- Winnie The Pooh Through a Feminist Lens
I The Popularity of the Stories
Pooh Bear has always had his fans. Winnie-the-Pooh, which sold in record numbers from the time it was first printed in 1926, sold 1,005,000 copies by 1975. These numbers can be partially explained by the fact that while Pooh was published as a children's book, it was often taken over for adult reading.1 Alison Lurie makes this point in "Back to Pooh Corner,"
My friends and I not only read Milne's books over and over as children; all through high school and college we went on speaking his language, seeing people and events in his terms. My husband and I lived his first term at Middlesex as Piglet, with friends who were Pooh and Eeyore, and the school grounds and surrounding country were remapped accordingly; at college, I knew girls who went by the names of Tigger and Roo. Even today, occasionally, I will go back and reread a favorite passage.(11)
In addition, as Thomas B. Swann explains, Pooh has had more than literary recognition:
Pooh has not been caged between the covers of two small books. In 1951, his battered original from Christopher Robin's nursery, together with Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, and Tigger, visited America and, insured for $50,000, commenced a triumphant tour of libraries and bookstores. . . . Stuffed replicas, based on the Shepard illustrations . . . sell in many large department stores. It is possible to buy a place mat with Pooh in various stages of licking a honey pot. . . . Together with Christopher Robin, Pooh has been sculptured in stone as a garden ornament. . . . Maurice Evans has recorded two albums of readings such as 'Eeyore Loses a Tail'. . . . In the fall of 1965, Sears Robuck introduced a Pooh style of clothes for children . . . and in the winter of 1966 Walt Disney released [a] short feature, Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree.(133)
Products inspired by the Pooh books, like the books themselves, cause cash registers to ring daily; such sales indicate the strong impact of Pooh on the American reading public. And, as Alison Lurie testifies, the Pooh books strongly appeal to females as well as males, to mothers who read them and to little girls who listen to them. [End Page 34]
Considering the almost totally male cast of characters, one may well ask why the book has gained such a wide female audience. A possible answer is that the stories are about the difficulty of coming to terms with a patriarchal society, a common experience for women, children, and some men. Most critics ignore the element of gender in the stories and would leave out the word "patriarchal" altogether. They claim that the Pooh stories are about the difficulty of growing up and fitting into society. But I believe that it is Milne's hidden concern with gender that greatly adds to the work's popularity and commercial success. And it is his concern with gender that invites a feminist approach.
II Reader Response Criticism and Women Readers
Reader response criticism has demonstrated that reading is not the straightforward procedure it was traditionally thought to be. The doctrine of the objectivity of the text, of the text as a constant object, has been questioned by the development of reader-response criticism, which posits that many valid readings are possible. As the "objectivist" model of reading began to be challenged by a "subjectivist" model, the interaction between reader and text became an interesting critical problem (Flynn and Schweickart ix).
In The Reader ,the Text ,the Poem , Louise Rosenblatt begins to analyze the reading process itself, differentiating between a cognitive and an affective component. Most recently, work in linguistics, communication theory, and cognitive psychology continues to put a finer point on such analysis (Flynn and Schweickart xi-xii). For example, the work of Mary Crawford and Roger Chaffin is described by Flynn and Schweickart in these terms:
While evidence is far from conclusive, important experiments indicate that comprehension is mediated by generalized knowledge structures, or schemata, that exist in the mind of the reader. The schemata that are activated in the process of understanding...