Pollyanna

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Pollyanna
cover
Author(s) Eleanor H. Porter
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Children's literature
Publisher L. C. Page & Company
Publication date 1913
Pages 310
ISBN 1-55748-660-3
Followed by Pollyanna Grows Up

Pollyanna is a bestselling 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter. It was initially serialized weekly in Christian Herald magazine in 1912.[1] Immensely popular at the time of its release, Pollyanna has become as a classic of children's literature, and remains in print. The eponymous protagonist's positive outlook, in which she always plays the "glad game" and looks for something to be "glad" about in every circumstance, made a lasting impression on American culture. Although the book portrays Pollyanna as a light-hearted girl who brightens everyone around her, the word Pollyanna has entered the lexicon as a disparaging term for an unduly optimistic person.

Porter authored Pollyanna Grows Up, a sequel, in 1915. A near dozen further sequels, called "Glad Books" by the publishers, were written by other authors following Porter's death in 1920 through the late 1940s, and others have been written since. The book has been adapted into motion pictures several times, most famously by Walt Disney in his 1960 Pollyanna, and was adapted into an anime, The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love in 1986 as part of Nippon Animation's World Masterpiece Theater.

Contents

Plot

Miss Nancy Harrington, a middle-aged New England woman, receives a letter informing her of the death of John Whittier, the minister of a small Western town and husband of her late sister, leaving one eleven year-old daughter, Pollyanna. Out of a dispassionate sense of duty, she decides to let Pollyanna live with her in the fictional town of Beldingsville, Vermont. To the astonishment of Miss Polly, her maid Nancy, and everyone else she encounters, Pollyanna is almost unmanageably cheerful from the moment she steps off the train. Though she struggles inside to cope with the pain of losing her father, she relies on a game her father taught her to play to keep her spirits up. Once, when she had hoped for a doll to come in a barrel of donations to the Ladies' Aid society, but found crutches instead, he taught her to be cheerful that she did not need them, and after years of practice became adept at finding things to be glad about. When she is made to live in a hot, undecorated attic room, she celebrates the picturesque view from the window; when it proves too hot to sleep, she enjoys a misadventure attempting to sleep on the cool tin roof until the racket causes Aunt Polly to send the manservants up in search of burglars. Despite a constraining schedule imposed by her aunt, a lack of other children in the neighborhood, and then beginning school, Pollyanna leads an energetic, carefree existence, and teaches the glad game to Nancy and the other servants, as well as Mrs. Snow, a highly contrary, bedridden widow, along with many others. The outgoing girl attempts to approach "the Man," a gruff man she passes on the road every day, and manages to get him to speak to her. Nancy later reveals him to be Mr. John Pendleton, an enigmatic, wealthy-yet-frugal man who has traveled the world and speaks nary a word to anyone. Forbidden by her aunt from mentioning her father, whose marriage to her mother she opposed, she cannot tell her about the game.

Stockton Mulford illustration of Pollyanna and John Pendleton from the 1913 Boston Company edition.

Not long after Pollyanna convinces Miss Polly to let her take in a kitten and a dog, she encounters Jimmy Bean, a homeless boy who had just left an orphanage when he found he wasn't wanted. Despite her pleas Miss Polly refuses to take him in, and sours the industrious boy on her by calling him a beggar; a petition to the Ladies' Aid at the local church fails because the women care more for Indian Hindu boys than a Christian child in their own town, and a letter to her Ladies' Aid in the West also fails. Then one day she discovers the Mr. Pendleton stranded in the woods with a broken leg, and calls for help on his behalf. She visits him as he heals, teaches him the game, and he warms to her. Pollyanna also becomes acquainted with Dr. Chilton, his physician. Miss Polly, too, is gradually affected by her niece's gladness, though she rebuffs Pollyanna's attempt to beautify her hair after Mr. Chilton happens to see her made up prettily.

Changed so under Pollyanna's influence, Mr. Pendleton asks her to move in with him as his adopted daughter, but she refuses given Miss Polly's own growing tenderness. But after the failure of Pollyanna's appeals to the Ladies' Aid societies, she proposes that the Mr. Pendleton adopt Jimmy Bean instead. The discussions, however, are interrupted when Pollyanna gets hit by a car. Paralyzed from the waist down. At first assuming a broken leg, her spirits falter when she overhears that she may never walk again. As she begins to despair, the community she has helped so much comes together to help her find reasons to be glad again.

Portrayal of telescopic philanthropy

Chapter XII contains a striking depiction of telescopic philanthropy. When Pollyanna presents the case of Jimmy Bean, a homeless orphan willing to work for room and board, to the Beldingsville Ladies' Aid, none of the women want to adopt him, but someone proposes to financially help for the boy with part of the funds sent to educate boys in India. To Pollyanna's disbelief, the motion is shot down because it will reduce the amount donated in their annual report.

Then she heard the minister's wife suggest timidly that they, as a society, might perhaps assume his support and education instead of sending quite so much money this year to the little boys in far-away India.
A great many ladies talked then, and several of them talked all at once, and even more loudly and more unpleasantly than before. It seemed that their society was famous for its offering to Hindu missions, and several said they should die of mortification if it should be less this year. Some of what was said at this time Pollyanna again thought she could not have understood, too, for it sounded almost as if they did not care at all what the money did, so long as the sum opposite the name of their society in a certain "report" "headed the list" — and of course that could not be what they meant at all! But it was all very confusing, and not quite pleasant, so that Pollyanna was glad, indeed, when at last she found herself outside in the hushed, sweet air — only she was very sorry, too: for she knew it was not going to be easy, or anything but sad, to tell Jimmy Bean to-morrow that the Ladies' Aid had decided that they would rather send all their money to bring up the little India boys than to save out enough to bring up one little boy in their own town, for which they would not get "a bit of credit in the report," according to the tall lady who wore spectacles.
"Not but that it's good, of course, to send money to the heathen, and I shouldn't want 'em not to send some there," sighed Pollyanna to herself, as she trudged sorrowfully along. "But they acted as if little boys here weren't any account — only little boys 'way off. I should think, though, they'd rather see Jimmy Bean grow — than just a report!"[2]

Impact

One-inch pinback for one of the Glad Club-style organizations that flourished in the novel's heyday. From the British Museum collection.[3]

The character Pollyanna was hailed as "The Glad Girl," and her game of finding a reason to be glad in all situations was widely celebrated. After Pollyanna hit the shelves, Glad Clubs were established throughout the United States, popular among both children and adults; apparently with little aid from Porter or her publisher, they helped to increase readership of the book, and practiced the glad game in their everyday lives. A 1913 Book Review Digest review called Pollyanna "a story of the wonders worked by a sunny disposition and shows the far-reaching influence of a child's love." Upon the onset of the Great War in 1914, the book climbed even higher on the bestseller list. According to Researcher Kate Cooke of the University of Illinois, Pollyanna came to publication in an industrial society suffering from a deep pessimism, and acutely in need of a philosophy of gladness. While Pollyanna counted the 800 "rejoicing verses" in the Bible with her father, giving the glad game a Christian character, the book's philosophy transcends the growing criticism of religious traditions at the time.

With no help from Porter herself, the "Glad Clubs" brought the spirit of Pollyanna into people's homes. In a time of much change, Pollyanna and the clubs provided a very simple place to which people could turn. Gladness required no faith or analyzation [—] not even Nietzsche could say that happiness was dead.[4]

Even in its early years Pollyanna critics scored the book for its protagonist's nearly insuperable positivity. In 1915 Grace Isabel Colbron told the reader in The Bookman that he "will be better off than some of those other characters in the book who had to live with Pollyanna," as "he can shut her up and lay her away on the shelf when her strenuous 'gladness' becomes too annoying." Among the earliest users of Pollyanna as a pejorative were degenerate jazz musicians George and Ira Gershwin, whose 1930 song "But Not For Me" begins

I never want to hear from any cheerful pollyannas
who tell me fate supplies a mate
that's all bananas.
Pollyanna statue in Littleton, New Hampshire, erected in 2002.

Such equations with optimism, while common, are not true to the book, as Pollyanna uses and teaches the glad game as a way to see the good in the present rather than hope that events will turn out for the best. Porter defended Pollyanna from characterizations as a "blind optimist," stating, "Pollyanna did not pretend that everything was sugar-coated goodness," rather, "Pollyanna was positively determined to find the good in every situation."[5] In another interview she confided, "You know I have been made to suffer from the Pollyanna books. I have been placed often in a false light. People have thought that Pollyanna chirped that she was 'glad' at everything... I have never believed that we ought to deny discomfort and pain and evil; I have merely thought that it is far better to 'greet the unknown with a cheer'."

In a February 26, 2013 piece for The Atlantic celebrating the novel's centennial, Ruth Graham argued that "We're living in a moment of total happiness obsession," for which "Pollyanna is our perfect mascot." While Graham portrays the happiness obsession itself in a dim light, she acknowledges Pollyanna's game is not simply blithe denial of unhappy realities.

Littleton girls dressed as Pollyanna for Glad Day 2009.
Her "glad game" goes beyond simple positive thinking. Pollyanna isn't always cheerful; she cries over disappointments large and small, and initially refuses to play the game when she suffers a major tragedy. It's not that she's naturally the world's greatest optimist; rather, optimism is a tool she uses to make herself happy. Her gladness is Gladwellian: It's not a state of mind, but rather a skill that becomes stronger with practice.[6]

While the national cult of Pollyanna has dissipated, the upbeat character continues to be celebrated in Porter's hometown of Littleton, New Hampshire, where a bronze statue was erected in 2002. Each year the town celebrates Glad Day, which is filled with various festivities in honor of the heroine organized by Pollyanna of Littleton, a non-profit organization.

References

  1. Kate Cooke. Pollyanna: 20th-Century American Bestsellers Accessed October 24, 2013.
  2. Eleanor H. Porter. Pollyanna. L. C. Page & Company: New York, 1913, pages 115-116.
  3. Pollyanna club badge British Museum. Accessed October 25, 2013.
  4. "Pollyanna: 20th-Century American Bestsellers."
  5. Eleanor Hodgman Porter -- Littleton's remarkable woman of history Accessed October 25, 2013.
  6. Ruth Graham. How We All Became Pollyannas (and Why We Should Be Glad About It) The Atlantic. February 26, 2013. Accessed October 25, 2013.

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