by Siegmund Salzmann

Start Free Trial

Critical Evaluation

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

The first widely acclaimed work by the Austrian novelist Felix Salten (born Sigmund Salzmann), Bambi not only has remained a classic of children’s literature but also has earned the discriminating approval of writers such as John Chamberlain, Alfred Werner, and John Galsworthy. It has been reprinted often, even before Walt Disney’s sentimentalized film version extended its popularity, and has been translated into most modern languages, including Hebrew and Chinese. However, unlike many other children’s favorites adapted by Disney, Bambi is a story of neither comfortable sentimentality nor whimsical humor. Instead, it is a touching, lyrical, sometimes gently melancholy romance of growth and developing awareness.

Possibly the melancholy of the novel springs in part from the writer’s own childhood experiences. Salten suffered early in life from rootlessness and poverty. Until a relative discovered him destitute, friendless, and nearly famished and offered him employment, he despaired ever of surviving in a world of cruel indifference. To repay his benefactor, Salten, whose formal education was meager, began to write sketches at first, then longer pieces influenced by Guy de Maupassant and Gottfried Keller. The success of Bambi established for Salten a demand for more children’s nature books that were to include, among his best, Fifteen Rabbits (1929) and Perri (1938). In addition to juvenile fiction, Salten wrote excellent criticism and travel literature, mostly revealing his appreciation for the United States (his adopted home after 1939) and Israel.

To the child’s imagination, Bambi treats human experiences in the form of an animal fable. Young readers learn from the book the lessons of growing up, attaining independence, enduring the sorrows of loss, and meeting the challenges of change, from youth to maturity. Although many children’s fairy tales resolve conflicts in the plot through wonderful interference, in Bambi life experiences are treated as natural, without the interference of magic or chance. On the contrary, the book deals honestly with two of the most terrible emotional crises a child can face: the estrangement of a father and the death of a mother. Bambi learns to become self-reliant and to earn from other forest creatures the respect deserved by the powerful and fully matured.

At the same time, Bambi comes to understand the weaknesses of his eternal enemy (Man); he masters his sexual rivals (Karur and Rondo), wins his mate Famine, and sires her young; and, above all, he comes to terms with the Old Prince—the father figure that has always protected and, from a distance, sustained him. Bambi learns the great lesson of resolute independence from the Old Prince. Whereas Gob tries to live with Man and dies from his trusting mistake, the old stag lives alone, true to the challenge he once gave Bambi: “Can’t you stay by yourself?” Bambi learns to stay free, indifferent to comfort, even to friendship. He protects himself from dangers, yet he is sensitive to the need of protecting the weak who cannot defend themselves. Thus, he provides for children—and perhaps for their parents too—Salten’s message of survival in a hostile world.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access