Struggle Of Protagonist in Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, a Little Princess and Tom Sawyer
In any fictional narrative, a reader can expect to learn about a protagonist who has to overcome fantastical or dramatic obstacles in order to achieve a goal. An antagonist might stand between the protagonist and the goal, and the protagonist will have to display perseverance in the face of obstacles incurred along the way. What aspects of children’s literature separates this subgenre from this prototypical formula? What distinguishes children’s literature? The answer is fairly obvious: the target audience, and non-coincidentally the main characters, are children. Thus, the obstacles and the general plight of the main character are exasperated by the fact that they are children. Saving the day, escaping the clutches of evil, defeating a bad guy, and the other responsibilities of the protagonist comes much easier to a fully developed and fully functioning adult. Being the hero is much harder when the hero is “little”. The word “little” can be found early and often in each piece of selected children’s literature. The use of “little” carries a connotation in these pieces that indicates not just a smallness in stature, but also in status and capability. Littleness carries with it an implied lack of autonomy and ability.
There are 175 appearances of the word “little” in Tom Sawyer, 343 appearances in “The Little Princess”, and 143 appearances in “Tom Sawyer”. “Little” is far and away the most frequently occurring adjective in each of these narratives. This paper will argue that this commonality is through no coincidence, but rather illuminates a trend in how children’s literature is written and how the literature is meant to be consumed. Despite each having very different styles, plotlines, characters, and the like, they share this most common descriptor. For the purpose of this paper, this broad concept of commonality will be referred to as “Littleness”. Littleness, as I define it is the general state of being of protagonists in children’s literature. Children are inherently dependent; they need parents or authority figures. Whether it be transportation, food, or simply permission, children exist in a state of dependence. This dependence means that children have a lack of power and autonomy. This accompanying lack of power and autonomy is what I characterize as ‘littleness’. The frequency at which the word little appears in the selected novels defends this idea of “littleness” as pervasive theme in children’s literature. The protagonists must overcome their littleness. Tom, Alice, and Sara each must improvise and adapt, and display confidence, bravery, and wisdom beyond their years to overcome their littleness and the problems that confront them. Through analysis of word frequency in each book, one can visualize the confrontation between the protagonist and their respective littleness. Each narrative has an opposing word which is also frequently occurring, but occurring in moments of relative strength and bravery. The following paragraphs will defend why each selected word is representative of the characters perseverance over their littleness.
The narrator in Tom Sawyer often talks about the state of affairs between “little boys” and “little girls”. Twain could have sufficed to simply say boys and girls, or another adjective to characterize their size. However, he repeatedly uses “little”. This adjective dispowers the young characters in the novel. “Little boys” are much less capable than boys or men. Thus Tom being grouped into the category of a little boy is an obstacle he must overcome. After witnessing a murder and a man be falsely accused, Tom is forced to take on responsibility. In showing fortitude, bravery, and composure, Tom distinguishes himself from the little boy crowd. In writing “Tom Sawyer”, Twain is particularly concerned with knowledge as a representation of capability. The word “know” is among the most frequently occurring verbs within the novel. Tom is an extremely bright child and often utilizes his wit to overcome obstacles. When faced with an overwhelming task, Tom thinks outside of the box and looks for a means of accomplishing the goal. “Know” is the word that is in direct opposition of “little”. A comparative graph of the relative frequencies of “little” and “know” shows that as one word’s relative frequency rises, the other falls. The frequencies of the two respective words are inversely correlated. Twain does not use little as a descriptor in passages that “know” appears because these are passages in which Tom displays fortitude and bravery.
Contextual analysis only further defends this argument. For example, Tom’s ability to improvise is showcased when he gets out of painting his white picket fence, one of the more iconic scenes in American literature. While painting an entire fence with a small brush would be a tedious and pressing task for anyone. Being a child of small stature, painting this fence would be extremely daunting task. This task is microcosmic representation of Tom’s battle with his littleness. Tom’s intellect perseveres, as he cleverly convinces a friend that painting the fence was extremely enjoyable. “Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.” (Twain 17). Tom’s use of “know” is defiant and convincing. In moments such as these, Tom becomes more than just a little boy.
“The Little Princess” ironically features a young girl, who for much of the book is not considered a princess at all. After her father loses his fortune, Sara struggles with poverty and loneliness. She is now without power, and epitomizes what it means to be little. She is frequently described as little, so much so that Little is in the title of the narrative. The title is “The Little Princess”. However, through the course of the book the words “little” and “princess” almost never accompany one another. When the word “princess” appears, the word little is never an accompanying descriptor. Upon looking at the relative frequency chart of the word little and the word princess, the two graphs never overlap. Princess is a word that refers to power and autonomy for Sara. When the word princess is being used, Sara is in a position of power and making decisions for herself. “If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.” (Burnett 1963). Sara grapples with what it means to be a princess throughout the novel. The above passage is a rather explicit example in which Sara begins to overcome her littleness and gain a type of profound contentment. Sara realizes that she can be a princess even if others see her as poor. This is an example in which Sara finds wisdom, and feels that she is a princess rather than feeling little.
Alice’s plight can be best tracked through the occurrence of dialogue. Alice quite literally . When she grows, she believes herself to be a grownup, despite having gained no years in experience or maturity. She confuses her size as a mark of maturity. This is perhaps the most explicit reference to littleness and what it means to be little versus being grown. In instances where there are dialogue, Alice displays autonomy, confidence, and maturity. When there is dialogue she controls her own destiny, compared to her having events acted upon her. In moments where there is dialogue, there are choices from Alice. Littleness as I have defined it, is the absence of choice and independence. Where we see spikes in the relative frequency of “said”, Alice is more likely to be making decisions and overcoming her littleness.
“Little” makes a significant amount of appearances in the Alice in Wonderland series. There are far more mentions of the word towards the beginning of the book, with usage trending downward as the chapters go on. As Alice moves through her adventures she gains more and more confidence. Size and growth occur quite often throughout the books. Alice is often shrinking, and growing, and all the while confusing her size with what it means to grow as a person and become a grown up. “There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought! And when I grow up, I’ll write one—but I’m grown up now,” she added in a sorrowful tone, “at least there’s no room to grow up any more here.” But then,” thought Alice, “ shall I never get any older than I am now? That’ll be a comfort, one way—never to be an old woman— but then—always to have lessons to learn! Oh, I shouldn’t like that!” (Carrol 1949). By Alice existing in this fantastical world, author Lewis Carrol can manipulate this idea of littleness and comment on it. Alice is confused by what it means to be little. When she starts growing and expanding, she perceives this as becoming an adult. Alice believes that she will never grow old because she has already grown in size. Alice is troubled by this, because she wants to grow old to learn more. This in itself shows that Alice has a desire to better herself and grow as a person, despite her misunderstanding of aging and development. Alice’s commentary also serves as evidence that growing and escaping from littleness results in experience, autonomy, and power. Alice wants to grow old for the purpose of advancing intellectually and escaping her littleness. The further along she gets through her adventures, the less use you see the little. Given that “little” is a representation of powerlessness and naivety, it makes sense that as Alice gains confidence the word becomes less and less frequent. A best fit line of the frequency of “little” goes down in the books. However, a best fit line tracing the graph for the word “said” would reveal an increase as the book goes on. “Said” can be understood as Alice’s opposition towards her littleness. Said implies that there is dialogue. “Said” is the most occurring word in the novel, however a majority of its occurrences are in the second half of the book. When Alice can speak, she has some control over her actions. These are typically moments in which Alice has some freedom and choices, and can display bravery. Alice power in dialogue and choice is epitomized in the final scene of “The Looking Glass”. Alice the protagonist is little, while the Queen, the antagonist, is big. Alice is fed up with the queen, and finally gets extremely vocal about her discontentment. “The Red Queen made no resistance whatever; only her face grew very small, and her eyes got large and green: and still, as Alice went on shaking her, she kept on growing shorter—and fatter—and softer—and rounder—and—” (Carroll 1946). In this final scene of the book, the Alice becomes vocal, powerful, and autonomous. As she becomes vocal, the Queen shrinks. Suddenly the antogonist that was once big and therefore powerful, became little. Notice in the above passage, on one of the final pages of the saga, the Queen is described as little. This is the first description of the Queen as such. Alice has persevered in this moment, and overcome her littleness. Carroll has created a scenario to represent this literally by having the powerful antagonist and the powerless protagonist switch roles.
In each of the aforementioned narratives, the protagonists struggles with not only the obstacles in front of them, but because they lack power. Tom is little, and therefore standing up to Injun Joe is an extremely daunting task. The task would be difficult for any man, but is much harder for that of a child. Sara is powerless as a child, and cannot claim her fortune. She cannot take care of herself and thus has to answer to an authority figure in Ms. Minchin. Alice struggles with her size and status for the entirety of her adventures. Thus, the unifying theme, is that littleness as it has been described above, is difficult but not impossible to overcome. These authors show children who can succeed in their quests despites being little, and therefore each narrative can inspire hope for the future for chidren, along with the other morals and metaphors that come along with each respective book.
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