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  • The Embodiment of Evil in Children’s Literature. How Villainy and Adulthood are Interconnected in Children’s Stories

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Produktart: Buch
Verlag: Diplomica Verlag
Erscheinungsdatum: 12.2020
AuflagenNr.: 1
Seiten: 80
Sprache: Englisch
Einband: Paperback

Inhalt

Villains and antagonists are often the memorable and central characters of a children’s story and characters like Captain Hook or the White Witch of Narnia remain more present in our memory than the plot or protagonists. This book offers an overview of the portrayal of villainy in children’s literature and follows the research question of whether there is an interrelation of being adult and being a villain. Based on an exemplary analysis of five works of classical and contemporary children’s literature, tendencies and conventions in the portrayal of villains and the embodiment of evil are explored. This study includes a definition of children’s literature, discusses villainy as a literary and narrative category and draws on concepts like e.g. ageism, childism and C.G. Jung’s shadow. It also discusses the questions of how and why villainy in general is attractive to readers and what its specific function is in children’s narratives.

Leseprobe

Textprobe: Kapitel 4.2. Miss Trunchbull’s Villainy: The villainy of Miss Trunchbull runs deep and is exercised with such sadism that it is still able to shock audiences today and divides opinions whether the novel (and film adaptation) is child appropriate. This controversy mainly derives from Miss Trunchbull’s behaviour towards children, though she also is guilty of other capital crimes. Miss Trunchbull’s offences against children cover every level from meanness to actual child abuse. She displays a general unfairness towards children – she is unable to admit defeat (MA 127) and guesses culprits (MA 102), for example when she blames the newt in the jug on Matilda (MA 155-158) – and spends a lot of their interaction insulting and verbally abusing them. The worst aspect of this is her use of corporal punishment which often takes on comic-like traits. She is reported to have thrown a boy out of a classroom window (MA 104), demonstrates her skill of hammer-throwing on a little girl (MA 108f), forces a boy to eat a giant cake (MA 121-124) and then hits him with the plate (MA 127) and picks up children by their hair (MA 142ff), ears (MA 146-149) and ankle (MA 212). The grotesqueness of these acts of violence is commented upon by Matilda who sees through the perfidiousness of Miss Trunchbull’s violence. The more grotesque and outrageous Miss Trunchbull behaves, the less likely are parents to believe their own children: This is the Trunchbull’s great secret” (MA 111). This mechanism protects her from actual consequences and makes her crimes against children seem even worse: the children are up on their own against this enemy. DAHL’s voyeuristic fascination with the ritual of beating” (HOLLINDALE 2008:281) has been traced down by biographers to his personal experiences in British schools where he suffered from the hands of teachers (see LOVEDAY 2018:90), but a merely biographical interpretation is limiting here. Considered the extensive description of Miss Trunchbull’s strength, it seems only appropriate that most of her villainous deeds are directly enabled by this aspect of her adultness. Her strength and size give her power over the children who are unable to fight back physically against adult bodily superiority. While the strength and body size are not in themselves villainous, Miss Trunchbull’s use of them certainly is. ALSFORD comments that [v]illains use their abilities to serve themselves heroes resist that temptation and serve the world” (ALSFORD 2006:36), suggesting that Miss Trunchbull had a choice. She could have made use of her strength for good or simply not have used it. However, she chooses what is best for her, makes use of her physical properties for egoistic reasons and uses it to enable herself and to live out her greediness and child hate. Miss Trunchbull’s superiority is further emphasised by crimes she committed in the past. She has murdered Miss Honey’s father (MA 192), abused her niece Miss Honey, who was under her care (MA 193 & 200), pressured her into an unethical salary contract (MA 195) and forged a suicide note to get hold of Miss Honey’s inheritance (MA 199). Again, the extensiveness of Miss Trunchbull’s villainy is heightened by the fact that a child is witnessing it but unable to do something about it. In Miss Honey’s case, Miss Trunchbull’s guardianship marks another instance of an adult of having power over the child. Miss Trunchbull, therefore, holds three kinds of power: 1) her role as headmistress, 2) her physical strength, 3) her (past) legal guardianship over Miss Honey. The villain is characterised by power” (FORBES 2011:18) and Miss Trunchbull proves an excellent villain since her power is overt and makes her invincible. While Miss Trunchbull’s violence is said not to be restricted to children and she does not seem to particularly like anyone, her hate for very small children” (MA 96) is addressed directly. This is, for example, shown in her attack on a little girl for having pigtails (MA 106). The pigtails are a symbol of girlhood and an innocent femininity which Miss Trunchbull lacks. She also claims and is proud not to have been a child for long (MA 80) and states: I have been large all my life and I don’t see why others can’t be the same way” (MA 145). Her fundamental misconstruction of the nature of children gives hints to possible origins of her evilness. One possible reading is that she has always been tall and muscular for her age, not conforming to society’s expectation and suffered from having been othered. She detaches herself completely from the state of childhood, which results in her total lack of empathy for children. Her failure to see herself connected to a past child self and thereby stating to be different from the rest of the world is, in ALSFORD’s words, the basis for true villainy” (ALSFORD 2006:132). Miss Trunchbull’s hate for children showcases YOUNG-BRUEHL’s notion of childism. Miss Trunchbull does not try to hide her disconnectedness from the state of childhood. She states that: Small people should never be seen by anybody. They should be kept out of sight in boxes like hairpins and buttons. I cannot for the life of me see why children have to take so long to grow up. I think they do it on purpose (MA 145). The quote lists several aspects of YOUNG-BRUEHL’s definition: the child should be removed from the adults’ sphere until they are able to join it and they should serve an adult’s purpose. Miss Trunchbull objectifies children, comparing them to small but useful items, suggesting that children should be useful (e.g. work for adults) but not be seen or heard in the meantime. Interestingly, she does not seem to hate children based on childishness and behaviour associated with childhood. Her problem with children is that they are small (see footnote 6), that which she claims never to have been because she dislikes it so much. This, again, shows her general unfairness and lack of understanding – children cannot grow up or stay small on purpose – and stresses her villainy. She is hating and attacking children on the grounds of something that is neither their nor anybody’s fault. While this characterises her as stupid (remember associations of ‘bull’ in the telling name), her attack on the innocent marks her further as a villain in terms of evilness: she inflicts harm with a sense of cowardness since her victims are those who cannot fight back. - Since MA is a tale of retributive justice” (BEAUVAIS 2015:277) and ends with the fairy tale-like scenario of everything turning out well, the victory of the protagonist over the villain is emphasised. On closer examination the children’s victory over Miss Trunchbull consists of three steps: 1) Bruce’s minor victory of eating a whole cake and thereby subverting the intended punishment (MA 127), 2) Lavender’s newt in the glass and Matilda’s first successful attempt at telekinesis (MA 160ff) and the final victory 3) by scaring the headmistress with the impersonation of a ghost from her past, which results in Miss Trunchbull fainting and leaving the town for good (MA 214-217). This threefold structure is, again, a similarity to fairy tales in which three steps or stages often lead to the triumph of the hero and the fall of the villain. Description of Villain - Natural power structure Adultness in Villain: Childism, physical strength, embodied superiorityThe villain’s fall, in this case, can be taken quite literally: And there she was, the huge figure of the Headmistress, stretched full-length on her back across the floor, out for the count” (MA 217). Miss Trunchbull’s sources of power, her size and strength, are suddenly taken from her, putting her on the level of the children (or even lower) by falling to the floor and passing out. Her physical superiority is unable to overcome Matilda’s cleverness and resourcefulness – the traits clearly favoured by the narrative. The moral of the story could be phrased as ‘brain over brawn’. Though Matilda does not win because of her book knowledge, it is the telekinesis, the ability to move objects via brain power, that makes her plan possible. Good and evil in MA are constructed around oppositions such as Wormwood vs. Honey, TV vs. books, wealth vs. poverty, manor house vs. cottage, big vs. little and child vs. adult. It is in the last contrasting pair that the conflicts of the novel become most apparent. Size, physical strength and power are underlying themes and the story world is characterised as dualist. It has been remarked that many of DAHL’s children’s books share this notion of child empowerment against adults” and child rebellion against adult authority” (BEAUVAIS 2015:278). The repeated ‘against’ is the key word here. The adult-child relation is one of antagonism and GUBAR’s kinship model is near to not applicable. There is no reconciliation possible, neither between Miss Trunchbull and her niece nor between the Wormwoods and their daughter. A happy ending is only achieved when like-minded people come together: Miss Honey and Matilda, who have both suffered at the hands of adults and who both enjoy the same things. Miss Honey’s adultness is weakened since she is – in relation to Miss Trunchbull – a child and thereby unable to escape the adult authority of her aunt. The emphasis on contrast leads to the notion of C.G. JUNG’s shadow and the attraction to villainy. Miss Trunchbull certainly displays features that would belong to the shadow rather than the persona (child abuse, criminal instinct, violent behaviour, wish for power and control over others). An individual feeling the urge to act on any of those impulses is likely to repress them due to societal restrictions and never act upon them. While Miss Trunchbull’s villainy is portrayed with a comic-like exaggeration, it is hard – at least for an adult reader – to push associations of real-world incidents to the back of one’s mind. Child abuse is a topic society is still uncomfortable to talk about and condemns. Therefore, it is hard to feel enjoyment while examining the shadow that is Miss Trunchbull. For the same reasons, the admiration and enjoyment of Miss Trunchbull’s villainy are much harder than for example Mr Gum’s. The repulsion felt towards Miss Trunchbull’s treatment of children is so strong that it does not stay within the fictitious world of the story. As mentioned above, the sadism and dark humour of DAHL’s children’s stories are still sometimes considered to be outrageous in their portrayal of violence. The absoluteness in Miss Trunchbull’s villainy makes readers hate her whether they do enjoy reading the book or do not – she is an excellent example of a villain who has achieved exactly what they have been constructed for.

Schlagworte


Über den Autor

Almut M. Amberg wurde 1995 geboren. Sie studierte Germanistik und Anglistik an der Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg und schloss im Jahr 2020 ihr Studium mit einem Master of Arts in Englischer Literaturwissenschaft erfolgreich ab. Während des Studiums legte die Autorin ihre Themenschwerpunkte auf das Theater der englischen Renaissance, die Literatur der Romantik und die Kinder- und Jugendliteratur des englischen Sprach- und Kulturraums. Besonders die Auseinandersetzung von Kinderliteratur mit ungewöhnlichen Themen, wie zum Beispiel dem zweiten Weltkrieg oder dem Bösen, weckten ihr Interesse und gaben Anlass zum Verfassen der vorliegenden Studie.

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