Saturday, May 17, 2008


I read Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, or "Pine-eyes," a political and social allegory disguised as a children's fairy-tale, many years ago. It must be confessed that I liked the Disney film better the classic novel, finding the book to be too dark and violent. As it turns out, Collodi (1826-1890) was a revolutionary journalist involved in the Italian unification. His real name was Carlo Lorenzini; "Collodi" was a pen name taken from the Tuscan village where he grew up. The story emphasizes the lifestyle of the peasants and workers, whom Collodi obviously saw as being lazy, superstitious and gullible, like Pinocchio. Even as the marionette learns discipline and seeks an education, so the working classes of Italy needed encouragement to seize their destiny, according to the standards of the new order.

Over the years, the tale of Pinocchio has taken on different meanings:
Critics see Pinocchio as a story rich in imagination and symbolism. They find Collodi interweaving his classical education with peasant folklore by combining mythological, psychological, and religious elements with Tuscan speech and storytelling patterns. Other commentators, such as M. L. Rosenthal (1989), read the book as a social and political allegory, pointing out Collodi's depictions of the disparities between the poor and the wealthy, his emphasis on the working class, and his parodies of the justice system. Still other critics see the book as Collodi's attempt to recover his lost childhood, or as his portrayal of a search of children for parents or of parents for children. Pointing out the numerous adaptations of the Pinocchio story throughout the years, Richard Wunderlich (1992) in particular has concentrated on how these alterations to the original text have been shaped by cultural and social forces, including prevalent educational and child-rearing philosophies. In a negative vein, some reviewers contend that Pinocchio consists merely of a weak string of escapades devised by Collodi to write a winning serial and reap financial gain. Few would quarrel with the book's enduring qualities, however, and most would agree with Benedetto Croce: "The wood out of which Pinocchio is carved is humanity itself."
One scholar sees in Pinocchio the remnants of Catholic Italian peasant life and lore with which the story is suffused, intentionally or otherwise.
Disney’s version of the Blue Fairy resembles Jean Harlow, in her slinky dress and blond curls, batting her long eyelashes at Jiminy Cricket. Collodi had something quite different in mind. The girl with the blue hair, who at crucial times steps in to save and admonish the errant puppet, must surely be a representation of the Virgin Mary, her classic blue veil changed, as if from a child’s impression, into flowing blue hair. In Pinocchio, she grows from a child, a little sister, into a woman—a mother figure, just as the image of the Virgin, for Catholic children, shifts from child to adolescent to young woman to suffering mother, as they need her image to reflect different stages of their lives. The most recent film version of this Tale, Steven Spielberg’s A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), also shifts Collodi’s story toward a search for the mother; and Robert Coover’s amazing postmodern version of the tale, his 1991 novel Pinocchio in Venice (Simon & Schuster), closes on a strange scene of the old man Pinocchio’s reunion with his Mamma, the Blue Fairy. Collodi’s tale remains a search for the father, while the mother arrives when she is needed.
It is interesting that an allegory of the rise of the new order essentially becomes the story of a child in search of his father. No matter how many reforms may alter the world for good or ill, parents, family roots, and faith are always necessary for obtaining happiness and equilibrium. Share


xavier said...

Maria Elena:
Ya know whenever I read about about 19th century intellectuals (revolutionary or other) griping about the peseants' superstition, gullibility and laziness, I pretty much suspect that the former are irritated that the latter are harder to manipulate, whip up into frenzy, engage in class warfare etc.

In sum, the peasants are hard to control

elena maria vidal said...

Good point, xavier.

Enbrethiliel said...


I agree! That's a good point, Xavier, and it sheds new light on similar divisions in politics even today.