In his “The Story of the Bad Little Boy,” Mark Twain makes plenty of tongue-in-cheek criticisms of the culture and educational system that try to bribe or frighten children into being good. Jim, the protagonist of the story, is certainly a mischievous child, and we might even say that he...
In his “The Story of the Bad Little Boy,” Mark Twain makes plenty of tongue-in-cheek criticisms of the culture and educational system that try to bribe or frighten children into being good. Jim, the protagonist of the story, is certainly a mischievous child, and we might even say that he is pretty selfish sometimes.
Jim does things that lots of boys of his age do. He eats jam from the pantry, swipes apples, steals a pen-knife and blames another boy, and goes boating on a Sunday. Nothing too bad every happens to Jim except getting a whipping from his mother, and he never seems to learn his lesson. He is very different from the wicked little boys in the Sunday school books who are always punished for their misdeeds by some horrible misfortune. In fact, Jim seems to lead “a charmed life.” Nothing hurts him, and he grows up to be a scoundrel who is actually “universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature.” This remark in itself is quite a critique of American culture and government as well as implicitly of the kind of education received by people who end up in such a position.
Now let's turn our attention to Catherine Sinclair's Holiday House. The children in this book are quite mischievous as well, and they do all kinds of silly things. Harry and Lucy don't do their schoolwork, break things, ruin their clothing, and generally behave as children do. They are realistic young people, just like Jim is in Twain's story. They are not wicked children, but they don't think, and they are a little too enthusiastic and creative at times. The children also make fun of their governess (again a very realistic state of affairs). She does try to discipline them, but it usually doesn't do much good.
Unlike Jim in Mark Twain's story, though, the children in Sinclair's book do grow up and let go of their mischief. When their older brother, Frank, falls ill and dies, Harry and Lucy learn a hard lesson about suffering and responsibility, and at the plea of their brother, they begin to think about how they behave and how their behavior affects others and themselves. This growing up experience is actually probably more realistic (and more hopeful) than the fate of Twain's Jim (although such things do happen, too).