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1 ALTERNATIVE AMERICAN GIRL: RADICAL READERS, HIDDEN THINGS, AND GIRL SIZED VIEWS OF HISTORY By MARIKO TURK A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2011
2 2011 Mariko Turk
3 To my family
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would very much like to thank my chair, Anastasia Ulanowicz, and my reader, Kenneth Kidd, for the insightful guidance and encou ragement they have given me over the course of my graduate studies. Their work and their teaching inspired and shaped my research, and t heir support and enthusiasm assured that my research turned into a finished thesis. I would also like to thank Casey W ilson for being such a helpful workmate, and my family for always happily supporting everything I do.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 8 2 ESSENTIAL, SEQUENTIAL: RECAPTURING THE CHILD READER AND AMERICAN HISTORY ................................ ................................ ............................ 12 3 COMMODIFIED THINGS ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 34 4 ................................ ................................ ...... 50 5 POTENTIAL ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 68 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 73 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 75
6 A bstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts ALTERNATIVE AMERICAN GIRL: RADIC AL READERS, H IDDEN THINGS, AND VIEWS OF HISTORY By Mariko Turk May 2011 Chair: Anastasia Ulanowicz Major: English Since the launch of the American Girls C ollection of historical dolls, books and accessories in 1986, Pleasant Company (now known as Amer ican Girl ) has surrounded itself with sentimental discourses that simultaneously function as company mission statements and meditations on the essence of girlhood in America. Of course, these sweet and nostalgic discourses have been countered by a critic al discourse that is highly distrustful of the collection and American history, not to mention its emphasis on consumerism. Critical examinations of American Girl (AG) give us the feeling that to read and play with AG materials is to enter a world where the forces of the AG brand of consumerism work on every level to trap the child consumer / reader in the conservative, normalizing world of the American Girl series. I do not disagree with this characterization of AG and its goals, but I do wonder if there are other possible ways to exist within the world of AG and interact with its materials counter to the constraining narratives that emanate from both AG and AG criticism. This paper first examines the very carefully ren dered worl d and worldview of AG. T hrough close readings of its catalogues and book sets, I will analyze the dominant narratives of the AG series and how they respond to late twentieth century cultural
7 anxieties about American history education and the child (the ch ild reader specifically). T hen I will look for the cracks, gaps, and moments of pause in the AG books that might provide ways for readers to experi ence the AG world counter to its dominant messages. These possible counter readings depend upon the object s and moments in the stories that and therefore are left out of its cycle of commodification and consumption. By first examining the conspicuous aspects ostensibly s table world and then experimenting with how readers could potentially destabilize that world, my paper seeks to gain a wider understanding of the AG series, and how they can be used
8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION From 1987 1990, the b ack covers of the American Girls C ollection direct mail catalogues contained a brief vignette by Pleasant T. Rowland, founder of Pleasant Company (now known as American Girl ). 1 lies a tattered, water ago American Girl ). What is inside the trunk that has the power to bring a long ago childhood so instantly back to The vignette is accompanied by a dimly lit photograph of the doll resting against an antique trunk, out of which spill tiny accessories galore: a rust colored pair of gloves, a hairbrush, a parasol, a fan. she started the American Girls C reminder ( American Girl ). What Rowland hoped the collection would accomplish is detailed at the end of the vignette: At an age when girls are old enough to read and still love to play, they need books and dolls that capture their imaginations. The stories in the American Girls Collection come alive with beautiful dolls and period doll clothes. The doll accessories are replicas of real things found in times gone by. They are quality pieces no t plastic playthings and are made for children over eight years old to treasure. I hope the American Girls Collection will be dearly loved and well played with and then passed down to other generations of girls tomorrow a reminder that growing up in Ameri ca is, has been, and can always be an experience to treasure. ( American Girl ) 1 Mattel
9 Like many of the company vignette exudes sentimentality, and simultaneously functions as a company mission statement and a meditation on the essence of girlhood. It is also completely phony. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the doll Rowland discovered in the basement of the Wisconsin Historical Museum was purchased by Lucien and Mary Hanks for their baby daugh ter Sybil Hanks in 1908. Sybil apparently para. 1 ). This alternat iv e vignette runs directly owner possessions so special that they were put away until some faraway day when American G irl catalogue vignette not only encapsulates the American Girl commitment to nostalgia and sentimentalized versions of both girlhood and history it also demonstrates the almost palpable sense of falseness surrounding the whole e nterprise, the emptiness of history). But we already know that American Girl is phony. Feminists know, historians know, literary and popular critics kn ow, and even a lot of parents are awfully suspicious. In fact, the rosy, sentimental discourses surrounding American Girl are countered by another kind of discourse that is also quite well known. Jennifer Miskec recently
10 2 Miskec points out that this examined by many critics who are distrustful of the past) (158). 3 What seems to really disturb critics, however, are the ways that this girlhood and this h istory are packaged and ubiquitously marketed : can be found in most elementary school libraries and because the big glossy catalogs few youngsters fail t (Dockrell, qtd. in Inness 169). The two contrary discourses surrounding American Girl (AG) both seek to protect the child reader/consumer of AG materials. As such, both have ideas about how children read, experience, a nd use these materials. While AG imagines girls being pleasurably captured by their books, dolls, and accessories, AG critics imagine girls world of conspicuous consumption forces of the AG brand of consum erism work on every level to trap the child consumer / reader I wonder however, if there are other ways to imagine readers exist ing, even being 2 Miskec is referring Entertainment Weekly review of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl the first major motion picture based on an American Girl character. The review states that the movie 3 essay Books Taught Me: History Meets Popular Cultur Ed. Roderick McGillis. New York: Garland, 1999. 153 164.
11 captured, undoubtedly conservat ive ways counter to the restrictive narratives that emanat e from both AG and AG criticism? For instance if the conspicuous aspects of the AG world (the American Girl characters their accessories, the inten ded morals of the stories) work together to rigidly entrap child consumers in the normalizing world of AG, perhaps its purposefully less c onspicuous aspects (the child reader, the un commodified objects, the darker aspects of the stories) could work tog ether to desta bilize that world. Drawing on the work of perceptive critics who r ead the lessons AG sends out to its child readers/ consumers, I will describe how the very carefully rendered world of American Girl respond s to the cultural anxieties surrounding the child and American history during its moment of production. Then, I will imagine ways to exist inside that world, and use its (less conspicuous) materials, in manners that run counter to the dominant discourses of both AG and AG criticism
12 CHAPTER 2 ESSENTI AL, SEQUENTIAL: RECA PTURING THE CHILD RE ADER AND AMERICAN HISTORY Pleasant Company launched the AG line of historical chara cters in 1986 with three dolls Kirsten from 1854, Samantha f rom 1904, and Molly from 1944 each complete with accompanying outfits, accessories, and six volume book sets. Following the same successful formula AG added Felicity (1774) and Addy (1864) in 1991 and 1993. 4 views of significant events that para. 3 ). They also, of course, hoped to inside that the girl reader i marked as the most appropriate and natural books, dolls, and doll accessories The sentence seems innocent an d packaging of innocence), but in light of increasing concerns over the child in the 1980s the fate of the critical and/or reading child in particular, this need to capture the girl reader takes on new meanings. As Michelle Ann Abate asserts in her stud y of contemporary conservative 4 My paper focuses on the texts of these ear lier dolls, though AG has introduced several other historical characters over the years: From 1997 2009 the company released Josefina (1824), Kit (1934), Kaya (1764), Julie and Rebecca (1914).
13 set off a had wide reaching cultural effects (34). This conserv ative backlash, with its commitment to uphold ing recovering essential truths, was a powerful force American social, cultural, and political life at the time. The growing influences of feminist, multicultural, and LGBTQ rights movements contributed greatly to these upheavals, which shifted and expanded (and to some, fragmented) once held definitions of values, morality, and identity as well as challenged the very existence of essential truths (Abate 32 33). To those who were frightened by them, these shifts and expansions were shattering all that was once certain and known, causing the degeneration of values on both the familial and national level. Indeed, the essences of both chil dhood and American history became endangered by these shifts. The American Girl series, its origins well within the conservative backlash of the 1980s, seeks to recover ess ential truths about the child (specifically the girl) and about American history by responding to the forces threatening the coherent existence of these two things. As David Buckingham details in After the Death of Childhood: Growing Up in the Age of Ele ctronic Media (2000), the 1980s were witness to growing concerns about the c oncerns by anxious idea was often accompanied by the
14 evocatio n of an still existed), and a desire to recover this period by bringing its values back to the contemporary world (Buckingham 24). Ideas about t death varied, though as Buckingham points out, most critics cited a breakdown of the once stable line that separated the adult world from the child world, facilitated by electronic media like television which, unlike printed texts, allows c omplete and uncontrolled access to information (27). Buckingham emphasizes that change, and particularly about the changing power relationships between adults and childre The specific power in flux in the relationship between adult and child, according to The Disappearance of Childhood Children Without Childhood s and se were once concealed from them the divide between adult world and child world disappears, thus the death of childhood (Postman 87). The anxieties surrounding the prematurely critical child as well as t he anxieties surrounding the child who h as indiscriminate access to t he mysteries of the adult world both depend upon the uneasiness produced by the child existing out of sequence ar
15 embodiment of shattered truth, a body that defies the former certainty of its posit ion, identity and essence. further illustrate s the anxiety about the child out of sequence (the child who has critical powers and/or who has access to adult material) and the subsequent desir e to relocate her within some past safe, logically ordered space rules of a complex logical and rhetorical tradition that requires one to take the measure ify meanings continuously as 77). For Postman, reading is a linear activity governed by sequences and caution. For this reason, reading must necessarily be what one reads a nd how one reads it. In seventh or ninth stman argues, in our past grader [did] not yet know about seventh grade experience, nor a seventh grader about ninth irst, only to The well ordered and comforting sequentiality of allows for the adult capacities, supposedly ensuring that they will comforting in its imagining of the child reader as first, and rightly, a paraphrasing child,
16 (restating, making clear, mastering the content of the reading material) not a critical one (picking apart, questioning, complicating the content of the reading material) The dichotomy Postman sets up betw een paraphrasing and criticizing is key to sustaining the (45) Through adult deter mined sequences (of both what to read and ways to read it), the progressions by which the child comes to learn adult knowledge as well as move from paraphrasing to thinking critically about that knowledge are safely under control Given the fear of the ch ild out of sequence, and the view of reading as an activity of express the wistful desire to recover the essential child by hearkening back to the materials and The American Girl series shares these anxieties about the child existing out of sequence (and, as we will see, also shares the view of child reading as a controlled, sequential, paraphrasing activity that can be employed to reinstate the child to her proper sequential place). takes on the mission of reviving it with a vengeance. essay by Rowland appearing in the 199 2 AG holiday catalogue, echoes concerns about but offers the AG collection as proof and preserver of an essential American girlhood. The back covers of the AG series of b things about growing up have changed, while others like families, friendships, and feelings share. They come alive for you in The Ameri
17 first affirms the existence of an essenti al, timeless American girlhood that is always recoverable, even underneath alterations made by societal historic al, or technological change AG then takes up the mission of recovering this essential girlhood for girl readers of AG by capturing their imaginations away from the media messages that desire to speed them out of sequence, and guiding them safely back int o a cycle of books, dolls, and prescribed narratives and methods of play. And so, unlike the gloom and paralysis that and recoverability of the essential Amer ican girl produces a world of purpose and ene rgy, fully committed to recovering and celebrating what some had mourned as dead. The set up of the AG books and merchandise demonstrate s such commitment to essentiality and sequentiality as well as the belief that sequentiality safeguards essential The books, for example, follow the same basic pattern and have the same progression of titles, 5 allowing readers to not only fol low the progression of a specific historical AG character various accessory sets for each character similarl y promote these kinds of direct original accessories set includes a beret, a shoulder bag, a monogrammed hankie, a includes a straw bonnet, a 5 With the exception of the three most recently added h istorical characters Kaya, Julie, and Rebecca of titles: Meet [character], [character] Learns a Lesson Surprise Happy Birthday [charact er], [character] Saves the Day and Changes for Meet title and end with Changes for but the titles deviate from the pattern for the middle four books.
18 water gourd, a kerchief, a half dime, and a cowrie shell necklace that once belonged to her grandmother. The lesson that AG hopes readers will draw from direct comparisons among stories and accessory sets is, for example, that w locket containing a picture of her father (who is away fighting in WWII 1864 cowrie shell necklace that used to belong to her grandmother (who was kidnapped from Africa and sold into American slavery), both are e ssentially the same Both are security objects, looked to and touched in hard times, enabling each girl to gain the comfort and strength needed to deal with whatever historically appropriate adversity she faces. Thus, both girlhood and history are flatt ened and laid out across the well ordered pages of a catalogue: w ] hether the doll character lives on the American prairie in the 1860s or in a Midwestern suburb during World War II, she undergoes the same formative experiences. And those experiences are Wallace 154). Not only do American Girls and American history unfailingly follow the same essential progressions in the world of AG, but American girl re aders of AG (and their parents) are encouraged to progress from books to catalogue in order to be a part of (and uphold) this wonderful tradition of American girlhood. In this way, AG is committed to creating reading and playing experiences for girls that reading and growing up as rigid, controlled processes based on adult determined sequences that safely develop and shape the critical agencies of the child reader. It is important to note, too, that while the whole AG enterprise i s ostensibly based upon the it is not merely engaged in the nostalgic desire to delay or stunt girls in girlhood, though
19 it certainly is to some extent righteous notion that it is not delaying girls per se, but rather restoring them to their logical and rightful stage in the sequence (they are girls, after all). This distinction marks the difference between a backward ga zing, purely wistful, delaying the inevitable mission, and a mission that looks back in order to effect a just restoration in the present. It is a distinction between evoking the past as a beautiful yet ultimately irrecoverable place of refuge from a pres ent that is doing girlhood wrong, and using the past to correct what it sees as the wrongful fragmentation or acceleration of girlhood in the presen t. This use of the past to recover the essential place and essential time of the American girl within the p resent national sphere marks the AG collection of historical characters as a series with active ideas about how contemporary American girl s should interact with the past as well as the present. And also, I would argue, just as AG makes use of history to r e establish the coherent essence of the girl in the present, it also makes use of the girl to re establish the coherent essence of American history, which was also in danger of fragmentation. The same conservative backlash (characterized by anxieties ove r the shattering of fueled anxieties about the fate of American history education and the coherence of the national narrative. N ot surprisingly, the child was often at the very center of these anxieties as well. On one side is the c onservative vision, which thinks
20 nations and regard its occasional falls from grace as short pauses or detours in the continuous flowering of freedom, capitalism, and On the other side is the vision that aims to expand the historical consciousness of the young by including the study of subjects and events that had been previously left out of the national narrative As Nash et al. argue those on the conservative side of the history wars feared that national narrative (24). In these anxieties over the shattering of control and subsequent widening of the arguments, which similarly worried about the shattering of adult control over the sequen tially the essential child). T hose worried about the new inclusiveness of American history ble national narrative to which all Americans might subscribe also being threatened by breakages and the skewing of the sequence. Whereas the traditional national Nash et al. 98), upheld the view of American history as one linear and he young ( Nash et al. 100).
21 Once a gain, when the young com e into contact with fragmented and incoherent material, unbound by sequentiality, the re sult is anxiety. This notion is furthered by the reading child as first a paraphrase r and only later, after logically ordered and adult determined progressions, a critical thinker. According to Nash et al. there is a tradition that persists in American culture (despite the pedagogical research against it) that amount of a must be paraphrased, restated, or me morized before progressing into thinking critically about them, implies the fear (a fear particularly packed with potential) of the child national narrative. This type of interaction with history is so full of potential because of the subversive understandings and uses of history that it could create. However, before we take up questions of what uses could potentially come from engaging a the national narrative, we have to examine how the AG stories work rigorously to create stories and reading experiences that promote content over critical thinking, and paraphrasing over analyzing In other words, we have to examine how the AG stories
22 work to cohere and essentialize American history and American girlhood through the controlled progressions of both. Samantha Parkington one of the original American Girl historical cha racters, is an orphan living with her wealthy and loving though strict Grandmary in 1904 New York. Samantha often divides her time between light childish mi schief, helping her friends, and struggling to be ladylike at tea, meals, and her sewing hour with Grandmary. In the first book of the series, Meet Samantha Samantha meets and befriends Nellie a neighbors, the Rylands. Nellie with her working class background provides the Samantha series with its only source of historical gloominess. Her presence consistently threatens to fragment coherent progression through American girlhood coherent rendering of American history. experiences girlhood notions, causing a few brief moments of disturbance: At hearing that Nellie has never been to school, Samantha Meet Samantha 24). When hearing that feed a imagining castles and jungles and sailing ships, but she had never imagined hunger and cold. You mean your parents sent you away? 24). Finally, Sam antha n the factory I had to work every day but Sunday, until dark. And the air was so hot and dusty, I started coughing a et to see my family much
23 Faced with the reality of a girl who is not moving through girlhood in any recognizable way Nellie does not go to school she lives without her family (one of American girlhood), she does not even br eathe smoothly experiences. S hocked out of her notions of what American girlhood is, and stun The shock and silence, however, last (24), and then Samantha is Nellie into the unified progression of both girlhood and American history. immediate solution is to teach Nellie here every you everything Samantha seeks to gather Nellie up into the coherent progression of American girlhood by means of an educational program that rests upon the erasure of the social injustices Nellie suffered in the past and continues to suffer in the present. current position as a servant fails to present a signific ant obstacle to her engagement vision of the essential girlhood progression of school. And, since Samantha will teach Nellie everything her past exper iences, though harsh, will not in the end have deprived her of anything at all. Mo appearances in the Samantha series are marked by this pattern brief moments of fragmentation (of girlhood and American history) followed by the swift and sure actions of Samantha the true American Girl which put everything back togethe et al. 100) that also necessarily contains the seamless, tidily packaged girl.
2 4 The second book in the Samantha series, Samantha Learns a Lesson demonstrates the ways in which the AG series uses girlhoo d to render history a seamless progression, and history to render girlhood a seamless progression, and the consequences of this conflation for civic education and citizenship. The story centers preparations for a speaking contest, the subje Samantha Learns 27 first foray into public school, and her failure to progress to the appropriate grade level place out of sequence at to reinstate the independent educational endeavors she established in the first book again teaching Nellie herself in what the girls come to ca ). Better, because Samantha help[s] her, [Nellie ] could move up to the third grade really fast 19 ). So while Samantha takes on the meaning of American progress in her speech, she simultaneously takes on girlhood progress in her school s essions with Nellie By the end of the story, progress as it functions in both of these realms, America and girlhood, becomes inextricably linked with the other. After talking to the adults in her life about her speech assignment, Samantha decides to de 43 44 ). She performs this speech in her school wide contest and wins herself the chan ce to go forward and represent like her
25 wonderful 29). Spurred on by the promise of the material and ceremonial markings of her success and progression, Samantha practices her speech on Nellie An interesting choice of audience, since Nellie used to work in a factory caused her in book one, Samantha has by book two. Nellie tell s Samantha 46 ). Nellie knows from experience that the reality of factory life superficial The descriptions Nellie then gives of her experiences in a thread factory are jarring, especially considering the usual blithe tone of the Samantha books and the AG world in general. Nellie that wound the thread. There were hundreds of spools. We had to put in new ones when the old ones got full, and we tied the thread if it bro explains that the winding and 46 47 p rogress obstruct the proper functioning of the child body, it also can literally fragment it. Nellie continues: The machines were so strong, they could break your hand or your foot or pull a finger off as easy as anything...If your hair was long, the machines could catch it and pull it right out. They just kept winding. Once I saw that happen to a gi rl. She was just standing there, and then suddenly she was screaming and half her head was bleeding. She almost died...They paid us 48 )
26 Nellie describes what happens to children when they are made to take part in the operation of progress in America, when they literally get caught up in American progress as it heedlessly winds and winds: they are shattered, pulled apart, and almost die. And even if, like Nellie they escape this vici ous physical fragmentation, factory work still fractures the essential progressions of childhood (disallowing play and school) which leaves these children dangerously out of sequence. The brutality of progress and its young victims are portrayed here, as story places the progression of the child in direct contrast with the progression of America. Factories mark not only the progress of America, but also the fragmentation of children. Samantha is at first quite arrested tared at Nellie. 48 ). However, similar to their first meeting in book one when Nellie first tells Samantha about her factory work, Samantha moment of shocked pause does not last long. The next scene finds Samantha at the Young and looking something more about factories from Nellie ( 50 51 ruthless experiences give Samantha physical ease, assurance, and certainty on how she must proceed. new speech is mostly a paraphrase of Nelli machines make things fast and cheap, but they are dangerous, too. They can hurt the children who work in the factories. The machines can break their arms. They can cut
27 off their fingers. They can make children sick. And chi have time to play or go to school 51 ). Samantha hurt children, then we have not made good progress in America...And I believe Americans want to be good. I believe we want to be kind. And if we are kind, I believe we will take care of the children. Then we can truly be proud of our factories and our 51,53 new speech seeks to repair the damage done to both childhood and American progress caused by the fractu ring collision between them in story. By cruel experiences and concluding with beliefs about the goodness and kindness of Americans rather than a criticism of the factory system or the conditions of child labor, Samantha repairs and re occupies the position of the essential child (in effect forgetting the unkindness of a system that allows for the literal b reaking of children ). Further, by judging the progression of America through the progression of its children, (the onl y way America can have good progress is by ensuring the good progression of its children ) speech rethreads the fragmented national narrative, by reframing it in terms of the narrative of childhood In other words, speech reworks Am erican history into st ory demonstrates that children can fragment the notion of speech gathers up these moments of fracture and threads them together, re framing American history through the uncriti cal vision of an essential American Girl In this
28 readers as they are for the adults who feel anxiety over these girls. AG calls upon parents to let their girls be speech (and the thrust of the AG stories in general) reveals a purpose of this mission: to revive the coherent and endangered national narrative through the progressions of the essential child, and to revive the endang ered essential child through products about the coherent progression of American history. In this way, AG clearly sets forth the type of historical consciousness and civi c action it wants American g irls to have and take part in, which is best encapsulate d by According to Berlant, feeling your relationship to America allows citize nship to become a the national ideal and the realities of the national system ) (51). Speaking of the same period and the same anxieties of fragmentation that fueled childhood arguments and was trend of national According to this conservative response, the restoration of depended critical energies of the emerging political sphere into the sentimental spaces of an amorphous opinion culture, characterized by strong patriotic identification
29 mixed with feelings of practical po Berlant 3). Once again we see the juxtaposition of criticism, which fractures essences, and uncritical sentimentality or identification, which restores them. (51), characterized cohere nt and ideal national narrative must be fo rgotten or else somehow assimilated into the coherent national narrative (50). If this happens, the infantile citizen can be exposed to the injustices of American political, social, or economic life, but the exposure will not ultimately break her overall belief in the coherence of the national narrative, nor her feelings of patriotism. It is very clear throughout the Samantha series that while Samantha certainly feels the inj ustices Nellie describes (often physically tingling, aching, going numb), she a ll too soon forgets or moves on from their impact, or, as in her speech, lessens In effect, while the American Girl feels things, good and bad, about America, she does not fragmenting factory speech followed by reconstructive factory speech is the final chapter of book two and ends, in true AG fashion, with a 53 54 ). Samantha is a winner first for feeling bad for factory children and then for want to be good want to be kind, will take care of the children And Nellie is a winner
30 be cause the clearly unkind effects of American progress ( like her lack of education) are erased by her progression to the appropriate grade level. Everything, in other words, is just where it should be. The narratives of Americ an history and the American g irl neatly threaded together though, importantly, with thread that has ceased to be viewed as an object associated with the brutal fracturing of either girlhood or history. In fact, this bit of forgetting becomes even clearer in book three, Sur prise when Samantha receives a sewing kit as a Christmas gift from her instead of recalling experiences in the f past feelings about the injustices of American nowhere to be found. Rather than recollecting dusty factories, thread winding machines and pulled o ut hair, Samantha 55 ). The sewing kit, with its sound organizational structure and the thread, arranged in its proper compartment, prevent the relaps thread. Samantha can uncritically love this sewing kit and these threads even after making a speech that disapproved of their modes of production because she is a model infantile citize goodness and kindness of Americans. She is also, however, engaged in what we could call American Girl citizenship, a particular kind of infantile citizenship in which the acts of forgetting, assimilating, or rerouting criticism of injustices are often encouraged or accompanied by the uncritical love of exciting objects.
31 For instance, earlier in Samantha Learns a Lesson Samantha asks Nellie if they can meet after sc hool. Nellie clean the parlor and sweep the mats if I get the table set right away, I can come for a little while before I have to serve dinner Adler 30 ). After this exchange private school, snidely asks Samantha walking home with servant girls As in many of her experiences with Nellie Samantha t this moment that is so indicative of the class injustices Nellie suffers under every day (30) Immediately underneath this scene, separating it from the next, is an illustration of a fancy table setting pretty china bowls, three silver forks, a crystal page, one is led to think it illustrates the table Nellie had to set before she could visit Samantha However, the scene that follows reveals that it is actually Sa loved the glitter of the silver and the crystal in the dining room. She loved the little silver bell Grandmary let her ring to tell Mrs. Hawkins to clear the tabl 32 33 feelings of shock at the uncritical love of the glittering dinnerware (like her love of the sewing kit) effectively pushes out the recollection of in justices that these objects could potentially provoke in her. Influenced by conservative anxieties about children and the national narrative, AG
32 existence of certainties. It shows, among other things, a clear commitment to the sentimental spaces of an amorphous opinion culture, characterized by strong patriotic identification mixed with fe out, the perfect vessel through which to channel this rerouting of critical engagement with politics and history into an amorphous sentimentality about America turns out to be the American Gi rl who, by virtue of being a paradigm of infantile citizenship, allays As an infantile citizen, the American Girl visio 52). She is a paraphraser, not a criticizer, a memorizer o f facts and information, not one engaged in thinking much about them. The American Girl feels that America is a good and kind place to live, and forgets any evidence to the contrary in large part helped by her loving relationship with things. However, the mission of AG is not only to create the essential American g irl and contemporary girl reader in their narratives, and to have these American girls follow the same route as The American Girls by similarly engaging them in a loving relationship historical consciousness of the American Girl is painfully clear, what is not clear is whether the American girl reader of the AG series must follow the same path. This is the important question, because what is at stake here is not the American Girl
33 protagonist engagement with and use of this history. So while the American Gi rl protagonists (and presumably their readers) blithely progress into model American Girl citizens, loving their country and loving their things, we are allowed to wonder if there are other paths left un intentionally open within the world of AG that girl readers could potentially explore. Think back to the possibilities, for instance, bundled up in the brief moment of crisis after Nellie juxtaposes the image of a girl with half her hair pulled out with the availability of cheap thread the shocked, numbing moment when Samantha but what if, instead of feeling, forgetting, and progressing on, a reader recalls and does not let go?
34 CHA PTER 3 RADICAL READERS AND UN COMMODIFIED THINGS To fully turn our attention from the American Girl to the American girl reader, we should first examine some of the ways that the girl reader of AG has already been imagined. AG imagin es the interaction between AG book and girl reader as one of benevolent and restorative capture, in which the reader, affirming her girlhood, moves along the narrative path on pace with the American Girl character. Critics of AG imagine the same kind of interaction, though of course, they view the capture as oppressive Either way the reading activities associated with the A G books are characterized by a capturing that moves in one direction only from book to reader. The seeming lack of openings for r eaders to challenge the dominant strains of AG narratives construction as a response to cultural anxieties about the child and history education as well as its status as a particularly powerful commercial enterprise. very items that a of the AG books as catalogues denies them the ability to provide readers with meaningful experiences of gi rlhood or history specifically because of their position within what 6 6 In Playing with Power in Movies, Televisio n and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ber keley: U of California P, 1991.
35 intertextuality...cut[ting] across several modes of image production, in this case books, dolls, video, magazine, according to many critics, provide the kind of reading experiences that open or broaden ways of thinking about girlhood a normalizing packages of girlhood and history. In this way, the AG books can be said to not only employ reading as a tool by which to safely control the development of the child capacities in response to cultural anxieties about the loss of the essential child and the essential American history but also to draw her into, as Jyotsna history with accessori es in a catalogue (75). V iewing the AG books as a tool to combat conservative anxieties about the girl reader as well as a part of fearful little space for the reader to make her own movements within the stories. Historian Fred Nielsen views the AG books more positively, pointing to some of the more disturbing or uncomfortable moments in the texts for example friend Marta dying of cholera durin family owning and her mother, even while she helps them (88 89) Nielsen is right to point out the more troubling moments in the A G books. His conclusion, however, reduces the child experiences with these moments claiming that girl readers uncritically follow the narrati ve paths of the American Girl pro tagonists as they ga ther up, undisturbed, the fractured piec es of girlhood and the national narra tive and fold them
36 back into a coherent vision of both of these things. more troubling moments are presented causes them to narrative by only mentioning banal sentence Mrs. Ford is condescending to Addy 89). The AG narratives an d characters certainly do m oments in the narratives, ( a cruci al part of essentializing American girlhood and history) but it does not follow that child readers flit over and forget them just as quickly. Nielsen concludes that wholly appropriate for c 7 But we can certainly question this assessment in order to tease out some of the possibilities, buried within the rigid formulas of the books and the rigid formulati ons of the reader of those books, in which the girl reader of AG might act as historian and interpreter. That child readers are not ready to participate in the falls in line with ideas a bout how girls should interact with history i.e., cursorily. But, we could reconsider this view by imagining the ways in which child readers could potentially work hidden materials. If we do this, a counterimage of the child as re ader historian, and citizen emerges, an image of a child reader who works with the 7 Keeping Secrets: The Girlhood Diaries of Seven Women Writers by Lauren F. Winner. Winner states
37 conservative histories and stories AG provides for her, but dismantles and rearranges them into shapes and meanings wholly different than the ones intended. In order to sta rt imagining ways that girl readers of AG might experience girlhood and history counter to the American Girl characters, we have to first examine the the moments and objects in the stories that do not fit so smoothly into AG are left out of its cycle of commodification and consumption. Specifically, we have to look at the objects in the stories that have not been turned into catalogue items available for purc since these objects often signal, cause, or otherwise represent the darker moments in the stories injury, illness, injustice we can also examine how the reader might ruminate upon these m oments in ways unanticipated by the narratives. These dark and hidden aspects of AG have been overlooked because of their relative scarcity. The moments and objects in the stories that offer potential challenges to girlhood and sanitize d history are easy to lose amidst the louder proclamations of AG and the quick pace of the stories, and this, of course, is just how AG wants it. But if we are to imagine girls living radically inside the world of AG, using its materials to challenge its destabilize and re route the coercive path from story to catalogue, we must look beyond the celebratory stories and catalogue items that sustain the AG world, to the dark materials that hav e the potential to dismantle it.
38 books, and not all of it can be consumed in the same ways. I find the following classification of things in the AG world, followed by a few (of many) examples, to be helpful: 1) Things featured in the books and for sale in the catalogues: l ockets, dresses, nightgowns, etc., etc., etc. 2) Things featured in the books and depicted in the illustrations, but not for sale in the catalogue: shackles, tobacco worms, a thread winding machine. 3) Things featured in the books, but not depicted in any illustrations, and not for sale in the catalogue: gutted squirrels, detached fingers, pulled out hair. These categories of objects offer different ways of understanding AG. The commodified t narratives about girlhood and history. The un commodified things in the second and third categories offer possibilities for resisting these dominant narratives, since they exist inside the books but outside the pages of the catalogue, and thus break dow referencing. Walter Benjamin given or finds within the adult world provide a useful way into imagining how child readers might interact with the un commodified materials of AG, and to what purpose. Benjamin says, in over the production of objects visual aids, toys, or books that are supposed to be seen above, critics and parents have recognized, if not necessarily the folly, than certainly the harmful or constrictive aspects and constant emphasis on its produ
39 hrown aside, ignored, and lying outside the anxious attention of And besides bein children use them in ways that not only counter their functions in the adult world, but that create new functions and meanings altogether. In other words, i nstead of using the waste p together, in the artifact produced in play, materials of widely differing kinds in a new, intuitive relationship. Children thus produce their own small world of things within the That children are drawn to the waste materials of the adult world, and that in the pro world of things within the greater on Benjamin asserts that the child reading n When reading something like an illustrated ABC book, for instance, the child does not merely, as Postman would have it, memorize the sequential order of the alphabet. Rather, the arrangements of the alphabet rearranging, recombining, turning over, creating her own stories with these pictures stories ungoverned by
40 sense, ungoverned by sequentiality ( Benjamin, It is clear from this imagined interaction between child and book that, as Klaus Doderer points out arding literature He considers the child to be an independent reader moving around at will inside the text, using the materi als it provides to create alternative stories, an alternative meaning maker in general, is clearly evident: she explor es unexplored paths, find s overlooked materi als, and creat es with them endlessly imaginative stories and meanings unbound by adult defined rules and sense We can see why this image of the child reader is exhilarating to those seeking ways of shattering the status quo especially when contrasted wi version of the child reader ested with active (and to some, frightening) political and civic potential, seen perhaps especially when she reads mater ials that are supposed to safely consign her to certain normalizing and passive positions within the national sphere. For, though the forces of normalization, consumerism, and political passiveness like AG are strong, Benj the formulaic, sequential, object filled world of AG, childhood, American history, the national narrativ e it seeks to restore.
41 One can, with a little imagination, recognize the un commodified things that wastes because they cannot, for obvious reasons, be put up for sale, an d also because many adult readers of AG treat these products as waste by either not acknowledging them or acknowledging them only to say that they are so unessential to the stories, so overshadowed by the explicit lessons of the books (which correspond to buyable products) that children do not have any meaningful interactions with them. But if we ld of things its un commodified objects, which are often bound up in the darker moments of the stories. her around we could arrive at ways of countering the dominant narratives of AG through the use of its own (waste) products. B reductive renderings of girlhood and history, is not in danger of cycling uncriticall y a danger to the system, she provides an al ternative and liberating way of approaching AG. A way that views AG materials not through the superficial eyes of the politically passive, sequential ly minded, commodity loving, essential American Girl citizen, but through the eyes of the looking, finding, rearranging, creating potential girl reader, who is not at all bound to follow intended sense ng movements between book and catalogue) and not its essentializing notions of girlhood and history. To begin imagining these potential interactions between AG book and girl reader more
42 specifically, we can turn to a typical scene in AG one that seeks to capture the girl reader within the usual constraining narratives of American girlhood (via the American Girl character and a buyable object), but that also introduces the opportunities for a reader to go off path amongst the waste products to play with A catalogued materials. Kirsten Larson w ho im migrates to America in 1854, is like Samantha one of rical characters The first book in her series, Meet Kirsten, tells of the eden. In the book, Kirsten learns that traveling is uncomfortable and dangerous, that America can be strange and scary, and however, Kirsten is sitting happily in a tree f ort with her two cousins, believing, as the smooth and speedy progression from hardships to l ifted straight out of the coherent national narrative is facilitated by a nice, warm calico dress and her own bed both available in the catalogue. There are, however, a slew of un commodified things in the book that the American Girl Kirsten may recover from quickly and easily, but which raise works for children (Reynolds 6). Not only does this scene address this child reader by attempting to capture her imagination, it also (unintentionally) provide s alternative things with which she can play.
43 Yo rk from Sweden after their long journey on board a ship. Kirsten is excited to accompany her Papa and her brother Peter into the crowded marketplace on Broadway to buy milk and bread. Kirsten many wagons candles, tinware, cloth I want to 16). Kirsten is ecstatic, she has never seen these things before and there is a That is, until her looking gets her lost: She saw women holding huge baskets heaped with fruit. understand what the women said, but the red berries in their baskets remin ded her of the delicious cloudberries her grandmother gathered in Sweden. Kirsten paused a moment by a gray headed berry seller. Then a boy carrying a tray of silvery fish bumped her. She almost stumbled over a nes. But Papa was gone. ( 16 17) Women with huge heaping baskets of fruit (whose language she cannot yet lders and her Then she stumbles over boys and is lost completely. None of these things the women, the boys, the boots, the tray of fish is portrayed in illustrations nor, of course, in the catalogues. This moment of the child beco ming lost,
44 e premature introduction into adult knowledge were destroying childhood. Kirsten is the paradigmatic child at risk, the girl AG seeks to preserve sexually and critically dormant e around her), and in great d anger of becoming lost forever: even glanced at her. (20 21) Kirsten remains lost for six pages, all of which are fille d with frightening things and off kilter movement. First, she tucks her heart shaped necklace from her grandmother (available in the catalogue) inside her collar because her mother told her Once th is buyable accessory is out of sight, Kirsten commodified things, which, unlike the normal AG world, sustained by its connection to the glossy catalogue, is dangerously off balance. Kirsten gs that poked their snouts in How m any corners had they 20). And most devastatingly, hat if she What would happen (19 20) We get a disturbing sense of what might happen immediately after she asks herself these questions. She part of the street, where rough looking men in bloody apr ons sold wild game and meat.
45 Gutted rabbits, squirrels, and deer hung from poles. Sides of pork dangled from sharp Kirsten surrounded by un commodified things and without her family (an essential of American girlhood), is displaced and disoriented Her world goes askew and, frantic and erratic, she runs and stumbles among trash, pigs, rough men, bloody aprons, gutted animals and sharp hooks (all, of course, not illustrated and certainly not cross referenceable in the catalogue). Kirste n is soon saved when she draws an image of a ship in the dust on the ground and a kind woman takes her to the docks, where her parents are waiting. She hugs both mother and father, and with her family restored, the world is righted once again. Instead o f garbage smells making her dizzy, The reunion scene fault her Papa calls her a smart girl for to stay right beside me the next time. The enormous sense of relief once the ordeal is over as well as American Girl Characters para. 2 ). This lesson might read: do not wander off, do not lose sight of your father no matter how much you You should not be looking at some things blood and boys and rough men. You are a girl who is to treasure her girlhood by treasuring her girlhood things. To emphasize this lesson, the reunion scene ends with a particularly blatant bit of book to catalogue cross return to the AG world proper. When Kirsten promises her Papa that she will stay right beside him next time
46 Below this sentence, and serving as the ending image of the chapter, is a margin drawing of the gold heart necklace from her grandmother the one she tu cked into her collar at the beginning of the ordeal, and the one that is featured so prominently in the catalogues. Kirsten is a working part of the Indeed, she is all too ready to make promises never to le ave it again, from the bottom of her heart (and heart shaped necklace). But the child reader might not accompany Kirsten least not so quickly and whole heartedly This chapter depicts Kirsten as the child who AG fears is di sappearing and seeks to preserve. However, in the rapid intensity with which the chapter gives its not so her experiences while lost are not), a possible splitting occurs between the American Girl and th e potential American girl reader. The un commodified things found on the garbage, bloody aprons, rough men, gutted animals are swiftly employed to scare the child reader into, first, learning the lesson of being careful in c rowds and not wandering away from your parents, and second, the lesson of being a good, American Girl by wanting to remain inside of girlhood and outside of the realms of things you are specifically not supposed to look at yet. However, the things that K irsten that a child might be drawn to, especially the child as imagined by Benjamin. Perhaps this is why these things are employed so quickly, flashing up to scare but t runs frantically away. There is certainly an aversion
47 child reader might delay, dangerously, amongst the dead ani mals. That they might find in the alternative, garbage filled streets a playground to be lingered in instead of scared out of. Th e things on this alternative street, where Kirsten to the AG world and everything it stands fo r. Indeed, the things could almost appear in a kind of anti American Girl catalogue where the girl instead of finding objects and finds things that explicitly and violently oppose it. For instance, the glossy AG catalogue pages are with corresponding catalogue numbers and rules for ordering. T his street is filled with trash the smell of which makes one dizzy, off balance, and altogether unsure of wher e to go. The catalogue is filled with crisp little aprons (Kirsten has three different ones available). The aprons on this street are bloody and worn by men. And since domestic objects like aprons, china, and sewing kits, are used in the AG stories and catalogues to essentialize the experience of American girlhood (all American girls throughout time ostensibly have these things, in one form or another, girlhood) their direct in its threat The stand in contrast to the demure looking girls who fill t he pages of every AG catalogue. And then, of course, there is all the meat. Particularly the small, gentle, harmless animals that, dangerously dangling, have been turned into meat for devouring. In these images there is again the echo of the at risk American girl reader small, precious, h
48 by the social forces that would have her grown up and sexualized too fast. AG uses trash, bloody aprons, rough men and meat to frighten the reader out of that anti A of girlhood as fast as possible. T heir desire is to cohere the movements of the girl reader with the movements of the American Girl Kirsten But if the reader, unbound ideologically profitable for AG, she is playing with materials that directly dism antle the essential notions and essential movements (from book to catalogue) that sustain the entire AG world. imagined anti AG catalogue), produce what Jyotsna Kapur refers to a s the anxiety of recombines toys rather than mouth the pre This kind of child, very reminiscent of the Benjaminian child who seeks o ut and recombines waste products in new ways that differ completely from adult uses and them. quite When Kirsten available items. But th e
49 desirable example a nd be frightened by the un commodified things, but the reader always threatens to interested in a deer on a pole than a heart shaped necklace. The positioning of the c hild reader as potential violent predator in the meticulous world of AG necessarily gives this imagined reader, with its un(pre)scriptable imagination, a great amount of power. not turned into a source for ge nerating profit, becomes a terribly fearful thing that Certainly a reason why AG is enough to read and still loves ompanying narratives. The girl reader who does not contribute to ideas about girlhood and the national narrative the girl reader who works and plays with commodified things and un pre scripted narratives profitable and normalizing world as well as the essential ideas of American girlhood and American history that it creates. A terribly fearful thi ng that nevertheless shadows the marketed and marketable American Girl in every story.
50 CHAPTER 4 ORY There are other things in the AG books, besides the bloody aprons and gutted of American girlhood which might and worldview to violent consumer who destabilizes those products and that worldview. While we saw in Meet Kirsten reader could potentially dismantle commodified things, this reader also has the potential to dismantle the coherent national narrative that AG works so hard to keep intact, as well as cha it. importantly the overwhelming sociocultural, political and economic contradictions of modern s with the necessity of engagement p ostponing any attempts at sociocultural practice or Instead of employing the child in politics in order to enable and even celebrate practical passivity, disengagement, and uncritical acquiescence, Benjamin sees the child as havin and practically creative 8 is used to effect crucial change in the adult world (Fischer 213). 8 Programme of
51 Here w civic, and national spheres runs directly counter to conservative uses of the child within these spheres (i.e. the child either as memorial of something essential lost, or champ ion as opposed to the conservative American Girl citizen, in contact with the small, sometimes hidden, but potentially powerful things, moments, and movements in AG that contain within them latent radical energies, can have devastating consequences for In fact, out of these interactions can emerge an orms the The margin illustrations scattered throughout the pages of the AG books present particularly interesting possibilities for readers to have experiences with AG stories that challenge the experi ences of the American Girl characters page and half page illustrations depict scenes from the stories, the margin illustrations mostly depict the objects used, described, or imagined by the characters in the text The margin il lustrations appear very frequently (approximately thirty margin pictures per sixty page book), and are placed literally within the text of the narrative. The moment the object appears in the story (is used or mentioned) the margin depiction of that object appears, crowding and moving the words on the page, and sometimes dividing scenes. As well as demanding attention by their placement within the flow of the narrative, many of the margin pictures are also intricately detailed, further encouraging close ex amination.
52 The placement and intricate detail of margin illustrations that depict catalogue available items are useful in, as Susina points out, facilitating easy movements between book and catalogue. For instance, the margins of the Samantha series ar e full of tiny, detailed illustrations of catalogue wrought iron school desk in Samantha Learns a Lesson the decorative curves delicately rendered, red, blue, and yellow textbooks visible behind the iron, a note from a c lassmate rolled up and stuck into one of the curves ( 1 ). The details of this image encourage a very close inspection, drawing attention to and increasing interest in this buyable item. But the margin illustrations often depict items that are not catalogu e available, and these are also placed within the text and intricately detailed. In this way, the techniques used to make the margin illustrations attractive and therefore encourage smooth movements from book to catalogue can also, when the pictures repre sent non catalogue items, work to break down these movements and encourage new ones. And we need only recall the interaction Benjamin imagines between child reader and the images scattered over the pages of an ABC book to recognize the potential of the ma rgin pictures to provide materials for making alternative stories within the larger, sequential, and formulaic story. That margin illustrations of un commodified things provoke readers to perform different and potentially useful kinds of movements within the text can be demonstrated with the first ten pages of Meet Samantha The very first margin illustration of the Samantha series, f or example, is a lush oak tree, obviou sly not available via catalogue If examined closely, a miniscule pair of legs is visible, dangling out of the
53 oak tree suddenly rustled and dropped a squirming bundle of arms and legs. Samantha Parkington t Meet Samant ha 1). From the very beginning of the story, close inspections of the margin illustrations are encouraged, even if the illustrations depict non buyable items. Also encouraged is the movement back and forth between text and margin picture, as readers can look for and find the details of the story in the tiny details of the pictures. Sometimes the margin pictures also encourage movements back and forth between other, corresponding margin pictures. After Samantha falls out of the tree and rips a hole in he seamstress, in order to have her torn stockings repaired. While Jessie works Samantha day before. She also sees t then decides not to tell Jessie about the dropped margin illustration of this event depicts the dropped jelly biscuit with the three ants on the next two pages, the margin pictures portray the increasing number of ants in correspondence w 8). This series of pictures not only encourag es a close interaction with the margin illustrations provoking the reader to count the ants on top of the biscuit and further away along the margins to see if they match up w ith the number in the story it also encourages a flipping back and forth
54 between t hese pictures in order to see how the ants increase and how the jelly biscuit increasingly disappears under the crowd of tiny ant bodies. In the middle of the series of ant illustrations, there is a separate margin picture a drawn and labeled portrait of A lice Roosevelt which provokes yet another kind of movement. Alice Roosevelt appears in the margin because Samantha thinks that t exciting things, and the newspapers were Samantha series, but the drawing of her in the margin, with wild hair piled on top of her head and confident, smug expression, identification of her as seems to encourage the reader to find out more, perhaps even to perform her own independent research. Close inspections, r eferring back and forth between picture and text as well as between picture and picture, outside research these movements are all hese movements and interactions when provoked by illustrations of catalogu e available objects, can and probably do often function to channel the reader from book to catalogue. But when the pictures represent non catalogue items, the movements and interactions must necessarily lead somewhere else. Especially when the illustrati ons represent, appear during, or otherwise recall uncomfortable moments in the stories, particularly moments when Berlant The interactions encouraged by the se particular margin illustrations can potentially re fragment and revise the notions that AG seeks to keep intact.
55 For instance, I described in C hapter 1 uncritical love of the demonstrates her absolute forgetting of Nelli horrible expe riences in the thread factory, ( where children could literally be broken in order to keep thread prices cheap) pro tagonist and love of pretty objects as a way to repa ir and restore the national narrative and American girlhood. However, t he margin illustrations that accompany both scenes initial story about her experiences in the thread factory and the scene in which Samantha receives her sewing box for Chr istmas) attempt at this smooth restoration. When Nellie tells Samantha about her line, shows a pretty thread ( 48 ). The picture, drawn with the usual amount of detail, is neve rtheless very unusual because in this instance the pretty, delicate details, and the close inspection they invite, do not encourage the girl reader to order this item out of the catalogue (it is unavailable there anyway) but rather provoke criticism of it s mode production, and perhaps even rouse questions about the way her own things, and the things around her, are produced. The margin picture that accompanies the Christmas scene shows the sewing kit that Samantha rtment full of spools of colored (
56 Surprise 55) Because the margin illustrations invite close inspection and encourage movements back and forth between similar pictures, th e sewing kit with its compartment full of threads, though it provokes no memory in Samantha memory, causing her to flip back and recall the first and very unloving depiction of thread and its production. And so even though the narrative does its best to sew up the rips in the story of American progress by viewing this progress through the eyes of the forgetful and uncritical American Girl citizen, the eyes of the girl reader still have opportunities to catch the instances of f ragmentation. And not only catch them but, most importantly, recall or return to them at the very moment that the American Girl and seemingly the narrative itself, prove their forgetfulness. The margin illustrations have the potential to instigate this kind of recollection in the reader, which, if successful, forgetting and reproduce by way of a Christmas gift, the shock and fragmentation caused by the image of a thread w inding machine ripping By practicing the back and forth movements instigated by narrative elements such as the margin illustrations, the reader of AG can bring different scenes of the stories together in new ways that, i essentialized American girlhood, allows her to (re) capture the initial shock produced by the fragmentation of once coherent notions about American progress and American girlhood. And if the shock of fragmentation is indeed what is captured and preserved by essentialize her and essentialize history through explosive interaction w
57 and of girlhood too view of history relies the forgetting of the victims of progress the the broken fingers, pulled out hair, the bleeding sc alps of children (262, 258) The 55 ). riticisms of the view of and linear, we can see the American history that AG attempts so painstakingly to create through the uncritical and forgetful gaze of the essential American Girl character And in the notion that a moment of shock can recall a suppressed memory from the past that can be seized in order to recover what has been forgotten we can see the potential interaction with history that a girl reader of AG can have. Each moment in AG that recalls, however fl a moment at once filled with the potential to break apart puts it, a
58 coherency of the national narrative by folding them into an idea of progression that views history through a celebratory and uncritical notion of girlhood. The fracturing very easily be dimmed especially when followed by the introduction of dining room, for instance, certainly flashes brighter to Samantha hardships.) But no matter how much AG seeks to appropriate these moments and these memories, there is always the potenti al for a girl reader to capture and wrest them away. It is not only the margin illustrations that can provoke a flash of memory, a seizing (15). The final example I will examine Addy series and depends u This final alternative ways due to its subject matter. Addy a runaway slave from 1864 turned American Girl in 1993, is at the center of the AG series that works with one of the most contested position as a slave at the beginning of her series, the shocking experiences often happen directly to her instead of to a friend (as in the Samantha series). For these reasons the potential for readers to read against the reductively restorative movements of the AG narratives, recall the
59 sh are even greater. addition to the AG collection in 1993 (she is the first non white American Girl character) reflects the growing influence of multi culturalism on representations of American history, and the increasing attention paid to the more shameful aspects of the American past. The Addy series also, however, continues to unified national narrative by rendering history, even (and especially) history marked by incredible trauma through the optimistically unifying eyes of the American Girl attempt to smooth out the fragments of history by looking through the lens of girlhood case : It seems far ones: is the story of her nascent citizenship really served by the six book series? In the end the horrors of her begi Thus even slavery b ecomes a marketable condition, when it leads to the accumulation of the appropriate accessories (Kowa lski Wallace 156) It does indeed seem far fetched that AG can mold the traumas of slavery into a eries tries, the very accessories that make her an American Girl (essentially no different from all other American girls) potential appropriation into essential categories of history and girlh ood, but also of the potential exploding of these categories. True to AG form, Meet Addy th e first book in the Addy series, does its best to view difficult historical circ umstances in terms of girlhood so that the progression of the
60 national narrative might be fully restored if the healthy progression of the girl is restored. In the first scene, Addy whispering about possible escape. Her mother wants to wait, believing that once the war is ove immediacy of escape, and his reasons revolve around girlhood: I hurt when I see Addy toting heavy water buckets to the fields...bent over like a ol d woman. [Her brother, Sam] already fifteen, but she a little girl...She go out in the morning, her eyes all bright and shining with hope. By night she come stumbling in here so tired, she can hardly eat. [Her sister, Esther] still a little baby, but Ad dy getting beat down every day. I girlhood. Sam is a n adolescent and Esther is a baby categories that are apparently (perhaps because AG claims no essential American teen or American baby) not as in need of protection and ability to progress through an essential American girlhood hunching her over like an old woman, making her stumble, beating her down and this is what cannot stand. This or girl centric view of slavery recalls the description of American progress in t he Samantha series, which is only bad if it disrupts the healthy progression of children and so, in the end, good because Nellie the former child victim of progress, is progressing just fine. Similarly, by thus evaluating slavery through the terms of girlhood, AG seeks to absolve the horrors of slavery, and absorb the fragmented pieces of the national narrative by granting Addy American Girl status i.e. by absorb ing her into the American Girls C ollection. As Meet Addy
61 escape from slavery to the attainment of American Girl status ( complete with all the accessories), it will be useful to follow the progression of the narrative in order to see how (and through what objects) AG seeks to make this transition seamless and contrarily how the seams might be twisted and ripped open experiences of slavery as well as her dreams of freedom continue to be mar main tasks is rgin illustration of a tobacco plant with three tiny, wiggling worms visible on the leaves. Addy about the night before er Poppa dreams of freedom are made largely of fancy dresses, evoked by Addy to dis tract The juxtaposition of dresses and worms in this scene or more precisely, the use of fancy dresses to distract from having to touch the wiggling worms is significant here because if notions of freedom, the wiggling worms certainly mark her experiences with slavery. Meet Addy does represent slave punishments such as whipping and shackling (her brother and her father both suffer
62 these punishments, Add y herself gets a lash while trying to protect her father, and formative experience with slavery, affirmative world, depends upon tobacco worms. The scene begins with another margin illustration of a tobacco plant, this one a close up drawing of a worm on a leaf. Addy is once again de worming tobacco plants, but she is distracted by thoughts of her father and brother who had been sold to another plantation a week before. Because of her worries, she does not check the leaves carefully enough. The overseer catches her carelessness and punishes her: Holding her wrists in one of his large hands, he opened his other han d. Addy saw what he held live worms. Worms that Addy had missed. The overseer forced open her mouth and stuffed the still twisting and wiggling (23) The sc ene is shocking, sensor y and surprisingly sexual The close up image of the thick curling t obacco worm in the margins enhances the visualization of the scene. Also, becau se this horrific incident happens to the main character, it is different from the dark moments of the Samantha series, which portray Samantha stories about her traumatic experiences. reactions to them (she is shocked, numbed, and silenced at first, but then on the move again, ready to fix things) AG seeks to immediately guide reader reactions though of course this guidance does not always necessarily work. But in this scene, there is no outside American Girl reaction or interpretation to demonstrate to the reader any way of feeling about the ugly and humiliating incident. The scene ends wi th Addy silently
63 (24). The lack of immediate response, apart from a defeated and disquieting crumple, would seem to cause wiggling worms to be all the more indepen dent and all the more heightened. And even though sex has absolutely no place within the official world of AG, it is hard not to feel the undercurrents of rape in this scene the phallic worms, the forcing open, the stuffing the crumpling to the ground Even if the child reader does not have a clear conception of the sexual aspects of this scene nor a knowledge about the frequency with which young slave girls suffered rape by masters, overseers, and others in power over them, the scene simulates the viola tion, humiliation, and disgust connected to these actions (holding, forcing, and stuffing) and these things (twisting, wiggling, bursting worms). And, again the lack of interpretation offered in this scene, the absence of the restorative American Girl s ized view, would only work to increase incident by offering no solution to the uncertainty, shock, and shame. The experience obviously has a traumatic effect on Addy and when she does react to it in the next s cene, she expresses feelings very rare for an American Girl expressed by American Girls they love their families, their friends and, of course, is disruptive, fracturing, and quite shocking, just like the traumatic incident that provoked it. dangerous, fracturing energy into love Your brother and Poppa need us to fill our hearts with love for them, not hate for white
64 to love her family, like all American Girls do, she mother concedes 5). Once again AG reframes systemati c injustices as acts of feeling and also presents feeling as a corrective to systematic injustices. So a traumatic experiences in slavery are r appropriated, and Addy can attain true American Girl status, by the actions in this case, of a nice woman. This nice woman is Miss Caroline, who provides runaway slaves with a safe house, food, clothing, and passage to Philadelphia It is Miss Caro line who officially entrance into American Girlhood through the home and things she provides reads as her transition al period fr om slavery to American Girlhood: Addy and he r mother take and they sleep think about how good it felt to be clean and safe, but sh e was too tired. She fell asleep clean and safe, the material and emotional dirt from to wake up an American Girl
65 And in the morning, the transition is completed. Miss Caroline gives Addy a pink 59). previous ideas about freedom, but also specifically signals her identity as an American Girl The pink dress is the Addy doll arrives in as well as the one she is wearing on the cover of Meet Addy her earlier uglier outfits outfits do not mark her moment of origin as an American Girl and as they are not found anyw er progression through girlhood origin as an American Girl pi nk dress dress with its wiggly white stripes and white buttons running down the front. It was 59). The description directly recalls the earlier scene in which Addy imagines the fancy dresses that freedom would bring, images she conjures up in order to distract herself from And then there is that evocative phrase that causes the was forced to burst open in her mouth to burst up into the very scene which seeks to erase them T here are multiple opportunities for the rea der to grasp onto the memory as it in the dress : they
66 could seize upon it here as Addy the book, and again as they look at the front cover image of Addy in the dre ss, and again as they see catalogue images of Addy in the dress, or receive the Addy doll, as an American Girl growing up in essentially the same way as all American girls, collides with a remembrance of the worm eating scene, the girl reader might challenge seeks to experiences with her own. American Girl dress can be understood as a sy mbol of the AG world, with all of its restrictions and opportunities, all of its moments of danger. freedom, so associated with fancy dresses, combine in the dress tha t marks her as an American Girl ( Benjamin, erase all of the fracturing moments that came before its appearance and es sentialize history and girlhood. But also, at the same time, containing the potential materials necessary to re fragment these narratives, flashing up memories that could be captured by the very girls AG is designed to capture. The dress exists as a t dress, and other things in the AG world spools of thread, a are charged with the potential to ove about American history, American girls, and what girls do in and with history. And the
67 release of this it.
68 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION: CONSERVA TIVE CHILDR TEXTS AND RADICAL PO TENTIAL Recent scholarly attention to literature, 9 which challenges (not by overturning but by forcing open) the view of as a socially conservative genre, have provided new ways of Also, attention to the ways in social ideologies, conservative or radical, continu es to further inquiries into the social materials that seek to position you ng people within the social and political sphere, but also necessarily speak s to larger questions about Political Cons ervatism (2010) and Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction (2007) are two recent also examine the conservative versus radical possibilities Abate begins her study by citing ugh (6). She then focuses in on the specific tension this thread takes in politically and socially conservative American 9 For instance: Mickenberg, Julia L. Learning from the Left: Children's Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, and Mickenberg, Julia L, and Philip Nel., eds. Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature New York: New York University Press, 2008.
69 texts of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, which agg ressively push the agendas of the conservative movement while enjoying mainstream commercial success (27). Reynolds, on the other hand, examines how texts written for children can often be and aesthetic transformation of culture by, for instance, encouraging readers to approach ideas, Reynolds argues that despite the xts past and present, native visions of the Obviously, Abate and Reynolds work with very different archives but both of their studies focus on texts that, regardless of their messages, are founded upon the symbolic potential of childhood the idea of the child as potential, the child as possible future, in which interpretations, meanings, ways of reading, thinking, and seeing are not yet fully formed or foreseeable (Reynolds 2). Abate suggests that the chil potential has become all the Both sides, Abate argues, are turning to children refreshingly (though, of course, dangerously, too) open and un entrenched (24). Abate argues that the increased political attention paid to children in re cent years, in the form of books or other materials,
70 the United States by which competing possibilities, the child as social agent and the child as social pawn, depend upon the ion always potentially productive and always potentially dangerous, always charged with a possible, of entrenched ideologies (Lowenstein 14). Though Reynolds and Aba te focus on opposing ideological impulses within the other. space that is simultaneous ly highly regulated and overlooked, orthodox and radical, and radical potential, is certainly valuable for the greater understanding of the wide and varying field wh en applied to individual texts, or a connected series of texts, such as the American Girl literature wi thin themselves, as they at once spout orthodox, acculturating messages and contain the materials (however hidden and overlooked) for subversion and resistance. AG uses lovely things, scary things, and the American Girl
71 siz American girlhood and American history, but the very moments and the very things that AG uses to capture the girl reader within its the same things that the girl reader cou ld potentially seize in order to capture a fracturing, liberating, alternative girl sized view of her own. regulated contains cracks and corners that, if looked into, could overturn the whole e containing as they do strong conservative impulses but also reader based radical memories and histories passing by. vignette, in which she imagines, coming to life out of an old doll trunk fille d with sequential, essential visions of girlhood and American history. We are r ecalling at 10 trunk and 10
72 find objects that, instead of causing the world to founder, steady it by fabricating a line (made of doll accessories) that connects long Steadying and collapsing, once again it is the story of contrary tensions and impulses found within and rising out of the symbolic space of childhood. The point of fusing texts. From this one chest will arise stability and collapse, sequentiality and and thread, pink dresses and wiggling worms.
73 LIST OF REFERENCES Abate, Michelle Ann. Political Conservatism New Brunswick: Rutger s UP, 2010. Adler, Susan S. Meet Samantha Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1986. S amantha Learns a Lesson Middl eton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1986. American Girl 1990 Holiday Catalogue Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1990.
74 Delinquent and Debutantes Ed. Sherrie Innes s. New York: New York U P, 1998. 164 183. Kapur, Jyotsna. Coining for Capital: Movies, Marketing, and the Transformation of Childhood New Brunswick, NJ: Rutger s University Press, 2005. Kowalski Wallace, Elizabeth. Consuming Subjects: Women, Shopping, and Business in the Eig hteenth Century New York: Columbia U P 1997. Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film New York: Columbia UP, 2005. Literature Association Quarterly 34.2 (2009): 157 170. Wisconhistory.org 6 Nov 2010 < http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/artifacts/archives/001948.asp >. Nash, Gary B., Charlotte A. Crabtree, and Ross E. Dunn. History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past New York: A.A. Knopf, 1997. Ni hrough t Journal of American & Comparative Cultures 25.1 2 (2002): 85 93. AmericanGirl.com 20 Nov 2010 < http://www.americangirl.com/ corp/corporate.php?section=about&id=2 >. Porter, Connie. Meet Addy Middleton, WI: American Girl, 1993. Postman, Neil. The Disappearance of Childhood New York: Delacorte Press, 1982. Reynolds, Kimberley. Transformations in Juvenile Fiction New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. American Girls Collection Holiday Catalogue 1992 Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1992: 58. Shaw, Janet. Meet Kirsten Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1986. Schur, Maxine Rose. Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company, 1990. S Literature Association Quarterly 24.3 (Fall 1999): 128 35.
75 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Mariko Turk received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Writing from the University of P ittsburgh in 2007. She received a Master of Arts degree in English at the University of Florida in 2011, s Literature and Culture She will continue her studies at the University of Florida in the doctoral program, where and repres entations of history in books for young people.