Analysis Of Beatrix Potters The Tale Of Peter Rabbit

Friday, November 5, 2021 12:13:38 AM

Analysis Of Beatrix Potters The Tale Of Peter Rabbit



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The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Tom Kitten's ethical world is, I think, problematic. The book tells the story of three kittens who get into mischief. Their mother, Tabitha Twitchit, neurotically cleans them and dresses them up, then sends them out with the admonishment that they not get dirty. They not only get dirty, but lose their clothes to some passing ducks. When they return naked, Tabitha says she is affronted, then hides them upstairs and tells her company that they have the measles. In her book Don't Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children's Literature, the novelist Alison Lurie writes that Potter's books teach that "disobedience and exploration are more fun than good behaviour, and not really all that dangerous".

But The Tale of Tom Kitten does not teach adventurous disobedience; rather it tells us that disobedience is punished with violence. Or this, at least, is what I thought when I flung the book across the room in disgust only, intrigued, to pick it up again soon after. Tom Kitten and his siblings are smacked and sent to bed for their notional disgrace. Worse yet, when they continue romping in the bedroom, they disturb what Potter calls the "dignity and repose of the tea party". Can the reader who finishes the book rest easy that subversive Tom has triumphed?

No: the fact is Tabitha Twitchit thrashes her children for losing their clothes. Imagine what grisly fate will befall them when she stomps upstairs from her ruined tea party! To her credit, Potter leaves the sadism of this neurotic to the imagination. Next I read Squirrel Nutkin. Nutkin is the squirrel who refuses to bring offerings to Old Brown Owl, who instead teases the pompous bird mercilessly - and gets his tail bitten off.

Lear argues that the story is about the "consequences of disobedience and rudeness". But who made Old Brown Owl king of the island, the deserved recipient of sacrificial offerings? Some critics have taken his symbolic castration as Nutkin's punishment for masturbation, but we need not follow them in this. Others - namely the University of Washington's Dr Charles Frey - contend that the squirrel's name suggests not only that he is a little nut, but that we are all like him: he is our nut-kin. Stop tittering at the back.

Next we came to The Tale of Peter Rabbit, his headlong flight from Mr McGregor's garden and a post-traumatic convalescence featuring regular doses of camomile tea. At the start of the story, Peter's mother warns him not to enter McGregor's garden: "Your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs McGregor" - so we begin with the horrifying image of his father's death. Potter was wonderfully matter-of-fact about nature's cruelty and human ruthlessness. Graham Greene once compared her with EM Forster, who similarly "put aside sex and death with a gentle detachment" and whose dramatic action is described by "an acute and unromantic observer".

She wrote darker works for children later in her career, which Greene suggested pointed to some real-life trauma. Thenceforth, Potter's vision became even less comforting. In , Potter published The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, a rather dim heroine who, annoyed that the farmer's wife refuses to let her hatch her own eggs, flees and foolishly falls into the clutches of a suave fox. One might see this story as a critique of women's reproductive rights, but this is beside the present point - some feminists have tried to claim Potter as a sister, but she was at best a dubious ally, taking no interest in the contemporary campaign for women's suffrage. Reviewing this year's picture books in the current issue of the New Yorker, the critic Elizabeth Kolbert asks: "Why do we tell stories to our children?

In my experience, mostly it is to get them to shut up. But there are others who do so to provide a morally edifying, as well as a sentimental, education. What, if anything, is Potter's edifying message? Is it, like the Ladybird books, by turns stupid and hopeless? The notion that Potter's oeuvre privileges subversion is common. The idea is that, writing her most popular books before the last century reached its teens, she liberated children from Victorian mental shackles. In the Oxford Companion to English Literature, Margaret Drabble writes: "Beatrix Potter, the supreme stylist among children's writers, began her series of sardonically humorous animal stories, which always favour the villain at the expense of the well behaved, with The Tale of Peter Rabbit So far, my daughter and I have found Beatrix Potter to be a proselytiser for sadistic punishment, a sartorial fascist, a property-upholding reactionary, an obsessive-compulsive nutcase or rather nut-kin and, conceivably, a bystander in the face of an intolerable natural dystopia that, with her sick though gifted writer's mind, she culpably imagined.

As an adult reader, I must say, I'm beginning to like her. I have pre-screened it for content, and agree with JK Rowling, who recently cited the story as one that all young children should read. Two mice invade a doll's house, but find that all the food they seek to snaffle is made of plaster. Potter's artistic and literary interests were deeply influenced by fairies, fairy tales and fantasy.

Her best known picture book is The Tale of Peter Rabbit which was also her first publication. She carried on to write and illustrate until her diminishing eyesight made it difficult to continue. Potter's books continue to sell throughout the world in many languages with her stories being retold in song, film, ballet, and animation. Reviews Review policy and info. Published on. Flowing text. Best for. Web, Tablet, Phone, eReader. Content protection. Read aloud. Flag as inappropriate. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are.

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