The child and the adult in contemporary children's literature : Roald Dahl, Anne Fine, Diana Wynne Jones, J. K. Rowling
The thesis explores the work of the above four contemporary children's writers, in relation to post-1960s Western society. I concentrate primarily on depictions of children, adults and relationships between the two, and the way in which these depictions engage with changing social attitudes. I also place the novels in their literary-historical context, examining whether or not they continue the literary traditions of their predecessors in children's literature, or whether their central focus is on contemporary social engagement. I also consider whether literary traditions (particularly fairytale discourse) are re-worked and reinvented in accordance with contemporary social issues. In Western society, the post-1960s era has brought widespread social changes, which include the democratisation of childhood - 'children's rights' is now a well-used term, both legally and in everyday life. Despite this, however, today's society seems to be experiencing unprecedented confusion and uncertainty in its attitudes towards children, particularly with regard to child-liberation and various reactions against it. Nonetheless, the post-1960s era has witnessed an intense interest in childhood - the many debates and disagreements are evidence of this. Throughout the thesis, I examine the way in which Dahl, Fine, Jones and Rowling engage with (or react against) these contemporary childhood issues. Chapter one outlines the social context and provides information on the most prominent issues: children's rights; parenting advice and educational issues (both of which focus predominantly on liberalism versus strict control); children as a burden or a pleasure; freedom versus guidance; the death of childhood versus the prolonging of dependency; children as innocent angels or destructive demons. Chapters two to six go on to explore these issues in the literary texts: chapter two concentrates on family relationships; chapter three examines individual adult characters, while chapters four and five focus in detail on the portrayal of child characters, including their relationships with adults and the development of their potential. Chapter six investigates the depiction of magic, and the way in which it can be viewed as a form of psychological power for children (and so can feature in realist as well as fantasy texts). The thesis as a whole, therefore, examines the novels' relationship with both literary and social discourse, predominantly with regard to the adult-child relationship.