The Children's Book

The Dichotomous Nature of Childhood Presented in Byatt’s The Children’s Book College

Byatt’s character Tom Wellwood in her novel The Children’s Book resents fairytales, especially Peter Pan. Tom’s resentment is the result of a troubled inner self and belonging to a mother who uses her own children to create characters—characters that Tom, specifically, will never live up to. Unlike Peter Pan, Tom will make that inevitable progression from childhood to adulthood. In that process, assumptions will be questioned, secrets will be revealed, and shocking and damaging realizations will come to light. The main adult characters in the novel treat childhood as a fairytale—a temporary oasis away from the hardships and unfortunate realizations that come along with adulthood. Because of the adult characters’ idealistic notions towards childhood, they do not realize how much damage they are creating by manipulating and using their children for artistic means. For example, Olive Wellwood does not realize that she is forging a very destructive path for her favorite child, Tom, by constructing his identity for him and then unapologetically revealing it to the public. By creating a story that depends on the growing up of the main young characters and (in many cases) their eventual fall, Byatt is describing childhood both as a...

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