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What Kind Of Evidence Does Violence In Children's Literature Provide Of Changing Attitudes In Twentieth Century Britain Toward Children?

3658 words - 15 pages

IntroductionViolence is an element normally not immediately associated with children's literature. It is not assumed to be a common focus of stories written for children, and is subjected to informal, but powerful, societal constraints. Exposure to excessive or inappropriate violence during the formative years of childhood has long been thought to be harmful by parents, teachers, and society generally. The definition of what constitutes appropriate material, however, has varied considerably through the century. Violence of different forms and degrees has therefore remained a recurrent factor of numerous popular books for children in Britain throughout the twentieth century. Its presence in such successful works implies a significant degree of social acceptance and approval, and consequently offers useful insight as to British norms and values at different historical periods, and their relevance regarding children.The concept of childhood in British society has been an evolving one. The centrality of children in modern culture was not always in evidence, nor were the particular needs of children always considered to be distinct from those of adults. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, literary and artistic evidence depicts a world in which children were viewed primarily as smaller, less capable adults. Artwork containing children reflected such views through images of undersized men and women with oddly miniaturised features and tiny adult attire. Recreational books for children began to emerge in the late seventeenth century, but this material was heavily coloured with religious and moral instruction, often grim in nature.In the late nineteenth century formal changes to the position of children in society began to emerge that distinguished childhood as a critical stage of life. Although the factories of the Industrial Revolution had saved the working classes from starvation, they came to be a condemnation to life of unrelenting toil and deprivation. The worst of their legacy was represented by the plight of children sent to work at ages as young as seven or eight years, under the same often appalling conditions as adult employees. Successive government inquiries and regulation through Factory Acts reflected a growing tendency to define child welfare issues as distinct from those of adults, resulting in gradual improvements and a lessening role for child labour. The reduction in child employment was also conducive to the growing movement in favour of a nationwide system of mandatory education. Subsequent Education Acts of 1870 and 1880 introduced free schooling for children, which became compulsory to the age of ten. By 1918 the state had assumed a more protective role in the lives of children, providing medical examinations, free school meals and maternity and birth services for women.Rapid technological progress and shifting political dynamics continued the transformation of the role of the child in British society into the twentieth century....

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