Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Dr. Elisabeth Gruner
Marianne Hirsch notes that often, in literature, the absence of the mother is the basis for the heroine’s development. On this foundation, there is nothing new in the observation that orphan girls in literature enjoy a kind of freedom that comes from being without parents and, specifically, without a mother. What this paper seeks to examine, however, through the textual analysis of Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna, Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs, is the way in which the figure of the female orphan is freed from gender and societal roles through a variety of qualities that come with being both disadvantaged and ignorant.
Endowing a turn-of-the-century girl with the freedom to be mischievous, adventurous and imaginative, to not heed the exhortations of her female elders, to excel over the boys, to succeed despite, or perhaps because of, her disregard for socially accepted mindsets and behaviors, is no simple or easy task. A very particular kind of protagonist is required to achieve such liberty: she must grow up without the influence of a mother, not because she is a child flouting authority but because she is girl and then a young lady, creating her own idea of what that means. And because there is less expected of the orphan, she is constantly in a position to amaze. She is “quaintly original” (Cadogan and Craig 94) and her personality is formed by the fact that she neither knows nor follows the rules held by those in authority over her or the general expectations of society as a whole. Quintessential to the orphan-protagonist is this: she is free because she does not know better.
Palermo, Giavanna, ""I don't think she's like the rest of us" : the freedom in disadvantage for orphan girls in early 20th century literature" (2008). Honors Theses. 637.