Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Man Who Loved Children is the tragic story of Sam and Henny’s marriage and the struggle of twelve-year-old Louisa to escape the family. Although the Pollit family lives in a world created by Sam, it is Henny whose individual particularities take on universal significance, so that she becomes an archetype of all women. She struggles to survive in a world defined by the laws men have made. The marriage is portrayed in a series of events that repeat themselves with increasing intensity until they culminate in Henny’s suicide. The second theme, that of Louisa’s struggle to leave the family, is played out in escalating scenes of conflict with her father but ends with her breaking free after a bitter struggle and much misery. Another organizing principle of the novel is the conflict of opposites: Sam and Henny, the Pollits and the Collyers, the female principle versus the male, adults and children, delusion against reality, and what things are as opposed to what people say they are.

The novel opens with enmity well established between Sam and Henny. Although they have managed to produce five children in less than ten years, they are not speaking to each other and communicate by passing messages through the children. When they communicate directly, it is a war between Sam’s self-serving orations and Henny’s bitter tirades. She is incapable of managing the household in the face of inadequate finances and his subversive attempts to undermine her authority.

Henny has a secret lover whom she sees when she is in town and from whom she is not above borrowing money. There is a suggestion that the lover,...

(The entire section is 670 words.)