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“Heidi” by Johanna Spyri Essay

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Updated: Mar 11th, 2020


“Heidi” is a fictional children’s book that was first published around 1880. The book was authored by Johanna Spyri, a Swiss citizen. Given that this story is over a century old, it can be assumed that it has already lost its niche among literature lovers. This is an incorrect assumption because the book is an all-time literary classic.

Since it was first published, the book has been adapted into various forms of art including television movies, cartoons, and plays. This paper will summarize the book’s plot, main themes, and the literary devices employed by the author.


The main character in this book is Heidi a young orphaned girl who is initially taken care of by her aunt, Deta. When her aunt’s life is strained by her career, she decides to take Heidi to live with her grandfather. Her grandfather leads a reclusive and cynical life on a farm next to her aunt’s village. Her aunt then leaves for Frankfurt to take care of her work requirements.

When living with her grandfather, Heidi’s charming innocence almost manages to change her grandfather’s cynical nature. However, her grandfather is too protective of the young Heidi, and he does not allow her to go to school in a faraway village. Instead, he lets her tend the sheep with a young herd boy named Peter. Heidi becomes accustomed to this life, and she is very comfortable here.

Three years later, her aunt comes back from Frankfurt and takes the young Heidi with her. At Frankfurt, Heidi is supposed to help a young paralyzed girl named Clara. Heidi and Clara become good friends. She also learns to read while at Clara’s household. Heidi’s main challenge is learning how to keep up with the mannerisms of her new abode.

Consequently, she finds herself constantly clashing with strict housekeeper. Heidi’s struggles culminate in homesickness that eventually deteriorates. She is then sent back to her grandfather’s cottage where she is reunited with Peter. Afterward, Clara visits Heidi at her grandfather’s farm. Her close friendship with Heidi makes Peter jealous.

Out of this jealousy, Peter pushes her wheelchair down the mountain. This dark act turns out well when Clara’s lack of means prompts her to try to walk on her own and with good results. When Peter is found out to have been the one who pushed the wheelchair away, Clara’s grandmother forgives him, and it all ends well.


The most common theme in “Heidi” is that of healing and restoration. Throughout the book, several characters seem to be in search of restoration. Before Heidi comes to live with her grandfather, he is a cynical and lonely old man who lives on top of a mountain. However, her grandchild’s visit turns out to be the healing element for the old man. Heidi’s needs prompt her grandfather to move into the village after years of resisting this idea.

Through Heidi, the old man’s social life is restored. The healing theme is also explored through Clara’s paralysis. Heidi is sent to Frankfurt to assist Clara to get by with her condition. Mutual friendship is immediately struck between these two young girls. Clara is the one who encourages Heidi to learn how to read. When Heidi learns how to read, her illiteracy handicap is eventually healed.

When Heidi starts sleepwalking, most of the people in this household dismiss her condition. However, Clara’s doctor eventually offers a healing solution by telling her to go back to the Alps. After Heidi goes back to her grandfather where she enjoys goat milk, she is eventually healed. The most significant form of healing happens to Clara when she is finally able to walk after years of being paralyzed.

Her healing power comes from a combination of the new life in the Alps and her friendship with Heidi. Another prominent theme in this book is that of Christianity and morality. Most of the children characters in the book are raised as Christians. Even Heidi’s first formal lessons cover the subject of God and His goodness. Also, when she learns to read, her first readings cover Biblical stories.

Her grandfather also seems to enjoy it when the young Heidi reads him stories from the Bible. Clara’s grandmother also forgives Peter when he pushes Clara’s wheelchair down the hill. She bases her decision on her responsibilities and obligations as a Christian.

Literary Devices

The author of this book employs many literary devices when telling her story. At the beginning of the book, Spyri sets up the elevation metaphor. Heidi moves from her aunt’s home down the hill to her grandfather’s house that is situated on top of a hill. This signifies the elevation of the little girl from her former life to her current life. At her grandfather’s house, Heidi is practically on top of every situation.

When she moves to the city, the author paints this as a demotion from her former life. This fall from an elevated life is probably what makes Heidi homesick. When she is in Frankfurt, she tries to climb on top of the church tower, but the author notes that she has to climb “many many stairs.” When she eventually gets to the top of the tower, she ends up disappointed with the feeling.

Spyri also uses symbolism in her book. Most of this symbolism is used when the author is Portraying Heidi’s life at Frankfurt. During her initial days at Frankfurt, Heidi wakes up to find that the windows are too high for her to see the outside environment (Spyri 67). This symbolizes the dark and constrained nature of city life. Eventually, these constraints are too much for the little girl, and she suffers a mental breakdown.

The author mostly uses third-person narration in this book. This style is mostly meant to appeal to young readers. Third person narration allows readers to gain clear mental pictures of Heidi’s life. Also, it allows the readers to relate to the young heroine without having to be too empathetic or sympathetic. The author also uses a simple dialogue to complement the third person narrative.


The author of this book was a Swiss citizen, and the book is set in rural Switzerland. This implies that the book is a tribute to Spyri’s rural homeland (Williams 68). This explains the author’s choice of themes and motifs. Nevertheless, the book has managed to retain literary significance more than a century after it was written.

This means that the original book has survived multiple mutilation attempts by films and television adaptations. The themes in this book are also timeless, and this is what makes the book a classic. The tranquility brought about by the references of nature in this book is also irresistible for the current generation and possibly the next one.

Works Cited

Spyri, Johanna. Heidi, New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1996. Print.

Williams, A. “Healing landscapes in the Alps: Heidi by Johanna Spyri.” Therapeutic Landscapes 12 (2007): 65-73. Print.

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