15 August 2006

"Dorothy's Reproductive Capabilities"?

Among the offerings at this December's Modern Language Association convention in Philadelphia is “Gales Will Be Gals: Dorothy’s Reproductive Capabilities and the Birth of Murder,” by Jon Hodge of Babson College and Boston University.

This paper will be part of a panel titled "
Concepts of Badness in Children’s Literature," which will also include:

  • “The Pippi Perplex: Badness and Contemporary Children’s Literature,” by Jennie M. Miskec
  • “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Resistance and Complicity in Matilda,” by Kristen M. Guest
  • “Bad-Girl Best Friends: The Consequences of Rebellion in African American Girl’s Fiction,” by Gwen Athene Tarbox
What does it say about the study of children's literature today that all these papers focus on bad girls?

Decades ago, the bad boy was a literary archetype: The Story of a Bad Boy, Peck's Bad Boy, The Real Story of a Real Boy, etc. Do we now have a shortage of snips and snails and puppy-dog tails?
Has the figure of the "bad boy" gone the way of the buggy whip? Artemis Fowl and his Dreamworks marketers would surely differ. But perhaps the people who study children's lit, even more than those who consume it, lean toward the female.

All that said, last year I published an essay called "Dorothy the Conqueror" in The Baum Bugle, so I certainly agree that Dorothy Gale is a dangerous little girl to cross. I just don't think Baum's character has much to do with the concept of "badness."


John L said...

I agree. Seems like they chose iconic/popular characters simply for shock value, and to attract an audience.

I think bad boys are still very prevalent in children's literature, though perhaps so ingrained that they aren't even noticed, while a bad girl has more shock value (at least to the scholars on this panel.)

Anonymous said...

I am outraged that anyone would consider Dorothy a "bad girl" in the Bratz (TM, I bet) sense, as opposed to an adventurous girl with a keen sense of justice, which she is. And the reference to "reproductive capacities" suggests that Dr. Hodge is thinking somewhat along the lines of "bad-girl-as-miniature-hooker." It would be distressing if someone were using Dorothy in this way in order to get onto the MLA schedule. But perhaps I wrong the author. Is there a chance you will see him at the MLA or elsewhere and get a sense of his thesis, as opposed to his paper's title?

J. L. Bell said...

Hodge teaches here in the Boston area, but I've never come across him before. His online page states his interests as "Victorian literature, especially the novel; literary criticism, with an emphasis on narrative theory; gender studies; queer studies." So the MLA seems like a better stomping-ground than, say, the Munchkin Convention or the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

From a Baumian point of view, I think it's clear that Dorothy has no reproductive capabilities. She's still a little girl, short of menarche, and therefore unable to reproduce. Unless, of course, she duplicates herself with the Magic Belt—but why would Dorothy do anything that stupid?