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Is Enid Blyton A Racist Writer Or Merely English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2140 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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During the mid-twentieth century, oppressed racial groups around the world stood up and demanded their rights. In 1947, India received its independence, as did several colonies in the Caribbean. In addition, the Civil Rights movement in North America ended over a century of enforced segregation and people were forced to deal with one another as equals rather than the majority dismissing minorities as sometimes interesting, sometimes loathsome, but always inferior [1] . During the 1960s up until the present, Enid Blyton’s The Three Golliwogs [2] has come under tremendous literary criticism for containing racially offensive content. Prior to this epic period of human history, much of Western literature used stereotypes of African and Asian ethnic groups with impunity for the amusement of whites. In fact, when looking at the use of literature in school, one black child noted his experience in class:

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This testimony of a black child’s schooling demonstrates that what most consider a ‘harmless children’s story’ is anything but. For example, most Whites would be mortified if all White characters were evil, ruthless villains or friendly, but otherwise buffoonish characters. Perhaps these images of one’s race would give one a limited set of role models to choose from-or they would have to pursue a model of virtue and honour in fantasy fiction or among people of other races if they are not defeated by the stereotypes inherent in their own.

One way that people internalise a positive or negative self-image is through language and how it is used. Curiously, everything that is good is expressed in terms of ‘light’ or ‘white’ and everything that is bad is portrayed in terms of ‘black’ and ‘darkness.’ For instance, ‘blackballed’, ‘blacklisted’, ‘black-hearted devil’ [4] , while a virginal lady is as ‘pure as the driven snow’ which is white. Part of this was common association with whiteness and lightness with all that is good and darkness with all that is evil in the minds of the other characters in Blyton’s novel, and the Golliwogs also appear in Blyton’s Noddy. They are portrayed as being rude, mischievous villains [5] . If the Golliwogs are increasingly represented as this, it is no wonder why the label sticks. In addition, because of the ongoing media panic over what we can and cannot call people of different ethnic backgrounds, Golliwogs are automatically disliked by whomever owns them and other similar toys because of that darkness. In spite of exaggerating the racial characteristics of the Golliwogs, many school children used to cuddle golliwog dolls at night in their bed, which suggests that they do not have a terrifying image in popular culture.

In Enid Blyton’s original stories about three golliwogs, the negative qualities attributed to darkness, i.e. fear and danger, are also applied to them and none of the other toys play with them because their mistress, Angela, does not like their black faces. To add insult to injury, nine of the eleven stories are based on mistaken identity-the three golliwogs all look alike. [6] 

It was not uncommon for black children to be compared to Golliwogs and teased about it, which created much sensitivity and a disinclination to promote this work as a classic of children’s literature. Nevertheless, it is now perceived to be racist to insist that all members of a particular race or ethnicity all look alike. Although it is more commonly used with respect to East Asians more than Blacks, that notion of physical conformity is extremely offensive [7] . One reason for this is that most people recognise natural variation within the White race, and other ethnic groups recognise this, but there is a widespread cultural tendency to perceive members of non-White ethnic groups as physically indistinguishable from one another. Also, when relating this to the Golliwogs, one way their close resemblance could be made more politically correct is if the rechristened Wiggie, Waggie, and Wollie were instead identical triplets. Another part of the controversy was that in the original Three Golliwogs, one of the Golliwogs was called ‘Nigger.’ Although it is a derivation from the Latinised ‘Niger’ which means Black, it has been used as a tool of oppression to keep Black people in their place in the United States [8] . Although the ‘N’ word does not carry the same emotional weight in Europe, increased cultural sensitivity in Europe discouraged use of the word. When looking at America, in 2007 the ‘N’ word was banned in New York to plea to the public to stand in unity and re-stigmatise the word. However when The Three Golliwogs was released, whites called blacks ‘Nigger’ and no one took offence [9] .

Perhaps very sensitive literary critics were flabbergasted that Blyton’s villain was black that they had to make him white and take away a significant portion of his intelligence. As blacks have been routinely vilified in the media and literature, it was considered quite insensitive to have a Black villain as well. Nevertheless, when analysing the merits (or demerits) of a villain, one must examine critical features of characterisation, motivation, and effectiveness in the story. Yes, Blyton’s villain Jo-Jo is Black, but he is very intelligent and uses the fact that others tend to underestimate him in his favour. ‘The king villain in The Island of Adventure, Jo-Jo has been whitened and mono-syllabled, which eliminates the useful point that the black servants obtained undesirable menial work for bad pay in the wartime years, and secondly, Blyton’s uninhibited tribute to the superior intelligence of her black villain, cleverly exploiting patronising dismissals of his supposed stupidity or subnormality. He is probably the best villain she produced’ [10] . The creation of this character was not racist in motivation-in fact, it would be easy to argue the opposite as the perception of the ambitious, smart, black villain was quite rare in literature. The racist element is on the part of the other characters that underestimate Jo-Jo because of his appearance-a mistake that they would ultimately regret. Many folk tales such as The Tortoise and the Hare speak of the dangers of underestimating one’s opponent and Blyton may have (either intentionally or unintentionally) encouraged her audience not to underestimate the intelligence or ability of Blacks.

If the stereotypical identical appearance was of her time, the sentiment that Black people should not be underestimated is definitely further ahead. Another part of the reason why it never provoked the same outcry in the UK as it had in the US was because the UK had a vastly different history with Black people than Americans. For instance, Blacks were never enslaved in the UK-instead, the Normans enslaved the Anglo-Saxons after their conquest [11] . In addition, young British children viewed the Golliwogs as toys rather than as Black people. Even though non-racist Whites would argue along these lines, there is no escaping that the word ‘Golliwog’ had eventually become a racist insult for dark-skinned people worldwide-particularly those of African descent [12] . This is one reason why many Black critics would want to see the Golliwogs and the stories about them become cultural relics rather than classics to be carried forward into succeeding generations.

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If he is not menacing, the Golliwog is at best a diminished and ridiculous figure. Dressed in the servile minstrel apparel of that creation of the White South of the black man, used also by Bannerman to illustrate her Little Black Sambo of India, they are there simply to provide amusement to the whites. Recently Brandeth had a little trouble convincing sensitized publishers that golliwogs are harmless. Five of them turned down his project before Pelham accepted and published Here Comes Golly in 1979. [13] 

At the time of its release, however, Great Britain was embroiled in a war with the Nazis and during wartime, the government restricted many of the people’s civil liberties. For people of colour, however, these restrictions were more severe because their perceived ‘alien nature’ created paranoia in the minds of white citizens, even though the enemy they were fighting against resembled them more closely than the ethnic minorities in their midst. Given that many people of colour did fight in the RAF and serve Britain while other Whites were attempting to bomb London into oblivion, many British believed that racial and religious discrimination should be severely curtailed-if not eliminated. Civil liberties were also further curtailed with the outbreak of war and delegates at a conference, organised by the NCCL in 1941, demanded a “minimum programme” of civil liberties and the abolition of racial and religious discrimination “for all British subjects without distinction’ [14] . The “colour problem” was still recognised as a barrier to progress, even by progressive imperialists like Perham, and, as Pilkington stresses, racist stereotypes, reflected, for instance, in the publication of Enid Blyton’s The Three Golliwogs persisted in the “liberal” war years and after, perpetuating an imperial mentality of superiority.’ [15] Though Blacks and Asians did begin getting more civil rights, there was still an atmosphere or White supremacy in the country which could be found in other literary works as well.

Part of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories had been edited because in the contemporary version of How the Leopard Got its Spots [16] , the Ethiopian character explained to his friend the leopard that for hunting purposes, “Oh, plain black’s best for a nigger” [17] . Later versions instead say, “Oh, plain black’s best for me” [18] . During the nineteenth centuries and early twentieth century, the word ‘nigger’ did not have the same level of opprobrium that it does today. While most people today would be shocked to hear the word in polite conversation, in the early twentieth century, it was common for both whites and blacks to use that term to refer to either race. In sum, literature has come a long way since then and though stereotypical depictions of ethnic minorities are still extant, a greater percentage of popular literature contains highly developed, intelligent and complex Black characters with which many young Black children can identify.

Word Count = 1939


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