Female Characters in Children and YA’s Literature and the Generational Theory

Education nowadays is a complex process that has to take into account several aspects. The most challenging of all, in my point of view, is student motivation. What makes 21st-century students learn, get involved in their educational development, lose interest, and become passive? Are there any trends or is it just an individual choice? Are they influenced by what they read, do they respect certain values or rather ignore everything? During the past years, a large number of educators, sociologists, psychologists, and even representatives of the mass media have used different terms to describe the generations that are being educated or entering employment.

Terms like “MILLENNIALS”, “THE X GENERATION”, “ZOOMERS”, and “THE ALPHAS” are used by a large category of people in various contexts. These terms were forwarded by sociologists William Strauss and Neil Howe in their studies in the late 1980s published in their first book entitled Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, which discusses the history of the United States as a succession of generational biographies. Strauss and Howe analyzed each generation taking into account historical, economic, and social data and events, trying to define the cycles and the general characteristics of each generation and defining the archetypes. The generational theory is a theoretical framework and is not universally accepted by all sociologists or historians. The best-known and most used terms of their study are the ones mentioned in the following chart. THE LOST GENERATION (1883- 1900) In generational theory, the term „Lost Generation” takes on a slightly different meaning compared to its original literary context. According to generational theory, “the Lost Generation refers to a specific cohort born between 1883 and 1900, who came of age during the turn of the 20th century. This generation experienced the aftermath of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.” (Strauss and Howe, 1991: 247-260) The Lost Generation is described as being civic-minded and conformist. They tend to prioritize duty, responsibility, and traditional values. This generation exhibited a strong sense of patriotism and loyalty to institutions. They endured significant hardships, including economic depression and war. They displayed resilience and a willingness to sacrifice personal desires for the greater good. Many individuals from this generation served in the military and contributed to the war effort. Moreover, the Lost Generation faced economic challenges, particularly during the Great Depression. They witnessed economic instability and learned to adapt to financial constraints, often leading to a cautious approach to money and a tendency towards frugality.

THE GREATEST GENERATION (1901-1927) The economic turmoil of the Great Depression had a profound impact on this generation, leaving its members with the desire to end poverty and create economic opportunities. In part, a result of the Great Depression and World War II, this generation developed great resilience in surviving hardship and solving problems. “The harsh reality of the Great Depression forced many to a higher standard of personal responsibility, even as children. The Great Depression fostered modesty and humility in many of those who lived through scarcity. Hard work enabled survival during both the depression and the war. Many jobs at the time were physically demanding, with long hours. People valued honesty and trustworthiness, values fostered by the need to rely on one another. One job or one marriage often lasts an entire lifetime. Saving every penny and every scrap helped families survive through times of shortage. ‘Use it up, fix it up, make it do, or do without’ was a motto of their time. Millions sacrificed to defend their country or support the war effort from home.” (Strauss and Howe, 1991: 261-278)

THE SILENT GENERATION (1928-1945) “People belonging to this generation worked hard. Raised by turn-of-the-century farmers, this generation brought a strong work ethic into the factories of industrialized society. They grew up during lean times and consider work a privilege. Their common belief was that hard work and grueling hours were the only way to success. They were loyal – many of them worked for the same employer their entire life and were less likely to change jobs to advance their careers. They were also loyal to their country. They were excellent team players and generally did not rock the boat or create conflict in the workplace. They valued tradition. This generation upheld traditional morals and supported conformity and consistency. They respected the chain of command and preferred in-person interactions to online and web-based exchanges.” ( Strauss and Howe, 1991: 279-295)

THE BABY BOOMERS (1946 -1964) Baby boomers are typically hard-working individuals who often define themselves by their professional accomplishments. These individuals take pride in the positions they hold and the time they spent working in a company. They understand that success comes from putting time and effort into their work and may sacrifice work-life balance to achieve goals. “Many individuals from this generation grew up in disciplined households, so they may demonstrate the same discipline in their work.At the same time, many members of this generation grew up with the mentality of being self-reliant and working hard to achieve their goals. They enjoy solving problems on their own and rarely ask for help. Many baby boomers prefer to work on projects alone to completion. These individuals are confident and unafraid to challenge existing practices. Their competitive nature began during their upbringing when they competed for things in school. They do what it takes to achieve their dreams and seek promotions and acknowledgments. This generation enjoys setting goals for themselves and working towards company goals. They apply this mindset to their professional and personal lives. Their discipline and focus contribute to their goal-oriented mentality.” (Strauss and Howe, 1991: 299-316)

GENERATION X (1965-1980) This generation came of age during a time of economic and political disturbance, consequently, their values and attitudes were shaped by a range of social, cultural, and economic factors. Members of Gen X tend to be independent and self-reliant, having grown up during a time of increasing divorce rates and single-parent households. They tend to be pragmatic and resourceful due to the economic uncertainty and job instability they experienced and skeptical of authority and institutions, having grown up during a time of political and social upheaval. Contrary to previous generations, members of this generation tend to prioritize work-life balance and value flexibility in the workplace. They grew up in a time of increasing social and cultural diversity as well as rapid technological change so they have adapted well to diversity and technological changes being comfortable using digital tools and platforms.

GENERATION Y also called The Millennials (1981-1996) This generation lived in a time of significant technological and social change; their values and attitudes were shaped by a range of factors including the rise of the internet and globalization. “Members of the Y generation tend to be socially conscious and value diversity, inclusion, and social justice. They are entrepreneurial and embrace innovation, often seeking out non-traditional career paths and opportunities. At the same time, millennials place a high value on work-life balance and prioritize flexible work arrangements and the ability to pursue personal interests. Collaboration and teamwork are often preferred, they like working in groups or on teams rather than individually. Members of the Y generation are often highly motivated and achievement-oriented, placing a high value on personal and professional growth and development and seem to have a global perspective being interested in issues and events that transcend national borders.” (Strauss and Howe, 1991: 335-349)

GENERATION Z or The Zoomers (1997-2012) They are the first generation of “digital natives”, never knowing a world without the Internet. This, paired with the fact they had a worldwide pandemic and a cost of living crisis to contend with during their formative years has had a profound impact on their personality and values, making them very interesting. Members of Gen Z tend to be more diverse and inclusive than previous generations, valuing social justice, equality, representation, entrepreneurship and innovation, with a desire to create and build their own businesses and projects. They also value individuality and self-expression, with a desire to express themselves and their identities in creative and unique ways. They are pragmatic and realistic about their future prospects, having grown up during a time of economic uncertainty and political polarization. The Zoomers grew up in a world of constant stimulation and are known for having shorter attention spans than previous generations. They are also politically engaged and active, with a desire to make a positive impact on their communities and the world. ALPHA GENERATION – early 2010s – mid 2020s Generation Alpha has grown up in a world where technology and the internet have always been a part of their daily lives. As a result, this generation matured earlier than previous generations, due to the increased access to information and exposure to the world through technology. This generation is growing up in an increasingly diverse and inclusive world, and they are expected to be even more open-minded and accepting than the previous generation. Alpha generation members tend to have a strong sense of global citizenship, a desire to make a positive impact on the world, and to be more environmentally conscious and aware of the impact of human activities on the planet. Members of the Alpha generation are expected to be fluent in multiple forms of technology and able to adapt quickly to new technological advancements. THE ARCHETYPES

William Strauss and Neil Howe’s generational theory proposes a cyclical pattern of four generational archetypes that repeat throughout history, roughly every 80 years, corresponding to the length of a long human life. These archetypes represent the dominant attitudes, values, and behaviors of different generations and, are shaped by the experiences of each generation during specific historical periods. The four archetypes in generational theory are: “Hero/Civic archetype: The Hero archetype refers to generations that come of age during a crisis or a major upheaval. They are characterized by their collective sense of duty, optimism, and willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good. Hero generations tend to be civic-minded and oriented towards community building. Examples of Hero generations include the G.I. Generation (born 1901-1924) that fought in World War II and the Millennial Generation (born 1981-1996) that came of age after the September 11 attacks.” (Strauss and Howe, 1997: 77-82) “Artist/Adaptive archetype: The Artist archetype represents generations that grow up during a time of cultural awakening and individualism. They are often known for their creativity, idealism, and rejection of traditional norms. Artist generations challenge existing social structures and strive for personal expression. Examples of Artist generations include the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) which experienced the cultural shifts of the 1960s and the Generation X (born 1965-1980) known for their countercultural and alternative perspectives.” (Strauss and Howe, 1997: 29) “Prophet/idealist archetype: The Prophet archetype refers to generations that come of age during a period of societal upheaval and cultural transformation. They exhibit a strong sense of moral righteousness, idealism, and a desire to create new systems and institutions. Prophet generations often challenge the status quo and advocate for social change. The Baby Boomer Generation (born 1943-1964), associated with the civil rights movement and the counterculture of the 1960s, is an example of a Prophet generation.” (Strauss and Howe, 1997: 98-101) “Nomad/Reactive archetype: The Nomad archetype represents generations that grow up during a time of societal unraveling and cultural skepticism. They tend to be pragmatic, independent, and adaptable, with a focus on survival and self-reliance. Nomad generations often experience societal breakdown and emphasize personal autonomy. Generation X (born 1965-1980), which came between the more idealistic Baby Boomers and the tech-savvy Millennials, is considered a Nomad generation.” (Strauss and Howe, 1997: 101-111) These archetypes provide a framework for understanding the different attitudes and behaviors of generations as they move through history, facing different challenges and societal contexts. According to Strauss and Howe, “archetypes are not static but are influenced and shaped by the socio-historical context, aligning with the generational theory’s premise. The archetypes, reflecting universal themes, take on different nuances and characteristics depending on the unique challenges and dynamics of each historical era.” (Strauss and Howe, 1997: 92-95) CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERISTICS

The characters I looked at, in terms of characteristics of generations and archetypes, are all females and belong to different periods and types of texts. I assigned them to a generation according to the year they were born, namely the year the books appeared. The first character is Wendy Moira Angela Darling symbolically born in 1904. She would belong to The Greatest Generation. As Peter states it “Wendy, one girl is more use than twenty boys.” (Barrie, 2015:2) and this is what Wendy would be for the whole development of the story. She seems more mature and responsible than Peter is “How awful but she could not help smiling when she saw that he had been trying to stick his shadow on with soap. How exactly like a boy!” (Barrie, 2015:20). She is determined to become a good companion to Peter, and acts like a mother and a wife “Oh dear, oh dear! I am sure I sometimes think that spinsters are to be envied….She sat down to her work basket, a heavy load of stockings and every knee with a whole in it as usual. I must have somebody in the cradle. A cradle is such a nice homely thing to have about a house. ….Children I hear your father s steps. He likes you to meet him at the door” (Barrie, 2015:83). Nonetheless, she needed to be saved by Peter’s kiss “The Wendy Lady lives… It is the kiss I gave her. It has saved her life.” (Barrie, 2015:52) due to her status as a girl. Wendy is imaginative and creative, with a strong desire for adventure and a deep yearning for a life that is more fulfilling than her current circumstances. This would place her in the Prophet/Idealist archetype. At the same time she understands duty and the fact that sometimes sacrifice is needed “ O, Wendy Lady, be our mother. …Of course it’s frightfully fascinating, but you see I am only a little girl, I have no real experience.” (Barrie, 2015:57). The Hero/Civic archetype characteristics could easily apply to her. “At this moment Wendy was grand. These are my last words, dear boys, she said firmly. I feel that I have a message to you from your real mothers and it is this – WE hope our sons will die like English gentlemen.” (Barrie, 2015:112). Wendy is committed, and she takes on certain responsibilities. She also shows a willingness to challenge the status quo and question authority, as seen in her interactions with Captain Hook and her willingness to stand up to Peter Pan. At the end of the book, she is the only one portrayed as an adult “As you look at Wendy you may see her hair becoming white, and her figure little again, for all this happened long ago. Jane is now a common grown-up, with a daughter called Margaret and every spring cleaning time, except when he forgets, Peter comes for Margaret and takes her to the Neverland where she tells him stories about himself, to which he listens eagerly. When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is Peter s mother in turn, and so it will go on so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.” (Barrie, 2015:143) The second female character is Lucy, the youngest of the four Pevensie siblings in C.S. Lewis’s „The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. The book was first published in 1950, which would place Lucy within The Baby Boomer generation. Lucy’s character exhibits some traits that are associated with The Baby Boomer generation, such as a focus on individualism and a desire for personal growth and fulfillment. She also displays a sense of social responsibility and a willingness to work towards the greater good, which is more characteristic of the Gen X generation. Lucy is imaginative, curious, and open-minded, and she is the first to discover the magical world of Narnia. “What wonderful adventure we shall have now, that we are all in it together.” (Lewis, 2009:72) She also has a strong sense of empathy and compassion, as seen in her interactions with Mr. Tumnus and other creatures of Narnia. She is brave, loyal, and willing to fight for what is right, even in the face of danger and adversity. She also shows a willingness to work with others and build alliances, as seen in her efforts to unite the various creatures of Narnia against the White Witch. She is the one “feeling the beginning of summer” when first hears of Aslan. If we think of the four archetypes described by Strauss and Howe, Lucy would fit in the Prophet/Idealist archetype, which is characterized by a focus on personal fulfillment and self-expression and, at the same time with the Hero/Civic archetype characterized by a focus on community and social responsibility. The next two characters were symbolically born in 2002, and 2006 respectively. Coraline (2002), the heroine of the book having the same title, is a Zoomer, always in search of something to do, bored but ready for action “I’m bored.” (Gaiman, 2012:21), “In danger? It sounded exciting. It didn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really!” (Gaiman, 2012:25). She is independent: “Nobody got green gloves. I could be the only one”, (Gaiman, 2012:29); pragmatic: “Coraline knew that when grown-ups told you something wouldn’t hurt, it almost always did.” (Gaiman, 2012:54); “Coraline wandered why so few of the adults she had met had made any sense. She sometimes wandered who they thought they were talking to.” (Gaiman, 2012:24); and realistic “If I am going to do this, I’m not going to do it in her clothes.” (Gaiman, 2012:116) At the same time, she is very imaginative “Sometimes Coraline would forget who she was while she was daydreaming that she was exploring the Arctic or the Amazon rainforest or darkest Africa.” (Gaiman, 2012:81), courageous: ‘I will be brave thought Coraline, No, I am brave.” (Gaiman, 2012:71), and resourceful: “You like games…that’s what I’ve been told. Wouldn’t you be happier, if you won me fair and square?…….Me? said Coraline and gripped her knees under the table, to stop them from shaking. If I lose, I”ll stay here with you forever and I’ll let you love me. I’ll be the most dutiful daughter. I’ll eat your food and play Happy Families. And I’ll let you sew your buttons into my eyes.” (Gaiman, 2012:109). Coraline embodies all characteristics of the archetypes. Throughout the book, she behaves as a Hero, other times as a Prophet or an Artist or even a Nomad. “You really don’t understand do you? I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does, not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted? Just like that and it didn’t mean anything.” (Gaiman, 2012:143).

Cara de Fido, the main character in „Duckling Ugly,” a novel written by Neal Shusterman in 2006 is difficult to definitively assign to a specific generation. The Z generation, also known as Zoomers, typically includes individuals born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s. Some of the key characteristics associated with this generation include a strong sense of independence, a focus on individuality and self-expression, and a desire for authenticity and transparency. “You can either use your brains God gave you or you can skate through life on your looks and never let your brain develop much beyond dog intelligence.” (Shusterman, 2006:15) Cara has all these traits while going through different adventures. She also displays some characteristics that are more typical of the Millennial generation. Cara struggles with feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, which is a common theme among Millennials. „Looking at me was enough to question your belief in God.” (Shusterman, 2006:20) She also experiences a range of emotions and struggles with her identity. “A powerful energy filled me., and when I was full to the brim, I opened my eyes…. Looks don’t make a monster, it’s the things a person does.” (Shusterman, 2006:73) Ultimately Cara obtains what she wants, she becomes beautiful by consuming others’ beauty. As an archetype, we could place her in either of the four as she undergoes so many transformations.

All these characters embody different characteristics of the generations they seem to belong to, but also of other generations: self-expression, independence, creativity, imagination, open-mindedness, innovation, authenticity, willingness, courage, determination, resilience, and responsibility. All these are timeless values that children and young readers can experience while reading the stories and then internalize while thinking of the characters.

Times, events, and experiences shape us and so do the books we read.

Barrie J. M., 2015, Peter Pan, Milton Creek Editorial Services Gaiman N., 2012, Coraline, Bloomsbury Children’s Book Lewis, C. S., 2009, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper-Collins Shusterman N., 2006, Duckling Ugly, Part of Dark Fusion Strauss W. and Howe N., 1991, Generations: The History of America’s Future – 1584 to 2069, Crown Strauss W. and Howe N., 1997, The Fourth Turning, Simon & Schuster Chart 1 taken from: https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/t8zsx3/i_would_like_to_name_a_generation_would_that_be/


prof. Iolanda Sztrelenczuk

Liceul Tehnologic de Transporturi Auto, Baia Sprie (Maramureş) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/iolanda.sztrelenczuk

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