Portrayal of Injustice in Children’s Literature

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This research is about injustice in children’s literature. The stories used for this search are The BFG, The Fisherman and his Wife, Alexander and the Horrible…, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. The research questions for this paper is: “How do story characters overcome and respond to injustice?” Accordingly, the thesis statement for this research is: “In the selected stories, characters overcome injustice by wanting to escape from their troubled lives”. Injustice is defined as an act that inflicts undeserved hurts. Therefore, injustice is to treat someone badly and violate his rights. In my research, the rights of the children are ignored. When a person feels that his rights are ignored and the people treat him badly, he must find a solution.

Literature Review

A study by William Arsenio in 2006 called The Effects of Social Injustice and Inequality on Children’s Moral Judgments and Behavior Worked on an interesting issue that affects the children’s quality of living. The aim of this paper is to prove the danger of injustice in children lives. This study aims to examine the influence of unfairness in children’s social reasoning and behavior. The researcher proves that injustice affects children lives and makes it sadder with an unsuccessful future. Furthermore, their behaviors will be undesirable.

Researchers, Johanna Pretsch, Natalie Ehrhardt and Lisa Engl introduce their study in 2015 Injustice in School and Students’ Emotions, Well-Being, and Behavior: A Longitudinal study they discuss the effects of social injustice and inequality on children’s moral judgments and behavior. They mentioned in their study that school can be regarded as an important factor in the development of the children’s values.

Hennie P. P. Lötter book in 1997 Injustice, Violence and Peace: The Case of South Africa deals with injustice. People, she says, must be able to describe and understand injustice and determine who is responsible for it. Furthermore, she states, in order to detect if modern societies are Injustice, the rights and duties available in a society should be unfairly divided between different groups.

Chapter One

Physical Escape

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel are brother and sister who heard their stepmother and father conspiring to desert them in the wood for the lack of food. This is the first occurrence in the story where the children are being exposed to injustice. “Gretel wept better tear”, but Hansel consoles Gretel and comforted her that no harm will befall them. He placed “white pebbles” along the road as their parents lead them deep into the “middle of the forest” and deserted them.

Later on, when “the moon has risen”, they were able to get back safely to their house by following the road of pebbles. Later in the story, after the children were successfully deserted and lost in the forest, they found a house of bread were an old woman welcomed them into her house. However, they find out that she is an evil witch who tricked them in order to eat them. she slaved Gretel, and locked Hansel in a cage and intended to fatten him up, so she can eat him. When the witch ordered Gretel to heat the oven, Gretel tricked the witch and pushed her in, where she was burned alive.

Hansel and Gretel were wronged in the story, “children around the world can easily identify with the injustice inflected on Hansel and Gretel not only with their parents abandoning them in the forest but also by the old witch’s readiness to boil them and dine on their flesh” (Dury, 2008). Both of them displayed courage trying to escape and overcome the unjust acts that has befallen in their life. Fortunately, they have accomplished physical escape from them. Hansel showed courage by comforting his sister and being resourceful. Gretel’s courage was demonstrated by the end of the story where she had conquered the wicked witch and saved herself and her brother. The injustice that they lived led them be to courageous. Both of the children reacted correctly to the unfairness of people.

As G.K. Chesterton said, “fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” Or yet be killed and escaped from. the experience of injustice in the story led the children to be heroic in which they have successfully and evidently escaped from the unjust wicked witch. Justice has finally taken place by killing the witch and escaping from her and returning to their home safely to find that their stepmother was also dead, which brought a good ending for Hansel and Gretel.

In the Republic Plato asserts that “Justice implies superior character and intelligence while injustice means deficiency in both respects” (1955). Hansel and Gretel encounter great hardship, and are victims of injustice, but they also exemplify great morality, resilience and bravery that lead to victory. The evil witch is truly wicked, and wants to eradicate the good. Hansel’s and Gretel’s “intelligence” was demonstrated when they maneuvered the evil witch; Hansel gave her a bone instead of his arm, and Gretel tricked the witch to enter the oven and then she pushed her in, and the witch was burned alive.

Both Hansel and Gretel emphasize the fact that “just men are superior in character and intelligence and are more effective in action” (1995). In contrast, the witch is stupid for entering the oven and oblivious to the fact that she was feeling a bone, “As injustice implies ignorance, stupidity and badness” (Plato, 1955). It is fundamental to the story and fundamental to the reader’s understanding of Justice that the offenders were extremely punished. It would be injustice if they didn’t kill and escape the witch. Furthermore, an exposure to Hansel and Gretel will strongly embed in the knowledge of justice, courage and deliverance.

Chapter Two

Mental Escape


Rapunzel is a fairytale of a young woman being exchanged by her parents in return for their souls; consequently, the witch locks the baby girl in a tower and during her growing up she possess an exceptional long hair which gothel uses to climb the tower. One day while she was singing the prince hears her and decides to climb the tower to reach her, and so he did. moreover, he proposes, and they decide to flee from the tower together. By accident of speech, gothel detect what they were planning. As a result, Rapunzel is cast away and her prince is tricked to fall from the tower to become blind. After years of wondering he finds Rapunzel. Rapunzel’s tears cure the prince’s eyes and they have the happy ending that they always dreamt of.

The reader can sense the unjust acts happening right from the begging of the story when Rapunzel’s father accepts the witch’s offer, by sacrificing his own daughter in return for his soul. Rapunzel’s father did not show a trait of courage, for he has submitted easily and swiftly to the evil witch; he did not try to escape the wrongdoing of the “enchantress”. The father has showed the traits of meekness, disloyalty, and unreliability. Another example for Rapunzel being wrongly treated is when the witch “shut her into a tower, which lay in a forest, and had neither stairs nor door”. As Kelsen says “One man’s doing implies another man’s suffering injustice. The one cannot be separated from the other.” (2013). In the story, it is the father and the witch doing that made Rapunzel suffer.

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Rapunzel has suffered because Gothel has emotionally abused her, David Royse defines emotional abuse as “generally refers to a sustained or repeated pattern of behavior that, more than making the child unhappy, has the potential for effecting the child’s self-esteem, development, view of the world, and sense of belonging.” (2016). It seems that imprisoning a child in a tower with no human interaction for fifteen years would have an impact on that child’s self-esteem and view of the world. Rapunzel has been through unbelievable severe things: fifteen years of emotional abuse, doctrinaire and enclosure.

The relationship that is between Rapunzel and the “enchantress” is an abusive one. The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness & Action define relationship abuse as “a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical and can include threats, isolation, and intimidation. Abuse tends to escalate over time. When someone uses abuse and violence against a partner, it is always part of a larger pattern of control”.

The abuser in this relationship is the witch who Instead of promoting a sincere love relationship with Rapunzel, she resorts to doctrinaire, fear, and utilization. However, the fear will end, and the Rapunzel will leave when love enters her life. “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love” (4:17-18). As we can observe Freedom and love has come along with the prince.

In most fairytales, at first, the heroine is usually seen in a routine, stable condition then she encounters a change or a challenge. At first, the heroine usually declines that change, because she is scared of the consequences or pleased with her life. A person then suddenly shows to change the heroine’s beliefs. In our case it is when the prince has climbed the tower “at first Rapunzel was terribly frightened” but then when he starts talking with passion and love she “lost her fear” then she approved to marry him and to escape the wrongdoing. This can be interpreted with what Vogler calls “Meeting with the Mentor” it “is the stage of the Hero’s Journey in which the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence needed to overcome fear and commence the adventure.” (Vogler, 2007).

The heroine’s relationship with the prince is fundamental to the story. When a fairytale appears fixed and ill- fated, mentors are the ones who bestow assistance, counsel, and support. The mentor is the Prince in the story, he has fallen in love with Rapunzel and wants to save from injustice. The point when the prince gives Rapunzel the power and faith to face injustice and leave the tower, Volger describes it, as “crossing the first threshold… The crossing takes a certain kind of courage from the hero” (2007). That courage has been provided to her by the mentor. Hence Rapunzel becomes brave enough to think about escaping the tower with the prince. Rapunzel finally has a person she can trusts and to run away with.

In contrast of her father, Rapunzel did think about escaping from the witch and defeating injustice. She demonstrates an act of bravery when she consented to elope with the prince. Although it did not come into action, it showed courage for not accepting the inevitable injustice, that she was destined with.

Rapunzel accomplished mental escape. She pictured herself out of the tower with her beloved, relieved from all misery and suffering. She was able to draw for herself a life of happiness and rightness. However, she has not proceeded the escape from the tower with her beloved prince. She was not afraid to think about it nor to execute, and although she desired freedom very badly, due to bad luck she was foreboded the right to act on it, and she was cast away into the desert. Nevertheless, justice has taken place when Rapunzel and the prince were reunited.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is about a young boy who is waking up to a terrible day “I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” His brother finds a toy car in the cereal box while Alexander finds only cereal. At school, Alexander’s day does not get well also. Then Paul told him that he was only his third best friend. At the dentist, he was the only one with a cavity. His brother pushed him in the mud. Alexander wants to move far away to Australia, mainly because he believes only good things could happen to him there. However, his mother tells him people in Australia have bad days too.

Alexander wakes up to a terrible day, destined with numerous injustices and bad luck. The story is filled with misfortune, misunderstandings, and missteps that befall one unlucky and pessimistic child. Alexander thinks the universe is playing against him therefore, he wants to escape. Alexander wrestles with a range of emotions from being in a bad mood, to jealousy, frustration, anger, and rage, and he is forced to manage each of these emotions. Some of them he handles inwardly, and some of them he handles outwardly and it is when he punches his brother.

One can fathom the injustice that has befallen Alexander through Aristotle definition “The just’ therefore means that which is lawful and that which is equal or fair, and the unjust’ means that which is illegal and that which is unequal or unfair” (2004). The unfairness of the universe can be detected when Alexander finds only breakfast cereal as opposed to the toy car his brother founds in the breakfast cereal box. In addition, his brother got a brand new shoes with colorful stripes, but Alexander has to get plain boring white ones because they’re sold out. At the dentist, he was the only one with a cavity. His brother pushed him in the mud, but still he got scolded by his mother for being muddy. These incidents surely mean that the world is being unfair to him.

Throughout the story, Alexander keeps threatening to abandon the injustice that has occur to him, and move to Australia. The recurring mentioning of Alexander wanting to move to Australia represents his hope that if he moves far away from everything, things will get better. It raises the question about whether or not it is appropriate to run away from problems, and whether or not this is the best possible response.

Chua define escapism as it “when you are trying to avoid something. It can come in different forms. Some people escape by seeking out alternate activities, such as sleeping and playing. Some drown themselves in work. Some immerse themselves in addiction, like emotional eating (bingeing), smoking, alcohol or even drugs. Some people escape by seeking out alternate activities, such as sleeping and playing. Some drown themselves in work. Some physically run away from their homes. Some may even go as far as to migrate to a new place where they can start “afresh.””. (2018) This is exactly what Alexander is trying to do. He is trying to escape unfairness by visualizing running away to Australia. However, his mother reassures him by the end of the day that “some days are like that. Even in Australia”.

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Portrayal of Injustice in Children’s Literature. (2021, February 22). WritingBros. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/portrayal-of-injustice-in-childrens-literature/
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