Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates Summary
by Mary Mapes Dodge

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Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates is in some respects a dated novel; the world it describes has long since disappeared. But young adults still must face the moral and ethical problems its characters encounter. For example, Hans Brinker must constantly choose between his own inclinations and the morally responsible act. Should he spend a gift of money on steel skates or on food for his family? Should he keep the purse he has found, which contains a sizable sum, or return it to the rightful owner? Should he attack those who humiliate him and his family? Should he help a rival in the race for the silver skates or take advantage of his opponent's equipment failure to win? His sister Gretel must grapple with mixed emotions about a demented father who abuses her mother and with feelings of anger from the taunts of well-to-do girls. Moreover, those who are rich must ask themselves how to deal with the poor and less fortunate. Dodge disapproves of those who humiliate or condescend to those who happen to be poor and shows that such insensitive people are sowing the seeds of their own misfortune. On the other hand, those who treat people fairly find their lives emotionally enriched.

In presenting these ethical questions, Dodge depicts young adult characters of an earlier period who exhibit all the varieties of personality that characterize modern youth. Some are leaders, some followers, some naive, some sophisticated, some athletic, some awkward. Dodge avoids explicit aspects of sex and violence, but she describes young people who fall in love, face dangers, feel hunger, and fear death, with only a reliance on their wits and moral sense to guide them. The long-gone world of nineteenth-century Holland challenges its youth in modern ways.