Constructions of childhood in the works of Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce: Pilgrims and Peter Pans
thesisposted on 01.03.2022, 04:30 authored by Margery Ruth Cass
This thesis investigates the way in which children's literature acts as a site for the construction of discourses about childhood, and how the situating of children's literature
within wider paradigms of childhood involves the circulation of competing discourses and opposing models of childhood. This leads to an examination of how texts produce different
versions of childhood and the values and ideologies these entail. The works of Australia's earliest major children's writers, Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce, and in particular their best known novels, Seven Little Australians and A Little Bush Maid (from the Billabong series) are used to illustrate this contestation and provide examples of the two main
discourses I have identified, which I call the Pilgrim and the Peter Pan models of childhood. The narratives constructed by these two models produce certain roles and power relations for children and reproduce certain value systems.
My analysis is based on Fairclough's concepts of intertextuality and interdiscursivity, which regard text and discourse as active forces in the social construction of knowledge. Halliday's systemic -functional linguistics, as a functional and semantically -based grammar, also
facilitates analysis of how texts construct social relations. To demonstrate how the language of the text constructs the social relations determined by the Pilgrim and Peter Pan models of childhood, I have used a transitivity analysis to investigate how the selection of material or mental processes, and of certain types of participant, determine and construct characterization. I have also used a mood analysis to reveal some of the power structures operating and coming into conflict with each other as different discourses are activated in the text. Other aspects of narrative such as focalization round out the analysis of how these
models function, showing how the novels of these two authors thus participate in and reaccentuate widely circulating discourses of childhood, which effectively construct versions of childhood which disempower children and circumscribe the identities and narratives available to them.