Monday, January 23, 2006

Article Note: On How Curious George Became Frightened George

Citation for the article:

Greenstone, Daniel. "Frightened George: How the Pediatric-Educational Complex Ruined the Curious George Series." Journal of Social History 39.1 (2005): 221-228.

I read the article via ProjectMuse.

I will warn readers that if they hold a very cherished memory of Curious George, and they worry any criticism may change that memory, to stop reading this. Otherwise, here we go.

This short article looks at how Curious George has changed thoughout the series. The author argues that changes in the character reflect changes in child-rearing views in the United States. As a reference, Greenstone cites Peter Stearns' Anxious Parents, which is a history of child-rearing in the 20th century. "Stearns convincingly shows that Victorian era parents generally thought of their children (particularly boys) as resilient, hardy and tough. Because some fears could not be avoided, parents instructed their children to face and overcome them" (222). What happened then by the 1930s is that the attitudes began to change. The attitude moved to one of shielding the children from exposure to any form of fear or crisis. Greenstone then shows how this change is reflected in the book series. Initially, George is self-reliant and nonchalant about danger. Eventually the little monkey's autonomy erodes as the man in the yellow hat supervises George more closely. Greenstone concludes that "in short, in the final three books, by turning over the reins of the series to the pediatric-educational complex, the Reys allowed their most famous creation to be transformed frmo a lovable scamp into a nervous, anxious child" (224).

Greenstone goes over the seven books in the series. He also looks at events of the time such as the publishing of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat (1957, significant for its use of a minimal set of words) and the launch of Sputnik (1957). Overall, Greenstone makes an interesting argument about the books and closes by saying, "when literature, even children's literature, subordinates itself to larger social aims, it often does so at the expense of its own vitality" (226).

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