Children's Literature

Instructor: Chi-Fen Emily Chen, Ph.D. 陳其芬

Department of English, National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology, Taiwan


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Folk Literature

 

 Please read Chapter 9 from Russell, D. L. (2009). Literature for children: a short introduction.

Introduction Characteristics Types Issues

Issues in Folk Literature

Violence          Antifeminism          Examples

A.  Violence

  • We can find the prevalence of violence in folk literature, such as foolish and irresponsible little pigs are devoured, wolves are cooked in boiling water, witches are pushed into hot ovens, characters are mutilated in any number of ways.

  • However, we find no reference to blood and nor is there a great sense of terror. It is a tale of ultimate evil and the triumph of goodness over adversity. The story is a sad one, but not without hope and not without justice.

  • Many folktales contain violent actions, but few exploit that violence and most leave the details up to the reader’s own imagination.

  • From a Freudian perspective, folktales can provide an outlet for children to release their hostility, frustration, anger, and fear because 1) the violence in folktales gives children a vicarious means of coping with their inner frustrations, 2) folktales, through their rich symbolism and evocative story patterns, fulfill unconscious psychological needs in some children.

  • From a perspective of children’s reactions to folktales, it shows that children have a desire to see evil punished and eradicated from the world once and for all. For example, when given the choice, children most often prefer versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” in which the grandmother is devoured and the wolf is ultimately killed, as opposed to those versions in which the ravenous wolf, after inexplicably tying up the grandmother and tossing her in the closet, is miraculously reformed and promised to be good henceforth.

 B.  Antifeminism

  • In the folktales we often see a depiction of negative female stereotypes (e.g. passivity, subservience, and fragility) or an evil image of stepmothers, such as those in “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White”.

  • Many folktales portray women as rather helpless (beautiful) creatures whose futures depend on the kindness of capable (handsome) men, whom the women must attract by their pleasing appearance and sweet nature. This perspective became more prevalent through the animated folktales of Walt Disney.

  • The presentation of females is distorted probably because men were the earliest serious collectors of the tales and they chose to record the tales with a male gender bias.

  • In recent years, many folktales have been retold or published that reveal positive female role models in stories. For example, James Finn Garner’s “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times” (1994) and Kathleen Ragan’s collection “Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World” (1998).

C.  Examples

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