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The Essence of Childhood in The Literature

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Are the childhoods that society reads about in popular works of literature accurate representations of how children lived throughout history, or are the authors of these texts portraying the personalities of their characters in a more unconventional fashion?

In the Lord of the Flies, the non-absolute devious natures of young men are thrust onto a previously uninhabited island and left to function outside of what society would consider normal. However, societal norms are subjective in how they are both predetermined and malleable depending on the circumstance. Creative works and literary texts have long been utilized by critics and artists to establish the principles of childhood.

In books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the reader is allowed to experience the sly, impish attitudes of one of literatures most notable characters. Along with Tom Sawyer and his companion, the social outcast Huckleberry Finn, the primary plan of these pieces of work written by Mark Twain was to “pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves” (Twain Preface). The sequel to his initial novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn further backed Twain’s mission to bring childlike “purity” into the world of literature. However, Mark Twain was not considered to be a futurist, and he had no idea as to how the “queer enterprises” of a child may evolve in society (Twain Preface). Other pieces of literature such as the more modern texts of Superfudge written by Judy Blume and the young adult novel Walk Two Moons written by Sharon Creech move away from the constraints of their nineteenth century predecessors.

With the assistance of the written work conducted by literary critics such as W.E.B. Du Bois, William Wordsworth and Henry James, along with other forms of literature, the fundamental aspects of creativity, childhood, and fiction. Of course, literature has within it the prerogative to embellish, but the question of how far is too far from the truth seems to be an ever-expanding mystery. Through the discussion of these books, the progression and evolution of childhood can be seen within the fabric of the literary world. Furthermore, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies can be seen for what it truly is, the destruction of a literary stereotype.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Penguin Books, 1999.

The idea of children being left to their own devices has caused much influence in the literary world due to William Golding’s novel, the Lord of the Flies. The personality traits of a child when separated from their parents or authority figures is not only a question of a child’s integrity, but also a question of an individual’s background. For many, the behavioral traits of an individual are directly affected by the social aspects surrounding that person. For example, the boldness of Ralph is represented by his description of being “old enough, twelve years and a few months,” and Golding goes on to speak of how Ralph lost his “prominent tummy of childhood and not yet old enough for adolescence to make him awkward” (Golding 10). On another note, children are prone to falling victim to peer pressure, yet the limits to which children and young adults will go to prove a point, including moot points, is incredibly difficult to determine or predict. Plot wise, the Lord of the Flies gathers several young boys, ages anywhere from six to fourteen, and strands them on an island after a plane crash. Initially, the children cooperated and worked together to pool their resources and survive the elements of nature. Overtime, hubris and pride overcame the power struggling boys, and self-inflicted disaster fell upon them. This piece of young adult literature written by William Golding disassembles the previous representations of children in literature.

Machado, Maria, Carmen “Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead.” Lightspeed Magazine, 3 Sept. 2015,

In late 2015, Carmen Maria Machado composed a short story titled Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead, discussing the lengths an individual would go for their sibling. In this short narrative, an older sister by the name of Ursula Ruiz must travel to Jerusalem and eventually, “the land of the dead” in an effort to bring her younger sister Olivia back from the underworld. The tale is unique as its format corresponds with the frequently asked questions of a crowd funding web page. As Ursula discusses her home life, the reader can understand why Ursula would be annoyed with Olivia’s habit of picking a random phrase and screaming “at the top of her lungs and” doing “so over and over like a computer glitch until” Ursula “ran out of the room” (Machado 2). Olivia is depicted as “a stranger” by her older sister, “not to mention a strange girl” through her general disposition. The childhood of both sisters is briefly expressed upon, however the parental figures of these two young adults provide more than enough room for suggestions surrounding the upbringing of these children. The boldness of Ursula is put to the test as she travels to “the land of the dead.”

Samatar, Sofia. “How to Get Back to the Forest.” Lightspeed Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, 26 Oct. 2016,

In How to Get Back to the Forest, the story focuses on one singular aspect of a dystopian society, which is how the children of this community grow into their roles as adults. The narrator of this story, pays close attention to the true main character of the narrative Cee, a curious young woman determined to escape from the boundaries that her society has constructed around her. During the opening of this story, Cee recalls that she and her friends “had only been at camp for about six weeks,” but the days felt longer and more tiresome as “camp was on its own calendar- a special time of life” (Samatar 3). Overall, this text was written to display how individuality can slowly be drained from a child, and that the confining nature of a dystopian society can yield strange developmental results in children. Towards the end of the text, the futures of all of the children, excluding Cee, are explained as bleak or dull.

Blume, Judy. Superfudge. Seedlings, 1986.

Judy Blume is widely regarded as one of the more popular American children’s book writers. Her credibility as a writer ranges from dramatic to comical, depending on who Blume’s intended audience is. Superfudge is one of her more recognized children’s pieces, as it follows the rambunctious antics of a four-year old boy named Farley Drexel Hatcher, otherwise known as Fudge. This text was written during the late 1980’s, bringing the aspects of childhood into a much different and evolved era of thinking. As a whole, children in the later twentieth century are valued, and in most households during this time, treasured. The natural animosities of sibling rivalry are portrayed in a pleasing and delightful fashion. With the narration of Fudge’s comparatively responsible older brother Peter, the reader can witness the lighter and non-threating side of childhood.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Oxford University Press, 2016.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is another piece of work written by Mark Twain to complement The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Furthermore, Huckleberry Finn was earlier established to resemble the personal childhood of Mark Twain, then Samuel Clemens. However, Huckleberry Finn was designed to work in contrast with his peer and best acquaintance, Thomas sawyer. Initially, the private life of Huckleberry Finn was not elaborated on during the arrangement and folly displayed in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, leaving room for strong character development, which Twain dove into. Both Tom and Huck grew up in St. Petersburg Missouri, yet Huck was subjected to a much more challenging existence than his counterparts due to his parentage and low social status. In reference to his estranged father, Huck “used to be scared of him all the time,” not only for “tanning” Huck so much, but because of how “his hair was long and tangled and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines;” a surreal depiction of what a father should look like (Twain 39). The childhood of this young man would be considered extreme, and in several instances, unsafe or full of displeasure. To battle the adversity thrown at himself, Huck utilizes his remarkable willpower to accomplish his goals towards freedom.

Creech, Sharon. Walk Two Moons. Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Walk Two Moons is a relatively modern coming of age story that distances itself from the cliché of young adult novels by providing children and young adults with a more complicated message. In this story, a young woman by the name of Salamanca Tree Hiddle travels with her grandparents across North America. The route that this family chooses to take is the same path that Salamanca’s mother took before she vanished. While on her journey, Salamanca or Sal recalls several memories in which she experienced crucial life events. During one of her flashbacks, Sal recalls how her “dad turned slowly around. His eyes were red and puffy. I think he had been crying. His hands and shit were greasy, but when he hugged” her, she “didn’t flinch” (Creech 69). The composure and disposition of this young woman is off-putting for several of the people she comes in contact with, including her peers. Overall, this is a young adult novel that describes the steady loss of a childhood. Overall, Sharon Creech made Salamanca Tree Hiddle’s existence unique, yet still relatable to some degrees.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Criteria of Negro Art. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, June 1926.

Du Bois expressed his displeasure with the manner in which African American artists were being disregarded and overlooked by the more influential white social classes. Du Bois opens his speech to his audience by acknowledging the fact that there are communities of individuals who do not appreciate the assembly of those wishing to disturb the status quo in an attempt to provide the world with a mindset of equality. He speaks of slavery as well as the supposed incapability of “Negros” performing feats of creativity and ingenuity, while also maintaining an attitude of satire. Despite the hardships the civil rights community faced, Du Bois speaks out about the work ethic of the individuals behind the civil rights movement. He views several of the accomplishments made by African Americans as mountain top experiences or the fundamentals for a stronger and more structured world. However, W.E.B. Du Bois displays his wisdom by explaining to the masses that their battle for equality is far from over.

According to W.E.B. Du Bois, both classes of racial society have a supposed definition of success as well as a generalized idea of what privilege looks like in America during the late 1920’s. Powerful motorized vehicles and high-end fashionable clothing are commonly viewed as the elements of an elitist lifestyle, and with that knowledge, Du Bois alerts his audience that these expensive material possessions only enhance an individual’s appearance and does not inherently make them more beautiful, only more attractive. On a final note, this text relates back to the early representations of childhood by deconstructing the conservative worlds of characters such as Huckleberry Finn and Thomas Sawyer.

Wordsworth, William. Preface to Lyrical Ballads. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 1800.

William Wordsworth has stood as a staple in the world of poetry due to his romantic world views and progressive mindset. Often living in isolation, Wordsworth constructed several pieces of literature, each one discussing the complicated facets of nature, the sophomoric issues of society, and most notably, the unpredictable results of one’s youth and childhood. One of Wordsworth’s more famous pieces of literature in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, an opening to one of his major collections of poetry. In this selection, Wordsworth describes that he wanted to provide the public with “a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted” (Wordsworth 559). In this text, Wordsworth goes on to explain that poetry consists of what rests within an individual, and that raw emotion and personal experiences yield the most promise.

James, Henry. The Art of Fiction. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Sept. 1884.

Henry James is one of the most notable literary critics involved in the constant conversation of art and creativity. In his essay The Art of Fiction, James expresses his feelings of what should be considered quality art and literature in his era. James strongly believes that “fiction is an Art in every way worthy to be called the sister and the equal of the Arts of Painting, Sculpture, Music, and Poetry,” indicating that despite how a piece of literature may look, it is still worthy of being considered creative (James). The statements used by Henry James have created large portions of ambiguity for the future of modern art. With these facts of artistic individuality put into place, individuals such as William Golding can disrupt the essence of childhood through books such as Lord of the Flies.

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