Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
John David Moore
This thesis examines the effects of the various degrees of narrative intrusion within the genre of children's fantasy literature addressing the theme of separation. The primary texts include the Grimm Brother's folk tale, "Hansel and Gretel," Maurice Sendak's picture books Where the Wild Things Are, Outside Over There and Dear Mili, and finally ends with J. M. Barrie's novel Peter Pan. In examining these texts there emerge three distinct levels or types of narrative. The first type of narrative is zero degree where little narrator intrusion enters the text. The author does not exist as a persona; thus readers may freely work out solutions for separation anxiety within the space of fantasy. In the second type of narrative, adult narration becomes more intrusive. There seems to be a socializing intent on the part of the narrator to control the reader's interpretation of the text by using culturally encoded sets of moral or psychological symbols. Where illustrations enter the text, they may shade the meaning of the text to emphasize and de-emphasize portions of the story in ways not necessarily intended by the author. Illustrations thus reveal anxieties over separation that the illustrator himself seems to have experienced. The third type of narrative reveals the highest degree of intrusion. The author/narrator becomes another figure in the struggle over separation as he gains control of the mother figure and the story itself. The resolution of separation anxiety is obscured and indefinite.
The first chapter of this discussion compares the Grimm Brother's manuscript version of the tale ''Hansel and Gretel" to the fifth revision of the same tale, and discusses the subtle effects of narrator intrusion as it moves away from "degree zero." The second chapter expands on this idea by exposing the subtle effects illustrations have on texts with zero degree intrusion and those with much intrusion. It explores Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and Outside Over There, and Wilhelm Grimm's tale Dear Mili also illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The final chapter deals with the self-conscious narrator in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Throughout these texts, as narrator intrusion increases, adult anxiety over separation becomes manifested in the narrative structure. Characters' actions may show the return to mother, but the adult author, through various embodiements of his intrusive narrator, may tell the reader that separation may not really be resolved. Thus the belief of the possibility of escape through fantasy is taken away from the reader.
Dwiggins, Mary Alice, "Barring the Nursery Window: Narrator Intrusion and Separation Anxiety in Children’s Literature" (1997). Masters Theses. 1827.