One of the main indications that a particular work of literature (meant to be read by children/adolescents) represents high literary value is this work’s ability to inspire readers to remain optimistic, while they face the challenges of life. Therefore, it is not surprising that many children’s novels are being concerned with promoting the idea that, no matter how hard it gets addressing these challenges, one may never become discouraged, as there is always light at the ‘end of the tunnel.’
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In other words, there is indeed a good rationale for the theme of hope to be featured in children’s works of literature rather prominently. In this paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion, in regards to the novels: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I will also strive to expose what accounts for the specifics of how each of the mentioned authors tackles the theme of hope, as the mean of encouraging readers to think positively.
Probably the main aspect of how the theme of hope is being explored in James and the Giant Peach is that the author made a deliberate point in referring to hope in one’s life, as something that resides deep inside of the concerned person’s psyche.
The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the novel’s main character – a four-year-old boy James, who after having been forced to live with his evil aunts Sponge and Spiker, never ceased experiencing the sensation that he would eventually be able to begin enjoying his life.
In its turn, this sensation appears to have been extrapolated by the character’s tendency to spend long hours, while observing the horizon: “If he (James) looked in the right direction, he could see a tiny gray dot far away on the horizon, which was the house that he used to live in with his beloved mother and father” (Dahl 5). As the above-quotation implies, James thought of the years that he lived with his parents, as the happiest time of its life.
Hence, the discursive significance of the actual location of James’s old house – the very fact that the character could observe this house, as a great tiny dot on the horizon, prompts readers to think that James’s current misery was only temporary. After all, one’s tendency to look at the far-horizon has traditionally been deemed as the proof of the concerned person’s existential optimism – the act in question implies that he or she regards the future, in terms of a life-enhancing opportunity (Caspar 144).
Another noteworthy feature of how Dahl expounds on the theme of hope is concerned with the fact that, throughout the novel’s entirety, readers are being prompted to think that miracles do occur. In this respect, we can well refer to the scene, in which James encounters the old man (supposedly a ‘wizard’): “(The old man): Marvelous things will start happening to you, fabulous, unbelievable things — and you will never be miserable again in your life. Because you are miserable, aren’t you?
You needn’t tell me!” (Dahl 10). What is especially notable about the above-mentioned suggestion is that it does not only confirm the realness of miracles but that it also promotes the idea that it is specifically miserable (due to having been unjustly punished) individuals, who qualify for miracles more than anyone else does.
This, of course, was meant to appeal to the readers’ deep-seated sense of an existential idealism, sublimated in their unconscious tendency to believe that truth and justice must triumph in the end. We can speculate that the author wanted the character of James to be perceived by young readers, as a ‘child-Jesus’ of some sort – hence, the novel’s clearly defined quasi-religious overtones, in respect of how it interconnects the theme of justice with the theme of hope.
The fact that James and the Giant Peach indeed radiates the spirit of hopefulness can also be shown, in regards to the author’s tendency to address the notion of ‘travel’ as being essentially synonymous with the notion of ‘hope’: “The journey begins!. We are now about to visit the marvelous places and see the most wonderful things!” (Dahl 25).
While working on his novel, the author never ceased being aware of the fact that it is in people’s very nature to strive to travel, as something capable of making it possible for them to attain the state of self-actualization. After all, it is not only that, while traveling, people can experience new things, but they are also often provided with several new life-opportunities.
Therefore, it was indeed thoroughly appropriate, on the author’s part to establish a link between the notions of ‘journey’ and ‘hope,’ as it well correlates with the innate workings of one’s unconscious psyche.
Finally, we can well mention the fact that in James and the Giant Peach, the theme of hope is explored in close conjunction with the motif of the ‘American dream.’ There is another memorable scene in the novel, which describes the main characters becoming utterly excited, because of having realized that their journey has brought them to the shores of America: “Those are skyscrapers! So this must be America! And that, my friends, means that we have crossed the Atlantic Ocean overnight!” (Dahl 59).
As this quotation implies, the author tended to think of America, as has been nothing short of the ‘paradise on Earth’ – just as it happened to be the case with many of those people who dream of immigrating to this country. It is indeed in people’s very nature to think of the notion of ‘hope’ as being not an abstract category, but rather something embodied physically.
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Thus, it will not be much of an exaggeration, on our part, to suggest that probably the main reason why Dahl’s novel was able to win the status of a critically acclaimed piece of children’s literature, is that it is psychologically plausible. The very manner, in which Dahl tackles the theme of hope in his novel, confirms the validity of this suggestion.
There can be only a few doubts that the theme of hope is present in the novel Charlotte’s Web, as well. After all, it is namely due to the sheer strength of Wilbur’s hope-‘fueled’ resolution to avoid becoming a Christmas-meal, that he was able to survive, in the first place. What is especially notable, in this respect, is that White appears to imply that ‘hope’ is essentially a positivist category. That is, there are must be the objective preconditions for a particular individual to choose in favor of a hopeful stance in life.
The reason why, throughout the novel’s entirety, Wilbur is being represented quite capable of withstanding hardships, is that the character’s very physiological constitution predetermined his perceptual/cognitive cheerfulness: “The pig, although tiny, had a good appetite and caught on quickly” (White 7).
This, of course, implies that, for one to be able to turn its hopefulness into an asset, the concerned individual must be physically healthy. Therefore, there is indeed a good reason to believe that, after having been exposed to Charlotte’s Web, young readers will be more likely to decide in favor of adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Another interesting aspect of how White explores the theme of hope in Charlotte’s Web is concerned with the promotion of the idea that one’s seemingly objectionable practices, cannot be deemed reflective of this person’s sheer ‘evilness.’ The legitimacy of this statement can be confirmed, in regards to the scene, in which Wilbur reflects on the apparent dichotomy between Charlotte’s ‘bloodthirstiness’ and the fact that she nevertheless was an utterly lovable individual: “Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty – everything I don’t like.
How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?” (White 35). This scene advances the subtle idea that there is indeed a possibility for even the most psychologically incompatible people to coexist peacefully, which in turn creates a certain hope that the world could be turned into a better place to live.
In its turn, this suggests that in White’s novel, the motif of hope revolves around the notion of tolerance – it is only when individuals are willing to treat each other with respect, that they will be able to make the best of their lives (Vernon and LaSelva 7).
Nevertheless, it is specifically the novel’s promotion of the idea that one’s sense of ingenuity is the most effective instrument for addressing even the seemingly impossible odds, which causes Charlotte’s Web to emanate a stronger spirit of ‘hopefulness,’ more than anything else does. After all, it was namely due to Charlotte having been an utterly inventive ‘lady-spider,’ that she was able to produce the ‘miracle’ of her own, by the mean of weaving words into the web: “A miracle has happened on this farm.
There is a large spider’s web in the doorway of the barn cellar… And right spang in the middle of the web there were the words ‘Some Pig’” (White 69). The discursive implication of this is quite apparent – Charlotte’s sheer resourcefulness, as an individual, allowed her to become a ‘life-saver,’ in the literal sense of this word. It is understood, of course, that this conveys a clear message of hope.
This message can be formulated as follows – for as long as one happened to industrious enough, he or she will be able to overcome just about all the obstacles, on the way of seeking to attain a social prominence
The theme of hope is also prominently featured in Collins’s novel Hunger Games. In its turn, this appears to have been predetermined by the novel’s survivalist content. After all, as the popular discourse tells us, one’s chances to come out victorious from of the ‘win or die’ situations, positively relate the measure of the concerned person’s endowment with the sense of an existential optimism (hope). Nevertheless, there are also several peculiarities to how Collins explores the theme of hope in her novel.
The main of them has to do with the fact that, as the novel implies, hope thrives on people’s tendency to perceive the emanations of the surrounding reality, as being utterly symbolical. This is exactly the reason why, by giving Katniss the loaf of bread, Peeta was not only able to relieve the girl’s sense of hunger, but also to instill hope in her heart: “To this day, I can never shake the connection between this boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed” (Collins 46).
The author wanted to convince readers to believe that, as people go through life, they never cease being presented with the opportunities of self-actualization, which manifest themselves in the highly symbolic manner. This, of course, presupposes that there is indeed a good reason for just about anyone to act ‘hopeful,’ as the behavioral mode in question appears thoroughly consistent with the fundamental laws of nature.
What is also quite notable, within the context of how Hunger Games explores the theme of hope, is that the novel prompts readers to associate the notion of ‘hope’ with the notion of ‘willpower.’
The validity of this suggestion can be shown, in regards to the fact that, as it appears from the novel, the protagonist had what it takes to be able to derive a certain pleasure from facing the hardships of life, as something that has a value of a ‘thing in itself.’ In its turn, this can be seen as the direct consequence of Kantniss’s endowment with the ‘fighting spirit’: “My spirit. This is a new thought. I’m not sure exactly what it means, but it suggests I’m a fighter in a sort of brave way” (Collins 173).
Having been a ‘natural born’ fighter, Katniss was naturally affiliated with the so-called ‘Faustian’ existential values, which derive out of the assumption that: “Individual’s willpower must never cease combating obstacles, that the catastrophes of existence come as an inevitable culmination of past choices and experiences, and that the conflict is the essence of existence” (Greenwood 53).
This explains why Katniss prevailed at the end of Hunger Games – deep on an unconscious level; the narrator was emotionally comfortable with the publicly staged murderous spectacle, in which she needed to participate. In its turn, this provides an additional depth to the message of hope, conveyed by the novel.
After all, it is very likely that in the aftermath of readers’ exposure to this novel, they will be much more likely to believe that being the in the ‘right state of mind’ is the main prerequisite for a particular individual to be able to succeed while ensuring its physical survival. It is needless to mention, of course, that the adoption of this idea, on the part of readers, should empower them rather considerably, in the sense of making the people more ‘hardship-proof.’
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in regards to how the theme of hope is being explored in the mentioned novels, is fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis.
Caspar, R. “’All Shall Be Well’: Prototypical Symbols of Hope.” Journal of the History of Ideas 42.1 (1981): 139-150. Print.
Collins, S.mes and the Giant Peach. Web.
Greenwood, S. Anthropology of Magic. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2009. Print.
Vernon, R. and Samuel L. “Justifying Tolerance.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 17.1 (1984): 3-23. Print.
White, E. B. 1952, Charlotte’s Web. Web.