Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
As Miss Polly Harrington tells her servant Nancy to prepare an attic room for the arrival of her orphaned eleven-year-old niece, Pollyanna, it is clear that Miss Polly is not fond of children. Pollyanna’s mother—Miss Polly’s sister—died years ago, but Miss Polly still thinks disapprovingly of her sister’s marriage. Rejecting a proposal from a wealthy local man, Miss Polly’s sister instead fell in love with a humble young minister, married him, and moved west. Now, the minister, Pollyanna’s father, has died too, and Pollyanna is coming to live with dutiful Aunt Polly.
Good-hearted Nancy readies the room for Pollyanna and complains about Miss Polly’s prickly ways to Old Tom, the gardener. Old Tom reveals that Miss Polly’s sour demeanor began after an unhappy love affair, and the man she loved still lives in town. Nancy is eager to learn the man’s identity, but Old Tom refuses to give away the secret.
Miss Polly sends Nancy to the train station to meet Pollyanna instead of going herself. The attic room proves hot and uncomfortable, and Miss Polly punishes Pollyanna for climbing out the window. In each case, Pollyanna assumes the best motives of Miss Polly and finds a way to be glad about her situation.
Pollyanna then explains what she calls the “Glad Game” to Nancy. It began when her father asked for supplies for his missionary efforts, including a doll for Pollyanna. The churchwomen sending the supplies had no doll and sent a pair of crutches instead. Her father explained to the disappointed Pollyanna that the game involved always finding something to be glad about; the crutches could be a source of gladness for Pollyanna and her father because they could be glad that they did not need them. Nancy begins to play the Glad Game in her own life. Pollyanna is unable to tell Aunt Polly about the Glad Game, however, because Aunt Polly, still holding old grudges, refuses to let Pollyanna mention her father.
Pollyanna’s cheerful ways begin to win over the neighborhood. She delivers delicacies to the invalid Mrs. Snow, arranging her hair and inspiring her to take a renewed interest in life. Pollyanna even begins greeting a bad-tempered man she sees on the street. Nancy tells Pollyanna that the man is John Pendleton, a wealthy and reclusive gentleman.
Although Aunt Polly refuses to hear about the Glad Game, Pollyanna uses it to find ways to be glad about her poor attic room. Pollyanna’s innocent gladness shames Aunt Polly into giving her a more comfortable room downstairs. Pollyanna also innocently assumes that Aunt Polly will be glad to take in a forlorn kitten and a stray dog and persuades her to do so. Pollyanna then comes across the bedraggled orphan Jimmy Bean. Pollyanna is sure Aunt Polly will be glad to take him in as well, but Aunt Polly rejects him and loses her temper.
Pollyanna comes up with a new plan to help Jimmy Bean, appealing to the Ladies’ Aid society at the church. However, she finds that the society’s members are more interested in helping children in India than those in town because helping Indian children will earn them a prominent place in the society’s annual report....
(The entire section is 1301 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Griswold, Jerry. Audacious Kids: Coming of Age in America’s Classic Children’s Books. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. A book for specialists, outlining a Freudian reading of Pollyanna. Analyzes the books in terms of Freud’s ideas of the stages of child development, concluding that Pollyanna is full of oedipal conflict and that Pollyanna herself is a manipulative character.
Levine, Murray. “Pollyanna and the Glad Game: A Potential Contribution to Positive Psychology.” Journal of Positive Psychology 2, no. 4 (2007): 219-227. Discusses the potential of the Glad Game to provide a model for psychological processes.
Mills, Alice. “Pollyanna and the Not So Glad Game.” Children’s Literature 27 (1999): 87-104. A psychotherapist examines the use and limitations of the Glad Game in Pollyanna and its many sequels, concluding that the Glad Game is not always the best choice of response.
Sanders, Joe Sutliff. “Spinning Sympathy: Orphan Girl Novels and the Sentimental Tradition.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 33, no. 1 (2008): 41-61. Situates Pollyanna among other classic girls’ books that focus on sympathy and sentiment.
Seelye, John. Jane Eyre’s American Daughters—From “The Wide, Wide World” to “Anne of Green Gables”: A Study of Marginalized Maidens and What They Mean. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005. Discusses classic girls’ novels; includes a chapter on Pollyanna and its debt to books such as Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (serial, 1885; book, 1886).