Shutting the Window: the Loss of Innocence in Twentieth-Century Children's Literature

Isaac Gilman


A century ago, when J.M. Barrie created Peter Pan, childhood was often portrayed as the ultimate space of freedom — a time of fantasy, of imagination, of minimal responsibility. Yet, today, if children's literature over the past century is telling us any story, it is the story of the loss of childhood as a time of wonder, of guiltless exploration, and of unquestioned stability. It is the story of a loss of innocence. So much children's literature today tells that childhood is no longer an ultimate space of freedom, but a space of restriction. Without a doubt, this is in large part a reflection of the current state of the world. This essay argues that while Childhood may never again be a time of wonder, of guiltless exploration, of unquestioned stability, children's stories will always stand with children in their experiences, good or bad, offering solidarity, comfort, and hope. In the midst of telling of childhood's loss of innocence, children's literature has never failed to offer the possibility of childhood's redemption.

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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680