Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Pollyanna mixes Christian morality, self-help, and a philosophical outlook to create a classic story about how to combat adversity. Eleanor H. Porter brings her own convictions about the benefits of positive thinking to the novel, which resonates through the text and ultimately convinces the reader. Pollyanna may have a reputation for being syrupy, but it is really a guidebook for stoics.

Eleanor H. Porter’s 1913 novel Pollyanna was a publishing sensation, quickly selling a million copies and prompting the sequel Pollyanna Grows Up. It’s a shame that the eponymous heroine has had her name enter the English language somewhat as a pejorative. To call someone a Pollyanna is to denote a person who is naively optimistic, in an almost self-thwarting way. The moral of Eleanor H. Porter’s story is entirely different to this popular conception.

After losing both her beloved parents, young Pollyanna is sent to live with her stern and cheerless Aunt Polly (Pollyanna’s name joins both her aunt’s names, Polly and Anna). Having spent a period of time living on the charity of the Ladies’ Aid, Pollyanna looks forward to a real home and family life. She soon finds her new situation challenging, but refuses to be defeated by her killjoy aunt. Pollyanna remembers a game her father taught her, called the ‘glad game’. The whole idea of the game is to try to find something to be glad about when difficult circumstances arise.

Pollyanna is confronted with numerous situations throughout the novel that test her resilience. She keenly feels disappointment and is quite deeply shocked when struck down with a debilitating injury. Pollyanna admits that at times her ‘glad game’ approach is strenuously tried. She perseveres nonetheless, despite life’s hardships, and finds that the good karma she continually gives out to others comes back to her. By the novel’s end Pollyanna has created a revolution in attitudes in Beldingsville, the town where she resides with her aunt. All the townsfolk have been lifted out of their problems (and selfishness), and they have Pollyanna’s ‘glad game’ philosophy to thank for it.

Pollyanna has a strong streak of Christian morality through it, and no doubt its powerful message strongly resonated with the readers of 1913, as it does today. Eleanor H. Porter’s story almost reads like a light Christian sermon. The bonus is that by following Pollyanna’s example, you not only help others, you also help yourself. So the novel almost doubles as a self-help book.

It’s hard not to be moved by Pollyanna’s cheerful attitude, despite her tragic past. The Dalai Lama teaches us that it’s good to be happy, as we are more likely to treat others well. Pollyanna does pretty much the same job, which may explain its literary permanence.

Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter. Published by Wordsworth Classics. ISBN: 978-1840226751.  RRP: $6.95