The Politics of Pinocchio – The Atlantic


When asked to name the two most important things about Pinocchio, most Americans would answer: first, his nose grows when he lies, and second, he’s a wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real life. boy. At that, Carlo Collodi would most likely shake his head. The 19th-century Italian author, who wrote the book that inspired the Disney movie and countless other adaptations (including the live-action reboot released last week and another version from director Guillermo del Toro coming out later this year), saw his character very differently.

A radical political commentator who turned to children’s literature late in life, Collodi has written a complex and disturbing novel, miles away from the moral tale that Pinocchio’s story has become. Collodi is a multilayered work of fiction which, although primarily aimed at young readers, is steeped in social criticism and pessimistic humour, and can be read, among other things, as an irreverent attack on established authority.

what happened The Adventures of Pinocchio actually encompasses two novels. In Italy, a Catholic country, the joke is that Pinocchio is “two in one”, just like God is “three in one”. Pinocchio was first published as a short series of 15 episodes, from July to October 1881. It was brutal and chilling. The Fox and the Cat are not tricksters, but murderers. The Blue Fairy is not a reassuring mother figure, but a ghostly, possibly dead little girl who refuses to help Pinocchio, as she is “waiting for my coffin to come and take me away”. Pinocchio nudges his nose, but just to annoy Geppetto, and kills Cricket in a fit of rage. No happy ending either: the puppet ends up dying, hanging from an oak tree.

But, probably spurred on by the story’s popularity, Collodi took over the series the following year. Pinocchio, it turns out, wasn’t really dead. The 21 episodes that followed, published from February 1882 to January 1883, introduced the elements that modern audiences would recognize and which eventually became Walt Disney fodder. The strange little girl – who the reader says wasn’t actually dead either – becomes a fairy, disciplines Pinocchio by growing his nose when he lies, and promises to turn the puppet into a real boy if he starts to behave (which, spoiler alert, he ends up doing). But the author’s attitude towards this redemption is ambivalent: Collodi, and with him the reader, takes root in Pinocchio because the puppet is a malicious transgressor, not despite himself. As researcher Caterina Sinibaldi says, “the pedagogical attitude” is “ambiguous”.

The Adventures of Pinocchio, which combined the two novels, was published in book form in February 1883, with minor changes. Different in tone and plot, PinocchioBoth parts share the same themes. Poverty dominates throughout the story and is often the subject of bitter humor. “What is your father’s name?” a character asks Pinocchio. “Geppetto”, replies Pinocchio. “And what is his job?” “To be poor.” “Does he make a lot of money doing this?” Haunted by a “hunger so real it could be cut with a knife”, Pinocchio is reduced at various times to eating fruit pits and toiling for a meager glass of milk. Distrust of authority is also central. Doctors are pompous incompetents. One of them is said to sing “solemnly”: “When the dead cry, it means they are about to recover”. The police? Always blame the victim. Justice ? Literally monkeys. At one point, Pinocchio is thrown behind bars for having been robbed: “That poor devil has had four gold coins stolen from him. Therefore, catch him and put him straight in jail” – and must convince the guards that he is not an innocent victim (“but I’m a crook too”) in order to be set free.

There is also a palpable sense of disillusionment. As the translators John Hooper and Anna Kraczyna note in a recent critical edition published by Penguin, it is no coincidence that the statement “Pazienza!occurs 15 times throughout the novel. Literally, it means “patience” and can be translated by the English expressions “oh well”, as Hooper and Kraczyna do, or “too bad” – although in Geoffrey Brock’s translation for The New York Book Review, it sometimes becomes “don’t worry” or “oh okay”. It’s a quintessentially Italian admission of defeat, expressing frustration and acceptance in equal measure – an acknowledgment of his helplessness that, as Hooper and Kraczyna note, “echoes centuries of involuntary but inevitable resignation”.

In other words, Pinocchio harbors a strain of systemic injustice and deep betrayal. It has a lot to do with the historical context in which it was written: two decades after the unification of Italy.

At the time, many intellectuals who had mobilized during the so-called Risorgimento – the decades-long process by which Italy became a nation, following a wave of failed revolutions and wars of independence – felt betrayed by the direction the newly founded nation government had taken. One of them was Collodi. Born Carlo Lorenzini in 1826, in what was then the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (Collodi was a pen name, after the Tuscan village of his maternal family), he began editing a satirical journal, Il Lampione, in 1848. Soon he was recognized as the voice of the more progressive side of the Risorgimento, the one that hoped to build an egalitarian and democratic nation. As a political commentator, Collodi stood out for his republican positions: “Trusting a king, we took up arms and we lost; let us take up arms again, trusting the people, and we will win. He was also an ironic aphorist: “Habit makes the person. Take off the black suits and you will not find a single serious man on the face of the earth,” he once wrote.

Collodi fought in Italy’s first two wars of independence, in 1848 and 1859. However, by the time the country became an independent, unified state in 1861, the pro-democracy camp he represented had been put on hold. on the key; Italy had become a monarchy where only a few people had the right to vote while the majority illiterate and miserably poor population was kept out. Disaffected, Collodi became a bold critic of the nation he helped found. He wrote a famous invective against the government’s decision to make early education compulsory, opposing not the idea of ​​educating the poor but the hypocrisy of expecting starving families to send their children to school when they couldn’t even feed them. “Man needs above all to have food, water and shelter,” he wrote in a Open letter from 1877 titled “Bread and Books”. “Only then can he be in the frame of mind to listen to his conscience and have the ambition to improve.” Proving Collodi’s point, the law went largely unenforced and extreme poverty remained endemic in Italy’s poorest regions well into the 1950s, forcing families to send their children to work in order to save food. on the table.

Pinocchio is the story of a starving child who skips school. Readers familiar with Collodi’s early writings might be tempted to think that the author endorsed this choice as both inevitable and as an act of rebellion against hypocritical authorities. The novel, as Sinibaldi puts it, can be read as a “denunciation of bourgeois social policies”.

But Alberto Asor Rosa, a literary critic and staunch Marxist who enjoyed legendary status in Italy, offered a more nuanced interpretation. In his seminal 1975 essay, “Le Voci di un’Italia Bambina”, Rosa suggested that Pinocchio’s central political theme was, in fact, acceptance rather than rejection of the compromises that come with nation-building: “It is a universal tale, destined to repeat itself for every person and for every nation. There always comes a time when individuals or communities become more mature than before and, in hindsight, mourn the time when they could be puppets, that is, doing whatever they wanted. According to Rosa, Collodi’s greatness lay in his understanding that adulthood, both privately and politically, brings loss: “Growing up means gaining something but lose something else: a puppet has riches that a boy could never have.

Taking Rosa’s reasoning a step further, we can read Pinocchio’s arc as a defeated idealist’s acknowledgment that his vision has failed and the only thing to do is to have pazienza– maybe that’s the way things are meant to be. If being a puppet represents unchecked rebellion and becoming a real boy, in fact”a perbene ragazzinoa well-behaved kid, in Collodi’s words, means submitting to the social order of a modern nation, with all its hypocrisies and injustices, which would explain the bittersweet, somewhat nostalgic tone of the conclusion of the novel: “How funny I was when I was a puppet! And how happy I am now to have become a good little boy!


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