Analysis of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi and Rebecca West’s afterword written for my sophomore year English class:
Although “attracted by order, discipline, and structured educational practices,” as West writes in her afterword, Carlo Collodi was highly suspicious of the programs initiated after the unification of Italy “with the goal of ‘making the Italian people Italian’… because he saw them as a threat to individuality and personal freedom” (166). We see Collodi’s commentary on the politic turmoil of his time and this same problem of conformity represented in the Blue Fairy’s role in advocating for Pinocchio to become a real boy. By strictly laying out a dichotomy of what is expected of a proper boy, the Blue Fairy symbolically personifies the form of Mother Italy at the time Pinocchio was written. This allows readers to understand Pinocchio’s final transformation as a necessary, but complete trade-off wherein his individuality, inherent wildness, and adventures are sacrificed in order to conform to the demands of the real world and a new Italy. Pinocchio’s transformation is not a reward so much as it is a material manifestation of losing what makes him distinctive and becoming a puppet to society.
From the very beginning, Pinocchio’s natural wildness stands out as a strong symbol of uniqueness and freedom. There is very little aboutPinocchio that is normal. Originally as a piece of wood, he possesses a natural preexistent personality and the ability to communicate with Mastro Cherry. He treats Geppetto as his father, not in the typical biological sense, but as the creator of his wooden limbs. Furthermore, despite being a wooden puppet, he is able to walk, talk, interact on his own, and behave just like a real boy, possessing the instinctive human behaviors of greed and laziness, and driven by impulsive decisions. His strange existence as a living puppet represents the opposite of what is normal or expected in society. Unfortunately, it is these same qualities and poor judgment that leads him into dangerous situations. Throughout the story, we see that the harsh landscape of Tuscany, a place driven by hunger, brutality, greed, and social injustice every which way you turn reflected by the struggles and captors Pinocchio encounters. As a result, in order to survive in such an environment, Pinocchio must grow up and grow up quickly by getting rid of his bad habits. The Blue Fairy assists him in this way, but in doing so he must completely forgo all the qualities that once made him so unique.
The Blue Fairy plays a very maternal role, as Pinocchio repeatedly refers to her as his mother, because she guides him, gives him strict rules, and provides him protection and shelter. Yet, there is still a difficulty in understanding her to truly be a mother in the normal sense. Instead, we can better understand her role as a representation of the state of Italy, the mother country, a guardian and advocate for order and obedience. The Blue Fairy doesn’t literally end up joining the family with Pinocchio and Geppetto because even though she acts as a mother, she is ultimately only a figurative one. In the story, she’s both a part of the landscape and somehow transcendent of it with the ability to appear and grow up suddenly. The Blue Fairy reward him with material security and stability, but is at times very harsh with him, repeatedly pretending to have died in order to test his character development. Her job is to change him, forcing him to go to school and choose a trade, using emotional violence when necessary. Italy needs for its children, especially those in danger of poverty, violence, and child trafficking to work and become well-educated as a part of its efforts towards unification. However, as Collodi argues and examines regretfully, the sacrifices are freedom and childhood in order to serve the greater good of the nation.
This tension between obedience and individualism allows Pinocchio to be read as “a tale of both transgression and the necessity for conformity” (West 166). The Blue Fairy presents it such that having fun and being mature are two mutually exclusive things. There is no middle ground. At one point, she distinctly lists the desirable traits of the proper boy she wishes Pinocchio to become: obedient, studious, hardworking, and honest. There is no indication of a possibility for Pinocchio to be both his adventurous self and diligent in school. When Pinocchio is repeatedly faced with the decision to either play hooky or go to school, to go on an adventure or go home, it is always presented with the consequence that by picking one, he must give up the other. We see this mutual exclusiveness even more clearly when Pinocchio must choose between going to school or giving up his precious spelling book in order to gain admittance to the Fire-Eater’s marionette show. The Blue Fairy requires total conformity with no room for compromise. Eventually, Pinocchio does submit. Thus, he is saved from the dangers of the real world and rewarded by being turned from wood to flesh and as a result “when bad boys become good and kind, they have the power of making their homes gay and new with happiness” (160). The result of being obedient and following the Blue Fairy’s command is much like the way in which the Italian government promises to bring folks out of poverty if only they follow the rules. Collodi is not against education for the betterment of living standards, but he argues that such change leads to unification, but at the expense of individual liberty.
The entire story has slowly built up to the last scene in which Pinocchio is finally transformed into a real boy. His transformation is not one of metamorphosis, where Pinocchio’s puppet body alters into a human body, but instead he separates from his puppet host and moves into an entirely separate body. Such a change allows the limp wooden puppet shell to still remain because it serves not only as a reminder of what was lost in the transformation, but also of the clear difference and distinct separation between the Pinocchio that once was, and the Pinocchio now. We even witness Pinocchio saying to himself with great content: ‘How ridiculous I was as a marionette! And how happy I am, now that I have become a real boy!’” (160) This line comes as quite a shock primarily because Pinocchio completely rebukes his former self. There is no sense of emotion or pain of something lost in his perspective. There is mentally nothing left of the old Pinocchio. Becoming a real boy was not a reward for being obedient, but a necessary transformation as a result of Pinocchio’s character change which preceded his physical change. Thus, Collodi argues that the physical change is simply the next step as a result of his complete personality transformation and that it is the inevitable consequences of the sacrifices that we must make to leave the freedom and lawlessness of childhood and conform to the wishes of the Blue Fairy and the country.
Most ironically, in his transformation from puppet to “real boy”, he becomes a puppet to society, controlled by the rules that the Blue Fairy has set in place. Once a symbol of individuality, after his transformation, Pinocchio simply becomes like any other regular real boy. As a marionette, he was able to do everything a real boy could and was at his most human in character. The Blue Fairy had to forgive him over and again because of his very natural human urge to stray towards hedonism. She taught him the “right” way to behave like a “real” boy. When in reality, being perfectly obedient and going to school is not how real boys act. In the story, we encounter Lampwick and the boys who bullied Pinocchio ditch school. Being perfect is not a quality of being a real boy as the Blue Fairy describes. It is only natural for one to make mistakes. Pinocchio undoubtedly argues for an nostalgia of the carefree and rebellious past of childhood. Collodi looks wistfully at the lost energy of childhood and the wildness of his natural state that Pinocchio has to let go of. In his transformation, he passes up the adventurous life of a unique, water breathing, talking wooden puppet with a durable body to the drab new reality of a “real boy.” This is representative of the passage from youth into adulthood and the readiness to accept the responsibility and integrate with societal expectations. Children are often compared to puppets because they are not yet “real people”. Compared to the life of an adult in society with its limits, restraints, and pressures of unification, the child’s world seems delightfully uninhibited and unfettered. But as Collodi suggests, perhaps it is indeed the adults in who are the real puppets.
The great success of Pinocchio and its widespread influence in film and other adaptations is because it examines the universal issue of the distinctiveness of human nature whilst posing the question of finding a balance between unification for the sake of living a life better off and keeping freedom and individuality.
Collodi, Carlo. Pinocchio. Trans. Geoffrey Brock. New York: New York Review of Books, 2009. Print.
West, Rebecca. “The Persistent Puppet: Pinocchio’s Heirs in Contemporary Fiction and Film.” Forum Italicum: A Journal of Italian Studies (2006): n. pag. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.