Stephen C. Behrendt
Date of this Version
Froid, Daniel. "Didactic Children's Literature and the Emergence of Animal Rights." MA thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2016
The belief that animals deserve kindness or benevolence, now commonplace, began to emerge as a pressing social and philosophical problem in late-eighteenth-century discussions about the scope of “proper” feeling and behavior. This thesis investigates the history of that social feeling—how it emerged as normal—in the context of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century didactic children’s books, where those books’ authors frequently urged both emotional and social responses to others’ treatment of animals. By first examining the children’s books of British Romantic writer Charlotte Smith, and then linking her to American writers Sarah Josepha Hale and Lydia Sigourney, this thesis demonstrates the connections between didactic children’s literature and early animal- rights discourse in Britain and America. Smith, Sigourney, and Hale saw in their work the possibility of changing public opinion and civic life by encouraging their readers to adopt particular attitudes toward animals. In the context of didactic children’s literature, these writers sought to reform society by teaching children what they saw as proper behavior. By depicting animals as suitable objects of sympathetic concern, and in the process of establishing kindness to animals as an important signifier of middle-class identity—therefore normalizing such behavior—didactic children’s literature contributed in important ways to the rise of animal rights discourse.
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