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  • Socialization and Subversion
  • Richard Flynn

Questions of whether children's literature serves a subversive or socializing function (or both) have been pertinent to our field for as long as there has been children's literature. But the centrality of those questions certainly came to the fore with the 1984 publication of Jacqueline Rose's The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children's Fiction. Rose's recognition of the gap between the adult producer of children's literature and the children who are its audience, while it may seem tired and a touch familiar to us, nevertheless refuses to go away. Perhaps it is the Pollyanna in me that welcomed, as a partial antidote to Rose's elegant impossibility theory, Alison Lurie's collection of her articles for the general reader in Don't Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children's Literature (1990). The notion that the Seusses and Sendaks of the world succeed in taking the children's side in their struggle with adults was immensely appealing to me, even as I recognized that such an alliance was limited, or at least tempered, by their and by my own inescapable adulthood. Even now I try to convince myself that a combination of instruction and delight is potentially liberating, although I recognize that much of what passes for subversiveness in children's literature amounts to little more than a spoonful of sugar.

In the article that begins this issue, "Socialization and Saying 'Cheese!'" Robin Hoffman argues that even the most seemingly subversive children's books about School Picture Day "reaffirm social [and] educational . . . authority," and she extends this observation to include, potentially, all of children's literature. Following Jack Zipes, she argues that "subversive' children's literature "may in fact harbor a dark heart of valorized conformity" given the "unalterable" and perhaps "lamentable" fact that "children's literature is . . . written by, and in some cases primarily for, adults." The anarchic humor of Lynn Plourde's School Picture Day, Hoffman argues, may counsel many children to succumb to the "authority of the camera" no less than overtly didactic texts such as Madeleine Yates's advice book, It's School Picture Day. Drawing on Carol Mavor's and Susan Sontag's theories about the disciplinary nature [End Page 311] of the medium of photography, she finds those disciplinary impulses alive and well in picture books that represent the ritual practices of formal photography.

Christopher Parkes extends the New Historicist readings of Stevenson's Treasure Island by scholars such as Naomi Wood and Troy Boone by tying the novel to the rise of a new administrative class typified by the British Civil Service. Jim Hawkins, Parkes contends, embodies the "myth of a civil service" in which the "heroic civil servant" is able to "both keep an accurate accounts ledger and fire off a brace of pistols." Jim's time at sea prepares him to return to a life of "romantic drudgery" that combines the world of adventure with the world of "technical expertise." Stevenson tries to reconcile the "liminal world of romance" with the need for middle-class boys to serve "the machinery of the state."

In "Progressive Era Girl Scouts and the Immigrant," Laureen Tedesco subtly portrays the ties of girl scouting to the project of "Americanizing" immigrants at the beginning of the last century. On the one hand, "Americanization" was an optimistic re-education project that offered a way of neutralizing the intense xenophobic fears about the nation being overrun by Bolsheviks and spies. On the other, scouting became an instrument for promoting domestic and "womanly" virtues in native-born middle-class girls and immigrant girls alike—a "girlhood ideal." "The Girl Scout program," writes Tedesco, "tried to solve some problems believed to be immigrant problems—sanitation issues, ignorance about democratic processes, health deficiencies, inadequate maternal knowledge . . . more . . . among the organizing class [than] the class perceived as needing instruction."

Don Latham invites us to consider Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak as a queer novel "that, by presenting a view from the closet . . . questions and subverts heterosexist assumptions about gender, identity, and trauma." Contrasting Judith Herman's and Ann Cvetkovich's competing trauma theories, Latham draws on critics such as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-1201
Print ISSN
0885-0429
Pages
pp. 311-312
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-22
Open Access
No
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