You are here

Demon or Doll

Images of the Child in Contemporary Writing and Culture
Ellen Pifer

BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813919638 · $65.00 · Aug 2000
BUY Paper · 272 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813919645 · $25.00 · Aug 2000

From the shootings at Columbine High School to the JonBenet Ramsey murder to the sentencing of "killer kids," today's media cannot decide if children are objects of fear or in need of protection. Our culture's deep-seated ambivalence toward its young is reflected in a fascinating array of recent fiction that exposes society's collective fantasies and fears.

Demon or Doll investigates the ambiguous, contradictory ways childhood has been formulated in the twentieth century and the resulting ambivalence reflected in contemporary fiction. Grounding her exploration in a discussion of traditional constructions of childhood and the influence of the Romantics, Ellen Pifer shows how Dickens translated the Romantic idyll of original innocence into poignant images of "poor children," abused or abandoned by a harsh, increasingly mechanical society. At the turn of the twentieth century, Henry James created provocative images of childhood that anticipated the contemporary, post-Freudian child. Pifer engages a diverse and distinguished body of work by a global range of authors, addressing in each chapter a novel or cluster of novels in which the child's image serves as a nexus for investigating literary and cultural issues. The theories and observations of social historians, psychologists, and cultural critics--from Philippe Ariès to Raymond Williams, Freud to Foucault--clarify the significance of the child's created image.

Novels by William Golding, Doris Lessing, Milan Kundera, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Jerzy Kosinski bring readers face to face with shattered, often grotesque images of the child. But several of postwar fiction's most experimental writers, including Vladimir Nabokov, Don DeLillo, and Ian McEwan, create texts that render surprising faith in original innocence. Whether the contemporary image of childhood appears intact or fractured, wholesome or horrifying, its many facets create a mirror in which we seek glimpses of our elusive, original selves.


An exciting and original book; a major contribution to literary and cultural studies. Pifer writes of literary children in terms that reveal her wide-ranging research, her mastery of critical theory, her extensive knowledge of world literature and its languages, and her humane commitment to a scholarship rooted in things that matter to the larger cause of civilization.

David Cowart, University of South Carolina

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books