Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book Review of A Little Princess (with discussion ideas)

* A good friend of mine who homeschools brought up the issue of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s philosophy/religion as a potential problem area for some Christians. You might read some background on Frances Hodgson Burnett to learn a little about this area.

A Little Princess is the story of a rich little girl named Sara Crewe, who is sent away to boarding school. Soon after that, she loses her father and her fortune. She is relegated to the position of a servant and is badly mistreated. Even with all these misfortunes, she manages to keep her spirits up, and show compassion and kindness to others.

One of the recurring themes in the book is friendship. When Sara comes to the new school, the little girls are fascinated at her luxurious room and expensive posessions, but they quickly learn to love Sara for who she is. She is a very imaginative girl and tells wonderful stories. When her fortune is gone, she is treated very differently, but after a while, she is able to see that her old friends are as confused as she is. They are under a great deal of pressure from Miss Minchin, the owner of the boarding school. It shows the strength of friendship that a couple of her friends are willing to risk getting in a lot of trouble just to see Sara for a little while.

Another recurring theme in the book is pride. Sara is able to withstand very cruel treatment, usually without retaliating. This is because she has a keen sense of pride. She imagines that she is a real princess and is better than those who would act cruelly to her. Her strength actually comes from a sense of superiority. As Christ-followers, we can see that this is not really a good motivation for behavior, but it is a very human one. This opens up a good area for discussion.

Compassion is another theme of the book. Sara seems to be a compassionate girl from the beginning, but living in luxury as she has, she has no way to truly empathize. When she experiences poverty, hunger, and loneliness, her compassion grows greatly as a result. This is a truly sweet part of the book, maybe dealt with a bit too neatly, but still appropriate and a very nice way to talk about compassion and putting love into action.

My oldest is nine years old, so I do admit to being picky about what books we read, but the truth is: all books are going to have their flaws. Right now I try to ask myself if there is an opportunity to discuss character issues, is evil or goodness ultimately rewarded, or does the book dwell too much on evil.

I did find two major problems in this book, and a couple of minor areas that might warrant discussion. The first is that Miss Minchin was really scary to my daughter. So much so that we had to put the book away for a few months. I think it was that she was so thoroughly mean and she was the ultimate authority, answering to no one.

The second problem was Sara’s belief in magic. At first, she is just portrayed as an imaginative child who imagines that dolls come to life when no one is in the room. Very cute, but this belief grows and grows through the book. When things go from bad to worse, suddenly Sara starts calling it “the Magic” and really believing that things happen because she pretends them to be. The whole time, the reader is allowed to see what is really happening in the background, but are we to believe that it is just a fortunate coincidence, or that there really is a Magic that made all these things work together?

The last two areas I will mention are not really problem areas. One is very typical for many books of the time period. It is worth discussion, however. Even though class distinction is meddled with through the book, in the end, everyone is neatly placed back in their original social cubbyhole. So it is not a rags to riches story, but a riches to rags to riches story.

And finally, we are to believe (in the opening chapter of the book) that even though Captain Crewe loves his daughter very much, he is forced, really, to send her to boarding school He is greatly grieved, but there is just no option for him. This would be an opportunity to discuss what choice might be made, and what options really were open in those days.


Post a Comment