Children's Literature

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Explain how the image of the child as a rebel was historically constructed in literature.

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Some critics would answer this question by going back to Victorian times and exploring the rise of the figure of the rebel child in work at this point in history. This is because during Victorian times a huge number of orphans and abandoned children lived on the edge of respectable society and were considered by some to be a threat. The incorporation of such children into Victorian literature, including the figure of the rebel child, had specific purposes such as to show moral teachings or for propaganda. The high mortality rate in Victorian times meant that at least half of all children lost one parent before they had completed adolescence. The orphaned children or runaways flocked to cities as a result where they were violent and potentially dangerous, particularly if they were exploited by criminals as Oliver Twist paints a picture of.

A notable sub-genre within children's literature at the time arose through the development of the stock figure of the orphan who was resourceful and determined to make a go of life, in spite of the hardships he faced by society. G. A. Henty was one such author, who directed his stories at boys (even going as far as to address his audience as "Dear Lads") in the hope of encouraging self-improvement. Often the boys in his stories were rebel figures in the way that they found it difficult to fit into society. Normally however, the moral of such stories was that children eventually needed to find their place in society and discover healthy ways of expressing their youthful energy and frustrations.

Such novels created the stock character of the child as a rebel, who resisted the influences of parents and society as they hoped to fashion and mould the child into what society dictated it should be. Such figures became incredibly popular in literature such as Jo in Little Women, who causes no end of problems to her mother before she finally settles down and has a somewhat conventional ending whilst also showing the value of fighting for what she wanted to be and earning herself success thanks to her own efforts. The rebel child therefore sprung up in literature as a result of using child characters in literature for didactic purposes and then developed into the use of child characters who did not fit into society, at least at first, as these were very popular characters through the way in which they resisted the influences of socialisation, at least initially, and determined to live their own life rather than the life their parents and society would have them live.

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