A Proper and a Big Boy: Bodily Metamorphoses in The Adventures of Pinocchio and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

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    One of the many figures of shame in The Adventures of Pinocchio is when the poor puppet becomes a donkey. Another we find at the very end, when he rejects his past: “How funny I was, when I was a puppet!” (Collodi 1996: 170). Pinocchio finally becomes human through experiencing shame until he can’t bear it and therefore desires adaptation to the norm and acceptance, turning into “a proper boy” (ibid).

                          The Wonderful Adventures of Nils is the story of the spoilt boy Nils, who is – literally – cut down to the size of a thumb by an elf, following which he must travel on goose- back along the length and breadth of Sweden before he can return home, reformed. While Pinocchio is driven by shame, Nils Holgersson rather grows with a growing sense of guilt and responsibility.

                          In a historical perspective, the figures of Pinocchio and Nils incarnate two very different national selves but also two different roads to take in modernity. Comparing them is like placing the characters of Dickens side by side with those of Kafka. And yet, on the surface, the two stories have so much in common. But Nils, just like Oliver Twist, manages to grow up in one piece. In the end Nils cries out: “Mother and father! […] I’m a big boy. I’m a human being again!”. Pinocchio, by contrast, embodies the fundamental split of the modern self, both as a puppet without strings, and, in the end, as a boy with metaphorical strings.

                          Within the story, though, one could argue that repression rules not so much in the representation of Pinocchio as in the representation of Nils. And, more precisely, this has to do with bodily representations, with giving form and meaning to corporal needs and feelings. Strong emotions always take place in a body, and if the person who feels them isn’t aware of them, they become only its body. Interestingly enough, Pinocchio as a puppet is the one who shows a natural ability to feel and express for example hunger and tiredness, while Nils as transformed to the size of a thumb, seems to, if not lacking the need of food and sleep so at least not being ruled of this need, as is the puppet Pinocchio.

                          So perhaps Collodi, just like Kafka, actually shows a more constructive solution than does Lagerlöf, since the Collodian one sticks to the truth instead of projecting a utopian image of the future. As Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg (2007) puts it, “Pinocchiology” is not only mirroring or performing the things as they are. In criticizing the state apparatus, the norms, the acute problems of the modern self, perhaps in the end it also gives us a solution of how to transcend and overcome them.

    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2015
    EventIRSCL, Creating Childhoods, University of Worcester -
    Duration: 1980-Jan-01 → …


    ConferenceIRSCL, Creating Childhoods, University of Worcester
    Period80-01-01 → …

    Swedish Standard Keywords

    • Humanities and the Arts (6)


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