claims that ‘readers use fictional characters to fix basic moral problems (p.xii), and our investment with characters is an ethical concern.’

Tremendous Ethical Problems

Ethical problems, also known as moral dilemmas, are situations in which the individual is in a conflict, choosing between equally desirable or undesirable situations, or balancing options. This chapter will present a discussion about the ethical problems that the following three stories have, Pinocchio, Little Snow-White, and Little Red Riding Hood.

The story of Pinocchio talks about a woodworker named Geppeto who takes a piece of wood from his friend. Geppeto carves a shape of a boy on the piece of wood, and it comes to life. He names him Pinocchio. Geppeto sells his coat, so that Pinocchio can go to school. Instead of going to school, Pinocchio goes out to play with his friends. He gets into a lot of troubles, and all he wants is to get back home to his father.

In this story, there are two characters that have ethical problems, and they are Pinocchio and his father Geppeto. From the beginning of the story Geppeto lies to his son. He tells him that he sold his coat because it kept him too warm, not because he wants his son to go to school. Pinocchio is a wooden puppet, so he does not know what is right and what is wrong. Pinocchio should look up to his father, but since Geppeto starts lying from the beginning Pinocchio becomes a liar, too.

Accordingly, Pinocchio faces a lot of ethical problems. As maintained by Accounting Ethics book ‘ the story of Pinocchio, merely as a tale of a boy whoes nose grows when he lies.’ Pinocchio is a special wooden puppet who walks and talks by himself but not a real boy. By being a puppet, he doesn’t know what is right and what is wrong. He has to acquire the principles of life from his surroundings.

Since his father started lying to him from the beginning, he thinks that lying is a right behavior. Pinocchio’s first lie is when he says that he is going to school, but instead he goes to a bright coloured booth and forgots all about school. His second lie is to the fairy when he tells her about the fox and the cat. When the fairy asks him about the coins, he says ‘ I have lost them,’ although he has them in his pocket. The fairy starts laughing at him because his nose is growing, and she knows that he is not telling the truth. Finally, when he understands that lying may get him in trouble, he decides to change his behavior and help his father. Because of his kindness to his father, the fairy rewards him by transferring him into a real boy.

Another ethical problem that Pinocchio faces is being selfish. Pinocchio does not appreciate what his father is doing to make him happy. Geppeto sells his coat, so that his son can go to school, but Pinocchio does not care about that. All he cares about is his happiness. When he leaves the house for a couple of days, he does not think that his father will be worried about him. Pinocchio is a selfish person who lacks any concern for the values of others, and does not see the need to return a favor for a favor.

After he is turned into a donkey, he realizes that what he has done is wrong and starts thinking of his father. While he is inside of the whale with his father, he realizes that he should think about the people that love him, not just of himself.

The other tale that has ethical problems is the tale of Snow White. It is a story that talks about an evil queen who is jealous of Snow White’s beauty. The whicked queen orders Snow White’s murder, but later on she discovers that Snow White is still alive and hiding in a cottage with seven dwarves. The queen gives SnowWhite a poisoned apple, who falls into a death-like sleep.

In the story the evil queen is jealous of Snow White which leads to an ethical problem. The queen has a mirror that always tells her ‘ You, my queen, are fairest of all.’ Snow White grows up into a beautiful girl. When the queen asks her mirror, ‘Who in this land the fairest of all,’ the answer is ‘ You, my queen are fair; it is true. But Snow-White is a thousand times fairer than you.’ After what the mirror tells the queen about Snow White, she becomes jealous of her beauty. The queen lives in a mental bubble were she thinks that she is superior to others. The queen desides to get rid of Snow White by asking the huntsman to kill her. Luckily, the huntsman takes pity on Snow White because of her beauty and says, ‘Run away you poor child,’ thinking that she will be killed by wild animals. Knowing that Snow White is not dead, that makes the queen more jealous and hateful. She decides to kill her with a poisoned apple. Knowing that there is someone more beautiful than her makes the queen jeaulous, oppressive, and spiteful.

Another character that has an ethical problem is Snow White. Snow is naïve, pure hearted, and innocent which makes her believe everything that is happening in front of her. She thinks that all people are good. Being naïve causes her trouble, as other people may take advantage of it such as her evil, whicked stepmother (queen). The queen takes advantage of Snow White three times. The first two times, she does not succed, but the third time she poisons Snow with an apple. As she is naïve and pure hearted, she does not think that it is the queen with that red apple

While Snow White is in the forest she finds a small cotage that has seven beds inside, she goes inside, and she finds out that the cottage belongs to the seven dwarves. They are kind toward her, but they also exploit her pure heart. They told her if you want to stay with us, you have to cook and clean the house before we come back home every day. They take advantage of her situation, so they can benefit from it.

The last story that has ethical problems is the story of Little Red Ridding Hood. It revolves around a girl called Little Red Ridding Hood. The girl walks through the woods to deliver food to her granny. On her way, she meets the wolf. She starts talking to him, and he tells her to pick some flowers for her sick grandmother. Meanwhile he goes to her grandma’s house and eats her granny. The wolf sleeps in grandma’s bed waiting for Red to come.

Little Red is kind, good, and gullible. When she is on her way to her grandmother, she meets the bad wolf and starts talking to him. She should always refrain from talking to starngers. She tells him were she is going showing how naive she is. Little Red can represent the bright sun which is ultimately swallowed by the terrible night and that is the wolf.

Little Red has another ethical problem, which is sexual maturity. Her red hood symbolizes the blood of menstruation, braving the ‘dark forest’ of womanhood, or it symbolizes the hymen. She is at the age where she wants to explore her body, and the wolf takes advantage of that.

The other character in the story is the wolf. He has a bad personality, and is scary and deceptive. The wolf can symbolize a man, who can be a lover, seducer, or a sexual predator. When he sees Red and starts talking to her, he notices how kind she is, but at the same time he sees how simple she is. He takes advantage of that by telling her to pick some flowers to her granny who gives him the opportunity to go to the house and eat her grandmother. When Red reaches the house, she sees how different her granny is. When she tells her ‘granny’ ‘what big teeth you have’ the wolf replies ‘All the better to eat you with, my dear’. He deceives her which leads to her rape.

Red’s kindness and the wolf’s hideousness leads up to Red’s rape. It shows that people who have a good, pure, and white heart sometimes will be deceived by the evil in this world. In this story it is the bad wolf.

Internal Struggle and Imbalance of Power

Internal struggle is the struggle occurring within someone’s mind. A character may struggle with emotional problems like fear of abandonment or relationships. Imbalance of power is the attempt of a character to use, served or perceived personal situations to apply to the youth’s behavior or to limt the victim’s ability to responed or stop their aggression. This chapter will discuss the internal struggle and imbalance of power that these three stories display: Rainbow Fish, Urashima Taro and the Turtle, and The Big Friendly Giant.

The Rainbow Fish is a story about the most beautiful fish in the entire ocean that refuses to share his wonderful scales with anyone. When his greed leaves him without any friends, he seeks advice from a wise octopus who counsels him to give away his beauty and discover how to be happy.

Rainbow Fish struggles between giving up his beautiful scales in order to make friends or to selfishly keep them and not having any friends. When the Rainbow Fish finds himself without any friends, he goes to a wise octopus seeking help from him. The octopus tells him, ‘Give a glittering scale to each of the other fish. You will no longer be the most beautiful fish in the sea, but you will discover how to be happy.’

After what the octopus told Rainbow, he finds himself in an internal struggle. He says ‘Give away my scales? My beautiful scales? Never. How could I ever be happy without them?’ Rainbow can not make a decision about the issue, until the little blue fish came again and tells him that he only wants one scale. Rainbow starts thinking about how loosing one scale will not harm him.

Internal struggle does not only impact on people negatively; it also impact on them in a possitive way. Being torn by different desires can influence people by inspiring them to take constructive actions towards growth and understanding of themselves and life in general.

Consequently, being in an internal struggle helps Rainbow Fish to take one step forward into happiness. When he decids to give one scale to the little blue fish, a strange feeling comes over Rainbow. He is delighted to give his scales to the other fish.

The Big Friendly Giant is also a story that talks about internal struggle. The BFG starts during the witching hour, a time in the middle of the night were all humans should be asleep. That is the time when ‘all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world to themselves.’ That makes Sophie a trespasser, and that is how she sees the BFG blowing dreams into the children’s bedrooms.

Sleeping humans give the giants their power over them. At night, giants have the power to catch humans and gobble them up without being spotted. The BFG uses his power to do something good to the humans. He blows good dreams into their windows, but when he sees that Sophie is spying on him he struggles. That leads to kidnapping her from the orphanage because he is worried that she will tell the whole world about him, and he will be captured and put into a zoo.

The BFG thinks that what other giants are doing, eating humans, is wrong. Unfortunately, being huge giants gives them the advantage and the power over the small sized giants. BFG can not do anything to help these humans until Sophie comes.

Sophie and the BFG struggle to find a way to inform the Queen of England about the danger that they are going to face soon. After they find a way, the BFG uses his power, blowing dreams when someone is sleeping, to help the humans. This time the Big Friendly Giant mixes a horrible dream and blows it to the giants when they are sleeping.

The internal struggle makes the BFG realizes his wisdom. At the end, there is a flip in the imbalance of power. The bad giants become the victums while the BFG and Sophie are the heroes.

Another story that talks about internal struggle and imbalance of power is Urashima Taro and the Turtle. It is a Japanese folktale that talks about a young man called Urashima. One beautiful bright morning, Urashima goes fishing in his boat. He throws the net into the sea to catch a tiny little turtle. After the turtle finds her voice, she begs for her life saying, ‘what good can I do you? I am so young and small, and I would so gladly live a little longer. Be merciful and set me free, and I shall know how to prove my gratitude.’ Urashima is very good-natured and frees the tiny turtle back to the sea. Years go by, and one day the turtle comes back and pays her debt.

Consequently, Urashima faces an internal struggle when the turtle comes to help him.’I am whose life you once saved. I will now pay my debt and show my gratitude,’ said the turtle. Urashima does not wait to be asked twice, but when the turtle tells him that they are not going back to this shore, he gets scared. Urashima does not know if he should be thankful, or if he should be afraid for his life. The struggle that he has is similar to the angel and the devil a person can have on each shoulder. The angel tells him do not risk your life while the devil says take this step and go with the turtle. Urashima does not have a choice but to go with the turtle.

Urashima makes that choice, and it appears to be a good one. Every hour that passes seemes happier than the last. One day he misses his family and friends, so he askes the queen if he can go and visit them.

After the queen gives her approval to Urashima, she gives him a tiny golden box. She tells him to keep it safe and never open it. ‘If you do this, your friend the turtle will meet you at the shore, and will carry you back to me,’ said the queen.

Urashima faces another struggle concerning what to do with the box. Should he keep his promise or open the box? He decides to open the box and a purple vapor comes pouring out. As he looks at his hand he sees that his fresh youthful hands have suddenly gone shriveled.

Urashima admires the queen and that gives her the power over him. When Urashima does not listen to what she asked from him, the queen punishes him by turning into an extremely old man. The struggle of Urashima and the power of the queen lead to Urashima’s death.


The six stories that have been read and discussed in this paper, and their analysis provided shows that there is a connection between ethics, internal struggle, and the imbalance of power. Ethics is a common theme in all the stories, in which all the characters conquer their ethical problems and continue living their lives.

The characters in the stories struggle considerably and come upon a lot of imbalance of power to overcome their ethical problems. All the characters act the way they do to try to fix the problems that they have implicated themselves into. Every action they make is one step closer to fixing their ethical problems. Having ethical problems showes the characters how to be brave, when to be wise, not to trust everyone, and to believe in themselves.

In the story of Pinocchio, he overcomes his ethical problems by believing in himself and by acting like a wise man. He stops thinking of himself and thinks about other people in his life. In the story of Little Snow White, the queen’s jealousy makes her think wisely how to get rid of Snow White, while Snow White’s naivety affects her judgement on other people. Little Red Riding Hood’s character is gullible. She believes everything people tell her. The wolf sees that from the beginning so he makes her believe in what he says.

The Rainbow Fish struggles between giving his scales to make friends or to be the most beautiful fish in the sea without any friends. Confronting that struggle makes Rainbow Fish think wisely about his problems to find the right solution. The BFG struggles between beating the other giants to help the world or doing nothing. Having Sophie in his life teaches him to to be brave and to believe in himself. The last story is Urashima Taro and the Turtle. Urashima’s huge struggle is to listen to the queen and not open the box or do what his mind is telling him to do. Not acting like a wise man makes him face an ethical problem that leads to his death.

To sum up, having ethical problems is an important lesson to face during life because it shows the characters how to overcome their problems. The solution to ethical problems is the key to stop the internal struggle and balance between powers. Some of the characters are affected possitively by their ethical problems while others are affected negatively. Ethics is one of the most important characteristics a person should have. As Albert Camus says ‘A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.’

Works Cited

  1. Crago, Hugh;. Entranced by Story: Brain, Tale, and Teller, from Infancy to Old Age. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.
  2. Hogan, Patrick. Affect Studies and Literary Criticism. Oxford University Press, 2016.
  3. Mills, Claudia;. Ethics in Children’s Literature. Boulder, USA: Ashgate Publishing Limited, Ashgate Publishing Company, 2014.
  4. Moruzi, Kristine ; J.Smith, Michelle; Bullen, Elizabeth ;. Affect, Emotion, and Children’s Literature. New York and London : Routledge, 2018.
  5. Plaisance, Patrick Lee;. Communication and Media Ethics. Universita Della Svizzera Italiana – University of Lugano, 2018.
  6. Rawls, John ;. The Methods of Ethics. Indianapolis, Cambridge: Hackett Publishing company, 1981.
  7. Sainsbury, Lisa;. Ethics in British Children’s Literature, Unexamined Life. London, New Delhi, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013.
  8. Singer, Peter ;. Practical Ethics. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  9. Vermeule, Blakey;. Why Do We Care about Literary Characters. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.
  10. W.Grant, Ruth. ‘Incentives and Praise Compared the Ethics of Motivation.’ International Review of Economics (2018).

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