Children’s literature criticism refers to the analysis of literary works meant for children using critical theories. Children’s literature refers to works of literature meant for children below the age of 12 years. Thus, children’s literature criticism aims at applying theoretical thoughts to such pieces of work (Saracho and Bernard 140). The purposes of critical analysis in children literature is to find out the appropriateness of literary content in deducing pedagogical knowledge. In contemporary children’s literature, critics make use of several critical approaches in analyzing it. Some of the critical approaches utilized in children’s literature include biographical theory, narrative, historical and gender (Carroll and Tenniel 4).
To understand how these critical approaches are used and their purpose, it is important to consider a how critics analyze children’s literature from a collection of essay. In this paper, we focus on essays contained in The Boy Detectives: Essays on the Hardy Boys and Others by Cornelius, Michael G. In this book with several essays, Cornelius uses several critical approaches. For instance, in the first essay, A Hardy Boys’ Identity Narrative and The Tower Treasure, he starts by analyzing how names are used to establish the characters literal identity. As an example, he talks about names such as Hardy, which describes a courageous, daring, bold and an enduring person. This name signifies the theme depicted by the story, while at the same time it establishes the identity of the characters. In the story, the Hardy Boys are involved in events that are dangerous and tough. Engaging in such activities of detection and solving mystery requires people who are courageous and tough, as well as enduring considering all the events the boys went through in the story without giving up.
The Tower Treasure is the first essay in the series of the Hardy Boys, where the two brothers set out to solve several mysteries. Cornelius analyzes this essay by starting with a biographical approach. To understand how Cornelius makes use of this approach in analyzing the essay, it is important to consider its meaning and elements. Biographical approach helps the readers in understanding why the author wrote the content. This could be important in paying more details to the content trying to find out answers about the author within the content. This approach recognizes that literary works are created by people, who in most cases are inspired by experiences (Sperling Deborah 72).
In the case of Hardy Boys’ Identity Narrative and The Tower Treasure, Cornelius looks at the experience of the author, as well as how the essay was created. The originator of the essay was Edward Stratemeyer, who was a successful writer of children books. He went ahead to form group of writers who were charged with the task of producing genre stories for children. He provided a model and plots with outlines, which the writers were to follow in the creation of the essay. While analyzing this essay, one realizes that Stratemeyer was very qualified in writing such an essay. The purpose of the creator of this literary work was to give the young readers excitement and mobility, which is what they sought as opposed to providing them with what adults thought was best.
Another literal approach used by Cornelius in analyzing this essay is psychoanalysis. This approach looks at the content as a dream, in which the characters and authors wish to satisfy some of their hidden wishes (Blazer 3). This approach argues that artists seek to satisfy their desires by turning them into pieces of literary work. On the other hand, the audience responds to this work of literature through the wishes that we share with the artist (Cornelius 21).
Considering that, the main characters in the essay are boys, using this approach one can understand why they engage in the detective mysteries. After its creation, it sold so many copies and continues to sell worldwide even today. As aforementioned, the author sought to give the intended audience what they wanted. Considering it was meant for children, such adventures associate with many children’s imagination. When it comes to boys, their subconscious ego makes them want to be viewed as heroes. Therefore, they are able to associate with the content of the book because it satisfies some of their wishes that cannot be gotten in reality. For instance, becoming a detective at an age of 18 and 17 would be impossible. In addition, it is unlikely that a father would allow his sons to risk getting into danger. For most boys, they wish they would have such freedom to engage in adventurous activities. Therefore, the ability of the audience to associate with the characters in the book provides for the response the essay received.
In addition, Cornelius says that the ability to associate with readers is one of the reasons the following series on these characters continued to receive good reception from the audience. He cites that, “… readers crave continuity, finding in their relations to characters an uncanny index of themselves – sans magic and vampires, of course,” (Cornelius 20). By creating characters that the audience was able to associate with, the authors were able to get the attention of the readers considering they gave them what they sought. The name is the first means, by which readers associate to the characters, which is associated with some of the qualities required for sleuthing.
The psychoanalysis approach is very crucial in understanding hoe the reader is able to relate to the audience. Cornelius cites that, “it would therefore be useful if scholars could show why young readers identify with characters and tell which aspects in the design of a series enable identification to occur,” (20). By this, he means that scholars need to identify reasons that contribute to young readers associating with characters in a literary work. Therefore, the psychoanalysis approach is very important in understanding what kind of content can attract young readers. Psychoanalytic critics would find it important to consider the interests of young people and their hidden wishes in order to produce literary texts to which they can associate.
The second essay in this book is Hardy Camaraderie: Boy Sleuthing and the Male Community in the Hardy Boys Mysteries, written by C.M. Gill. In this essay, the writer explores how the gender of the reader plays a role in the reception of the story. The essay starts with how the Hardy Boys character has remained the most successful for over eighty years. “this examination in fact, ultimately reveals a great deal about the twentieth-century ideology concerning the nature of mystery, adventure, and the unknown and the perceived connection(s) of each with and to gender,” (Cornelius 36). In order to understand why the hardy Brothers received so much attention, the author looks into the sister books, The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. The book series did not receive the same attention received by the Hardy Boys, although it is the closest compared to others. The Hardy Boys series uses make characters while the sister series utilizes girl characters as detectives.
The author seeks to understand why the two series had different characterization while the stories were similar in terms of the mysteries solved. In addition, they originated from the same person and publisher. He suggests that this splitting of the characters in the two series with similar stories suggests that there is a difference between what boys and girls prefers. The two ideologies suggested by this separation are, different inner natures of boys and girls as detectives, seekers of clues. The other ideology is that natures of mysteries have a connection with gender.
This separation also suggests that gender plays a role in the development of a character’s actions within the literary work. For instance, having too many girl characters in the Hardy Boys series could have been a sign of sexuality, while in the case of Nancy Drew it could have been a distraction from her career. Therefore, it can be concluded that inclusion of male characters in the Nancy Drew series could have disrupted the female nature of the series. In addition, it could also have resulted in a romantic issue that could have disrupted her from fulfilling her duties as a sleuth. In contrast, female characters could not have been a distraction to the hardy Boys from their quests. From a gender theory perspective, the reason why the Hardy Boys would not be affected the same way is that men tend to question women all the time because they do not seem to believe they can make such important decisions. Thus, she could have received so many questions and doubts from male counterparts especially if the criminal was a man. However, compared to the Hardy Boys, the Nancy Drew series contains more male characters although none of them plays an important role. For instance, it does involve her father, boyfriend and police officers although not at a pivotal role. This is the same for the Hardy boys although female characters are more distinctively separated.
From the gender theory approach, one is able to realize the different roles that the gender of a character in a literary text influences meaning (Nel and Lissa 124). In this two series, it is obvious that characters are separated in order to create distinctive protagonists. In addition, a critic of this approach considers the fact that separation indicates that both genders are capable of engaging in important roles within the society. In addition, contrary to the old belief that women are not supposed to take up roles associated to physical risks.
Another approach through which gender theorists analyze a work of literature is by looking at the author’s gender in context to the content and their experiences (Bhroin and Kennon 2). This is quite important in understanding a piece of literature because it highlights the appropriateness of an author to come up with such content. For instance, a Gay person would be more trusted to write content talking about being homosexual. In this case, the writer of the Nancy Drew is a woman, meaning she would be in a better position to understand the imagination of a girl from her own experiences. On the other hand, the author for the Hardy Boys was a man although with contribution from other authors involved in creating the genre stories. Thus, being a man means he was able to understand the psychology of the boy child (Steiner 696).
The final essay and among the most important is the one titled, Has the World Outgrown the Classic Boy Detective? That looks at how the contemporary boy detectives have changed from what they used to be, as well as what has changed them. in this essay, the author looks at how the detective sleuths are approached in the contemporary literature (McCurry 3). One of the changes to the revamped Hardy Boys is that it is set in current times, where they have access to technology such as internet and GPS amongst other 21st century items. In this essay, the author shows how the modern culture changes the boy detectives. Another change experienced in this new version is use of both gender in solving mysteries and crimes. Previously, female characters as aforementioned played minor roles in the series. This change can be associated with the changing culture that emphasizes equality among all genders (Laffrado 12).
The gender theory can be used to analyze this essay considering the author shows how the contemporary literature has changed in terms of treating both genders in the literary works. As the author of the essay indicates, contemporary literature has sought to represent all genders with equal roles. However, this still falls short in some of the series considering their formula was created many years ago, where adding other characters with equal role to the main two would loose its identity. By analyzing how contemporary literature influences boy detectives, one realizes that they are shaped by current events that are based on popular themes within the real world (Frus and Christy 5). For instance, the undercover brothers are dealing with internet hackers and terrorists, which are modern day crimes.
In this essay, one of the critical approaches used in analyzing children’s literature is the narrative theory (Altman 345). This theory is concerned with what the story tells or its content and the way it is told. For the new series on the Hardy Boys, the story takes a first person narration where each brother alternates chapter. Understanding this theory requires understanding its meaning. According to Herman et al, “Narrative is somebody telling somebody else, on some occasion, and for some purposes, that something happened to someone of something,” (3). this can be identified in the revamped undercover brothers, where each brother is telling us about an occasion with a purpose of making us understand culture concerning something that happened to another person.
The narration in this contemporary book can further be analyzed using the narrative approach by looking at the principles that underlie this theory (Chukhray 7). One of them is that narration is linked to a sequence of events, which in this case is true with the undercover brothers. The other principle of narrative theory satisfied by this essay is the three key audiences involved in a fictional rhetorical exchange (Nikolajeva 45). It starts with the primary two positions of audiences where they first join in the hypothetical group targeted by the author (Currie 37). This group shares the knowledge, values and prejudices with the author’s experiences. the second group joins the narrative audience, one that exists in the world of the narrator. The final audience is the narrator audience that believes the narrator’s world is real (Cadden 63). From the essay, it is clear that some people might find this world quite real especially with the undercover brothers where most of the events happen in the contemporary setting with places known to the reader (Joosen and Vloeberghs 15).
In conclusion, it is clear that many critical approaches to contemporary literature exist that do not have to follow the previous approaches such as formalists of textual. However, these approaches still exist and are applicable within the three essays discussed such as in the case of psychoanalysis (Eagleton 34). The approaches serve several purposes such as finding out how readers are able to associate with characters, how gender influences literary works, as well as how narration of a particular work can affect the level of association between reader and the author of the story itself (Bal 145).
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