From the shootings at Columbine High School to the JonBenet
Ramsey murder to the sentencing of "killer kids," today's media
cannot decide if children are objects of fear or in need of
protection. Our culture's deep-seated ambivalence toward its young
is reflected in a fascinating array of recent fiction that exposes
society's collective fantasies and fears.
Demon or Doll investigates the ambiguous, contradictory ways
childhood has been formulated in the twentieth century and the
resulting ambivalence reflected in contemporary fiction. Grounding
her exploration in a discussion of traditional constructions of
childhood and the influence of the Romantics, Ellen Pifer shows how
Dickens translated the Romantic idyll of original innocence into
poignant images of "poor children," abused or abandoned by a harsh,
increasingly mechanical society. At the turn of the twentieth
century, Henry James created provocative images of childhood that
anticipated the contemporary, post-Freudian child. Pifer engages a
diverse and distinguished body of work by a global range of
authors, addressing in each chapter a novel or cluster of novels in
which the child's image serves as a nexus for investigating
literary and cultural issues. The theories and observations of
social historians, psychologists, and cultural critics--from
Philippe Aries to Raymond Williams, Freud to Foucault--clarify the
significance of the child's created image.
Novels by William Golding, Doris Lessing, Milan Kundera, Toni
Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Jerzy Kosinski bring readers face to
face with shattered, often grotesque images of the child. But
several of postwar fiction's most experimental writers, including
Vladimir Nabokov, Don DeLillo, and Ian McEwan, create texts that
render surprising faith in original innocence. Whether the
contemporary image of childhood appears intact or fractured,
wholesome or horrifying, its many facets create a mirror in which
we seek glimpses of our elusive, original selves.
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