Orphans in Childrens Literature

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‘Drawing on three Set Books in Block 4, discuss ‘the ubiquity of orphaned or near-orphaned protagonists’ (Squires, Reader 2, Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, p. 282), and the significance of parental absence in twentieth century fiction for children.’

The orphaned character in literature stretches far into the past including in its canon such mythical type characters as Romulus and Remus on to Huckleberry Finn, David Copperfield and the more recent Lyra Belacqua.   The reasons for the use of this ubiquitous character are many and diverse, including the innate power struggle implicit in much children’s literature between author and reader, characterized by the orphan generally becoming the kind of person society values.   Whether the use of this represents a power struggle, or is merely a literary device to enable the author to advance the plot in a certain way, its use is none the less powerful in provoking emotions in the child reader.   Surely the greatest trick the author must perform is to hook the reader in?   What better way to achieve this than by taking the child’s worst fears and safely taking them on a journey of self discovery.

In her article, From Folktales to Fiction: Orphan Characters in Children’s Literature. Melanie Kimball believes that the ubiquity of the orphan in children’s literature represents the inherent fear in all of us of being abandoned and outcast, ‘Orphans are a tangible reflection of the fear of abandonment that all humans experience’ (Kimball, 1999)   So in that sense Kimball believes that the author uses an innate fear, present in all adults and which to the child is represented by the loss of the parent, to manifest a sense of isolation from the world.   It is undoubtedly true that children’s worst fear is that of losing their parents, which to the child symbolises not only love and affection but also survival. Whether the author is using their own adult fears to translate something perceptible to the child in the...