Children Without Childhood: The Emotionality of Orphaned Children and Images of Their Rescuers in Selected Works of English and Canadian Literature

  • Irena Avsenik Nabergoj University of Ljubljana, ZRC SAZU, Univerza v Novi Gorici
Keywords: Charles Dickens, emotions, memories, Anne Michaels, holocaust, orphaned children, rescuers, trauma, adoption, the victory of good

Abstract

This article deals with literary depictions of social, political, cultural and religious circumstances in which children who have lost one or both parents at birth or at a later age have found themselves. The weakest members of society, the children looked at here are exposed to dangers, exploitation and violence, but are fortunate enough to be rescued by a relative or other sympathetic person acting out of benevolence. Recognizing that the relationship between the orphaned child, who is in mortal danger, and a rescuer, who most frequently appears unexpectedly in a relationship, has been portrayed in narratives throughout the ages and that we can therefore speak of it as being an archetypal one, the article focuses especially on three novels by Charles Dickens – Oliver Twist (1837–1839), David Copperfield (1849–1850) and Great Expectations (1860–1861) – and in Fugitive Pieces (1996) by Canadian writer Anne Michaels. Charles Dickens earned the reputation of a classic writer through his original literary figures of orphaned children in the context of the rough capitalism of the Victorian era of the 19th century. Such originality also distinguishes Anne Michaels, whose novel Fugitive Pieces portrays the utterly traumatic circumstances that a Jewish boy is exposed to after the Germans kill his parents during the Holocaust. All the central children’s lives in these extreme situations are saved by generous people, thus highlighting the central idea of both selected authors: that evil cannot overcome good. Rescuers experience their selfless resolve to save extremely powerless and unprotected child victims of violence from life-threatening situations as a self-evident moral imperative. Through their profound and deeply experienced descriptions of memories of traumas successfully overcome by central literary figures in a spirit of compassion and solidarity, Charles Dickens and Anne Michaels have left testaments of hope against hope for future generations.

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Published
2017-11-13
How to Cite
Avsenik Nabergoj, I. (2017). Children Without Childhood: The Emotionality of Orphaned Children and Images of Their Rescuers in Selected Works of English and Canadian Literature. Acta Neophilologica, 50(1-2), 95-135. https://doi.org/10.4312/an.50.1-2.95-135
Section
Articles