Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature

Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature

Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature

Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature

Synopsis

Adventure stories are popular, but many define non-white, non-European peoples as inferior, and women as marginal or incapable. Hourihan shows how teaching children to read books critically can help prevent the formation of negative attitudes.

Excerpt

Stories are important in all cultures. People have always used stories to render the vast heterogeneity of experience meaningful, to explain the behaviour of the physical universe and to describe human nature and society. They are the most potent means by which perceptions, values and attitudes are transmitted from one generation to the next. All teachers know the power of stories as educational tools. They are vivid, enjoyable, easily understood, memorable and compelling. They appeal to people of all ages, but for children who have not yet achieved the ability to reason abstractly they provide images to think with. Our most basic concepts, such as time and causation, are embedded in the stories told to children from infancy onwards, and for this reason we feel there is truth in the shape of stories even when we know their content is fantasy. A story which begins with 'once upon a time' and ends with 'and they lived happily ever after' implies things about time and change, about cause and effect, and human relationships, regardless of where it is set or who the characters are, and it asserts an essential optimism: problems can be solved, things will turn out well, happiness is achievable. That many, perhaps most, people in our society cling stubbornly to a belief in the shape of this tale, despite the disappointments and uncertainties of life as it is lived, attests to the power of stories.

In Western culture there is a story which has been told over and over again, in innumerable versions, from the earliest times. It is a story about superiority, dominance and success. It tells how white European men are the natural masters of the world because they are strong, brave, skilful, rational and dedicated. It tells how they overcome the dangers of nature, how other 'inferior' races have been subdued by them, and how they spread civilization and order wherever they go. It tells how women are designed to serve them, and how those women who refuse to do so are threats to the natural order and must be controlled. It tells how their persistence means that they always eventually win the glittering prizes, the golden treasures, and how the gods-or the government-approve of their enterprises. It is our favourite story and it has been told so many times that we have come to believe that what it says about the world is true.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.