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Pollyanna: The Glad Book

Pollyanna: The Glad Book
Eleanor H. Porter


(Full name Eleanor Hodgman Porter; also wrote under the pseudonyms Eleanor Stuart and Eleanor Stewart) American short-story writer and author of juvenile novels.

The following entry presents commentary on Porter's juvenile novel Pollyanna: The Glad Book (1913) through 2001.


At the time of its release, Porter's juvenile novel Pollyanna: The Glad Book (1913) inspired the addition of a new word into the English lexicon: "Pollyanna"—a noun describing a person who is blindly optimistic. While the novel remains popular—inspiring at least two successful movie adaptations and several million copies sold since its initial publication—critical opinion, where it exists, has not been kind to Porter's most famous creation. Pollyanna Whittier, the book's titular heroine, has come to symbolize unrelenting happiness, regardless of the enormity of any situation. Not meant as a compliment, the wide usage of the expression "Pollyanna" has in turn tarnished the book's critical reputation; the limited scholarship on Porter's text has been widely divided regarding its value as legitimate literature.


Porter was born on December 19, 1868, in Littleton, New Hampshire, to Francis and Llewella Hodgman. Believing her talent lay in singing, Eleanor was accepted at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. After graduating, she toured the region, singing in choirs and recitals before eventually becoming a music teacher. In 1892 she married John Lyman Porter of Corinth, New Hampshire. Porter was businessman who later became president of the National Separator and Machine Company of Boston. The couple settled into a quiet life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Porter first started her writing career. Before earning her renown as a children's author, Porter was a successful short-story writer, having over two-hundred stories published in various women's journals of the era, some under an early pseudonym "Eleanor Stewart." In 1907 she published her first novel Cross-Currents: The Story of Margaret. The book was popular enough to warrant a sequel, and The Turn of the Tide: The Story of How Margaret Solved Her Problem (1908) was released the following year. However, Porter would gain her true prestige as one of the top selling novelists of the period with the release of Pollyanna: The Glad Book. Porter initially wrote her most famous work as a series of short serials for the Christian Herald, releasing it as a collected novel in 1913. Featured on best-seller lists for two consecutive years, Pollyanna sold over a million copies, underwent forty-seven reprints within its first seven years, and had a total printing of over two million copies by 1950. In 1914 Porter released a sequel titled Pollyanna Grows Up, which also sold in record numbers. Inspired by the success of her Pollyanna books, Porter continued to write, releasing another fifteen novels, including Just David (1916) and Mary-Marie (1920), both of which continued her run of top-selling novels. On May 21, 1920, Porter died of pulmonary tuberculosis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of fifty-one. Capitalizing on the enormous popularity of Pollyanna, her publisher released twelve more Pollyanna books written by four different authors—Harriet Lummis Smith, Elizabeth Borton, Margaret Piper Chalmers, and Virginia May Moffitt. None of these subsequent works ever achieved the popularity of Porter's original, and they have since all gone out of print.


Part of the popular turn-of-the-century trend featuring juvenile novels with female orphan protagonists—including Johanna Spyri's Heidi (1899), Kate Douglas Wiggin's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903), L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden (1911), and Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking (1950)—Pollyanna shares these novels' central credo of positive, uplifting storylines, which evolved out of the eighteenth-century biblically-inspired stories for children. Meant primarily for young female audiences, these novels often obeyed a standard narrative structure of introducing a lost child into a new environment, where the child is initially unwelcome until she quickly charms everyone except her cold guardian, who is usually a tragic figure. Over the course of the story, the sweet, undeterred protagonist eventually breaks down the last holdouts to her charms before her resolve is tested, and she requires the assistance of her newfound community of friends to prevail. Porter's title character, Pollyanna Whittier, typifies many aspects of this model. Pollyanna is the only child of a debutante mother and reverend father; her mother's family shunned the young couple, forcing them to move out into America's harsh frontier. Pollyanna's mother and father quickly succumbed to the elements, leaving Pollyanna to be sent to Vermont to live with her only remaining relative, the distant and disapproving Polly Harrington, her mother's sister. While in Vermont, Pollyanna interacts with the local citizenry who seem largely sad or bitter due to hard economic times and other factors. But young Polly, who has nothing of her own, arrives with relentless cheer and the gift of the "Glad Game." In introducing the game to the emotionally-distant Ms. Harrington, Pollyanna explains its origins as being the result of not getting a requested doll in the periodic care package sent by her father's church. When Pollyanna confesses her unhappiness at only finding a pair of child's crutches in the package, her father invents the Glad Game. As Pollyanna tells her aunt, "the game was just to find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what 'twas … And we began right there on the crutches." After uniting the townspeople with her unrelenting optimism and charisma, Pollyanna's sunny outlook on life is dramatically tested. Injured and left paralyzed due to a car accident, Pollyanna becomes isolated and depressed, believing that she has lost her innate happiness. As a result, the townsfolk—including her now-loving aunt—gather by Pollyanna's side and re-inspire her faith in the Glad Game, whose power, it would seem, miraculously enables her to recover completely even after her doctor admits that such an outcome was virtually impossible.


On the surface, the text of Pollyanna seems primarily concerned with explaining and endorsing Porter's socalled Glad Game. In its prime, thanks to the novel's commercial success, the Glad Game was well received in popular culture, with clubs springing up around the United States, holding the basic tenets of the Glad Game as their manifest. Looking beyond the Glad Game, many reviewers have discussed the vital role that optimism plays in Pollyanna, with some arguing that novel presents a much less sanguine outlook on life than most critics give it credit for. Marjorie N. Allen has commented that, while "the Pollyanna character has become a stereotype for unrealistic optimism, the story itself has a double edge. Pollyanna may be looking for the good side of everything, but the reader is well aware that all is not well in the life of this child and waits with suspense for the resolution." Under this interpretation, the Glad Game becomes a mask for the intense psychological suffering of the Pollyanna character. Even for Victorian audiences, Pollyanna represented an ideal figure of amusement and pleasure, the personification of a genre of books that Claudia Mills defines as "the Romantic child: innocent, uncorrupted, and in late Victorian popular fiction, much sentimentalized." For her own part, Porter grew angry at the continual oversimplification of her intents. As she famously once told an interviewer, "I have been made to suffer from the Pollyanna books. I have been placed often in a false light. People have thought that Pollyanna chirped that she was 'glad' at everything … I have never believed that we ought to deny discomfort and pain and evil; I have merely thought that it is far better to 'greet the unknown with a cheer.'"


Few books have experienced the shift of critical appreciation and reader loyalty that has faced Porter's Pollyanna. The Boston Herald raved in 1913 that, "To the list of those who have done something to make the world more joyous must be added the names of Pollyanna and Eleanor H. Porter." Though initially hailed as a brilliant treatise on positivism, Pollyanna's critical reputation had declined significantly by the mid-twentieth century. However, Porter did have her early detractors, most notably, film director D. W. Griffith who called the 1920 silent film version of Pollyanna, "the most immoral story ever produced on the screen" with a "fake philosophy of gilded bunkum." His criticism was joined by a growing number of critics who found the book to be tedious and dated. An especially vitriolic critique came from Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig, whom famously wrote in You're a Brick, Angela!: A New Look at Girls' Fiction from 1839 to 1975 (1975) that, "it was not because of its humour, conscious or otherwise, that Pollyanna became a best-seller: its author simply has pandered to the lowest levels of her readers' emotions…. Pollyanna makes no demands on the reader's ability to think." Despite recurring complaints about Porter's lack of technical virtuosity, more recent scholarly appraisals of Pollyanna have been somewhat kinder, with some arguing that the book tackles several surprisingly pertinent issues of its era, citing Pollyanna's criticism of the local Christian charity after its refusal to assist her in finding a home for her orphaned friend Jimmy Bean. Though Pollyanna will never be remembered as a critical favorite, Porter's story has become unquestionably iconic, with Jerry Griswold asserting that, "no book besides Pollyanna so clearly indicates the American preoccupation with the emotional lives of children and the American advocacy of positive thinking."


Cross-Currents: The Story of Margaret [illustrations by William F. Stecher] (juvenile novel) 1907

The Turn of the Tide: The Story of How Margaret Solved Her Problem [illustrations by Frank T. Merrill] (juvenile novel) 1908

Miss Billy (juvenile novel) 1911

The Story of Marco (juvenile novel) 1911

Miss Billy's Decision (juvenile novel) 1912

Pollyanna: The Glad Book [illustrations by Stockton Mulford] (juvenile novel) 1913

The Sunbridge Girls at Six-Star Ranch [as Eleanor Stuart; illustrations by Frank J. Murch] (juvenile novel) 1913

Miss Billy—Married (juvenile novel) 1914

Pollyanna Grows Up: The Second Glad Book [illustrations by H. Weston Taylor] (juvenile novel) 1914

Just David [illustrations by Helen Mason Grose] (juvenile novel) 1916

Six-Star Ranch [illustrations by R. Farrington Elwell and Frank J. Murch] (juvenile novel) 1916

The Road to Understanding (juvenile novel) 1917

Oh, Money! Money! [illustrations by Helen Mason Grose] (juvenile novel) 1918

Across the Years: Tales of Age [illustrations by Helen Mason Grose] (short stories) 1919

Dawn [illustrations by Lucius Wolcott Hitchcock] (juvenile novel) 1919; republished as Keith's Dark Tower, 1919

The Tangled Threads: Just Tales [illustrations by Helen Mason Grose] (short stories) 1919

The Tie That Binds: Tales of Love and Marriage [illustrations by Helen Mason Grose] (short stories) 1919

Mary-Marie [illustrations by Helen Mason Grose] (juvenile novel) 1920

Sister Sue (juvenile novel) 1921

Money, Love, and Kate (juvenile novel) 1923

Hustler Joe and Other Stories (short stories) 1924

Little Pardner and Other Stories (short stories) 1926

Just Mother and Other Stories (short stories) 1927

The Fortunate Mary (juvenile novel) 1928


Marcia E. Allentuck (review date winter 1960)

SOURCE: Allentuck, Marcia E. Review of Pollyanna: The Glad Book, by Eleanor H. Porter. Georgia Review 14, no. 4 (winter 1960): 447-49.

[In the following review, Allentuck argues that, beneath the sunny surface veneer of the text in Pollyanna: The Glad Book, Porter is able to convey a clear moral and thematic message.]

It is a curious experience for the modern reader, made ineluctably aware by contemporary novelists of the concepts of alienation, pessimism, and existential Angst, to attempt to evaluate Eleanor H. Porter's period-piece Pollyanna (1912–1913). The heroine's name has perhaps functioned too long as a shibboleth evoking a negatively-conditioned response for any positive aspects of the work to command our sensibilities. Yet if analyzed with a grain of perception instead of a deal of prejudice, a solid core of psychological truth manifests itself beneath the layers of artificial heartwarming and sopping perfectibilitarianism.

The basic outlines of the plot are doubtless familiar: Orphaned Pollyanna Whittier, of whose parents' marriage her mother's family disapproved, goes to live in a small Vermont town with her mother's stern sister, Miss Polly Harrington, who, after the Reverend Whittier's death, is appointed the child's guardian. Her arrival and subsequent cheerful, outgoing deportment have immediate effects upon her associates. The faithful old gardener Tom and the housemaid Nancy of the frequent malapropisms, both stereotypical retainers, become her absolute champions. Her late mother's rejected and disillusioned suitor, wealthy John Pendleton, is rejuvenated when, through Polly-anna's mediations, he adopts young Jimmy Bean and ceases to wallow in his own unfulfillment. She is able to avert the imminent divorce of a lower-class couple, and to convince a bed-ridden invalid to confront reality and to divert her attention from a sterile preoccupation with self to a constructive occupational therapy with her hands. The final triumph after an automobile accident which leaves Pollyanna virtually paralyzed for months, is the bringing together of her aunt and Dr. Thomas Chilton in a marriage which, but for an absurd misunderstanding, would have occurred many years before.

The exfoliation of Aunt Polly's character is skillfully revealed. Her neurotically compulsive housekeeping, her misanthropic utterances, and her withdrawing lack of self-acceptance soon dissolve before Pollyanna's yea-saying acceptance of life. After her unjust disciplinings of her niece, she is rendered helpless by the child's gently-needling references to the lack of self-control displayed in meting out sentence: "You mustn't feel bad about that one bit." Pollyanna's observations are unpremeditated weapons to make her aunt aware of her own guilt in the inability to sustain any rich human involvement; with the realization of the inadequacy grows the desire and the capacity to relate affirmatively to others. Because Pollyanna treats her like an integrated individual, she is able to integrate herself.

On the surface the narrative is simply, almost facilely, organized. The volume is written in a clear, middle style; it is not the diction primarily but the situations which are emotionally overloaded by the author, who tracks simultaneously the Ciceronian rhetorical aims—delectare, docere, movere. It is the tale that adorns the moral, rather than the moral itself that is embellished. But the author's point of view is not rigidly fixed. She is not above occasionally reducing to absurdity Pollyanna's "glad game" and the perpetual sunshine it is calculated to maintain, even in the face of the tragic. Thus, she leaves it for the reader to distinguish between contrived and legitimate optimism. Though the story be almost embarrassingly encumbered by the trappings of undiscriminating gladness and the Panglossian denial of the cogency of the daemonic, its burden of the redeeming power of love and human participation places it in the tradition of those works which find man's adjustment and growth more arresting than his disenchantment and fall. And judging by the current emphases on the virtues of togetherness and conformity, even the work's lesser message is not alien to the present.

Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: Cadogan, Mary, and Patricia Craig. "Orphans and Golden Girls." In You're a Brick, Angela!: A New Look at Girls' Fiction from 1839 to 1975, pp. 99-101. London, England: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1976.

[In the following excerpt, Cadogan and Craig characterize Pollyanna: The Glad Book as an exercise in saccharine clichés, commenting that the novel's "combination of artless contrivance and arch dialogue is congruous with the light-hearted pathos and the soft-centred banalities which it has been Mrs Porter's literary mission to express."]

… Pollyanna, the most puerile of the little rays of moonshine, is also the most intellectually debilitating—particularly if the book is read on its own terms, not for its inadvertent funniness. It is funny, in the way that a great many silent films now seem funny (however they may have struck audiences at the time of their release): for its bathos, antiquatedness, and the number of memorable lines which it contains. ("'And you knew my mother, really, when she was just a little earth angel and not a Heaven one?'"; "'I just love people'"; "'I'd like a home—jest a common one, ye know, with a mother in it, instead of a Matron.'") But it was not because of its humour, conscious or otherwise, that Pollyanna became a bestseller: its author simply has pandered to the lowest level of her readers' emotions. Pollyanna makes no demands on the reader's ability to think; response to its images is nothing if not automatic. Out of the sentimental rag-bag has come every cliché in the business: lost kittens, stray dogs, dirty but proud orphan boys, crippled children, stern men softened by "a child's presence", faithful old retainers, unhappy love affairs, rich aunts. The film director, D. W. Griffith, who was not notably averse to themes which now seem horrifyingly sentimental, considered Pollyanna "the most immoral story ever produced on the screen".1 He went on to refer to its "fake philosophy of gilded bunkum". But Pollyanna generally has been accepted as a classic children's book and has never been out of print (it was issued as a Puffin Book in 1969). Not only that, the character of Pollyanna was taken over by other writers (at least four of them) after the original author's death in 1920, Pollyanna having so endeared herself to her readers that she could not without loss of happiness—and money—be relinquished. But sentimentality is always with us, even if its manifestations change. (This is not to say that it cannot be used effectively: in E. Nesbit, for instance, overtly sentimental ideas are contained within an arrangement which exploits and enhances them.)

Pollyanna's imbecile cheerfulness—her "glad" philosophy—has been derived from an incident which she relates with relish:

"You see, I'd wanted a doll … but when the barrel came the lady wrote that there hadn't any dolls come in, but the little crutches had…."

"Well, I must say I can't see any game about that, about that," declared Nancy, almost irritably.

"Oh yes; the game was just to find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what 'twas…. And we began right then—on the crutches."

"… Well, then, suppose you tell me," almost snapped Nancy.

"… Why, just be glad because you don't—need—'em!" exulted Pollyanna triumphantly.

Pollyanna is stupid. She is tactless and infuriating. She comforts a sick woman by telling her: "'I thought—how glad you could be—that other folks weren't like you—all sick in bed like this, you know.'" Her inability to apprehend reality indicates a serious mental imbalance: of her aunt, who dislikes her (to begin with) she says: "'My Aunt Polly is the nicest lady in the world, now that my mother's gone to be a Heaven angel.'" She is the same age as Rebecca and Anne when they first appear—eleven— yet her vocabulary is that of a four-year-old. ("'What is being pro-fi-ta-ble?'" she lisps.) Her exploits are unoriginal, to say the least: she restores her aunt to the bosom of her long-estranged lover and provides a "child's presence" for an elderly gentleman who feels the need of one. He has offered to adopt Pollyanna herself ("'And, oh, little girl, little girl, I want you so!'") but "'Oh, Mr Pendleton, I couldn't leave Aunt Polly—now!'" He is persuaded to settle for a male orphan named Jimmy Bean ("'I have seen Jimmy Bean and … he's going to be my boy hereafter.'"). In the midst of these little acts of kindness Pollyanna is run over by a car and severely injured—but survives: the early twentieth-century equivalent of the Victorian dying child is the child who has a near-fatal accident, suffers with fortitude, and makes an unbelievable recovery. Pollyanna, however, needs those little crutches after all—damage to her spine leaves her temporarily paralysed. ("'You never know how perfectly lovely legs are till you haven't got them—that go, I mean.'")

Pollyanna, like Anne and the others, grows up. The book in which she does so contains another male orphan, whimsical but crippled (Mrs Porter's recurrent symbol for the triumph over adversity is crutches); a shopgirl whom Pollyanna innocently saves from the usual fate of pretty working girls in Boston; a rich lady, who, like Mr Pendleton, is pining for a child's presence—which Pollyanna again supplies. She does these things at twelve, then reappears eight years later. Pollyanna at twenty is not an ambitious girl: "'Oh, I want to cook and keep house,' smiled Pollyanna, with a pensive sigh. 'I just love to beat eggs and sugar, and hear the soda gurgle its little tune in the cup of sour milk.'" But Jimmy Bean—now Pendleton—is relieved to find that her mental development has not been totally arrested: "'Even you were worried, it seems,' Pollyanna laughs, 'lest I should be at twenty just what I was at ten!'" In fact there is no discernible difference in her behaviour or outlook, though we have the inevitable romantic preoccupation grafted on to the juvenile personality. ("'You don't mean to say there's anything serious between you and—Jimmy Bean.'") The plot of Pollyanna Grows Up, such as it is, involves the sorting out of several couples—one member of each believes that the person whom he or she loves, is in love with someone else. It is a common theme, but rarely has it been handled so grossly; but the combination of artless contrivance and arch dialogue is congruous with the light-hearted pathos and the soft-centred banalities which it has been Mrs Porter's literary mission to express. It is surprising that even a cup of milk is allowed to be sour; of course in Pollyanna's hands it is bound to end up sweet.


1. Frederick James Smith, "The Moral and Immoral Photoplay", Shadowland VI Vol III No 1, Sept 1920.

Jane A. Stoneback (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Stoneback, Jane A. "Pollyanna: The Glad Book." In Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume Three, edited by Kirk H. Beetz and Suzanne Niemeyer, pp. 1041-44. Washington, D.C.: Beacham Publishing, Inc., 1990.

[In the following essay, Stoneback presents a general introduction to Pollyanna: The Glad Book, offering an overview of the novel's creation, its legacy, and various critical assessments of its literary value.]


Eleanor Hodgman Porter was born on December 19, 1868, in Littleton, New Hampshire. Porter's mother was an invalid, and Porter herself suffered from ill health as a child and never finished high school. Al-though she later recovered and led an active outdoor life, her childhood experiences provided material for the story of Pollyanna and for Porter's other works of fiction. As a young woman, Porter studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and embarked upon a career as a singer, but changed her profession to writing after her marriage in 1892. Porter submitted stories to magazines, at first with little success. But from the time she published her first novel, Cross-Currents, in 1907, until her death in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 21, 1920, Porter was a remarkably prolific and successful writer of fiction for young adults. Her popularity continued well after her death, and many of her works were published posthumously.

Porter's greatest fame followed the publication of Pollyanna. An international best seller, the book appeared in scores of editions in the U.S. and was translated into the major languages of Europe and Asia. The famous actress Mary Pickford paid the then huge sum of $115,112 for the movie rights, and Pickford's silent film version of Pollyanna was a great success in 1920. There was even a "Mary Pickford Edition" of the book. Other stage and screen versions of Pollyanna continued to appear over the years, including the recent BBC serial production starring Elizabeth Archard. Enthusiastic readers everywhere played the Glad Game and founded Glad Clubs.

Pollyanna 's fans include adults as well as children and young adults. Porter's basic theme, namely that even in the darkest situations people can find something to be glad about, seemed to appeal to everyone. Even prison inmates founded a branch of the Glad Club. Restaurants, resorts, apartment houses, commercial products, and babies were named after Pollyanna. One observer of the Pollyanna phenomenon commented that it was nearly as influential an event as the First World War. Eleanor Porter's Pollyanna, as both a literary creation and a cultural phenomenon, is one of the important and influential landmarks of the twentieth century.


In a fundamentally honest and straightforward way, Porter examines the trials of life—poverty, loneliness, and illness—and concludes that a cheerful child's presence can alleviate social and personal bitterness. Pollyanna makes people see the good in life rather than the sad and negative. The book is not, however, a sermon, nor is its tone preachy. It is a solid adventure-romance tale with many familiar but engaging elements. The poor orphan girl arrives in a strange place, lives in the "big house on the hill," and, through her liveliness and curiosity, explores and conquers a new environment. High-spirited and free of prejudice, Pollyanna is the only person in the small New England town willing to talk and associate with everyone. Nothing she does is cruel; when she breaks a rule, it usually results in some good for someone else.

One reason to read this book is to examine firsthand one of the most popular and influential books of the early twentieth century. The word "Pollyanna" has come to suggest a sentimental and simplistic outlook on life, but Pollyanna's vision of love and joy seems relevant in an age marked by cynicism and false sophistication. Pollyanna remains one of literature's irrepressible, effervescent characters, whose actions serve as an example for all those struggling to overcome difficulties.


The story takes place in a New England village in the early 1900s. Miss Polly Harrington has received word that her eleven-year-old niece has been orphaned, and the "Ladies Aid" wants Miss Polly to take Pollyanna into her home. Pollyanna is the daughter of Miss Polly's sister, who married a very poor young minister against the wishes of her wealthy family and was disowned. When the story begins, Miss Polly—the aristocratic Harrington family's only living descendant besides Pollyanna—is a rich, lonely spinster who feels obligated to care for her niece. Pollyanna arrives in Beldingsville, Vermont, and over the course of the novel not only has a dramatic effect on all those who live in the "big house on the hill," but also transforms the whole village from a rather stern, aloof town to a concerned, caring, and considerably more cheerful community.


Pollyanna features some credible and compelling characters as well as some characters who serve primarily as stereotypes. Although Pollyanna is the main character, Aunt Polly and John Pendleton are also significant and perhaps more engaging, since they experience a dramatic transformation of character.

Pollyanna's optimism dominates her personality, even though she has endured poverty, deprivation, initial rejection by Aunt Polly, and a tragic automobile accident that threatens to make her an invalid for life. Because Pollyanna is a naive eleven-year-old, she sometimes seems tactless in her conduct of the Glad Game, such as when she tells Old Tom the gardener, who is bent over with arthritis, that he should be glad he is so close to the ground and does not have to stoop down so far to do his weeding. The innocent literalism of her remark to the gardener is a fundamental trait of her character and is characteristic of the behavior of many eleven-year-olds. Although Pollyanna makes mistakes and misreads situations, her intentions are always good.

Pollyanna's Aunt Polly is a bitter, stern woman who looks much older than her years; she always frowns and is "severe-faced" and distant in her loneliness. Pollyanna's presence works a gradual change in her, and at the end of the tale, quite convincingly, Miss Polly has become a warm, loving person.

John Pendleton serves as the mystery man of the novel, walking the village streets in his long black coat and high silk hat, never speaking to anyone until Pollyanna initiates what will become a life-changing friendship for him. Wealthy and well-traveled, Pendleton has become a reclusive and rather cynical figure since Pollyanna's mother rejected him to marry the poor minister. Pollyanna's presence transforms Pendleton, and although she does not move in with him as he desires, she does ease his loneliness and restore his ability to care for others.

An important secondary character is Dr. Chilton, who like Pendleton has been disillusioned in love. At first lonely in his pride, he too becomes a strong and heroic character by the end of the story. Nancy, the hired girl, gets confused and does not always play the Glad Game in the right way, but she is devoted to making Pollyanna happy. The minor characters—Old Tom, Mrs. Snow, Mrs. Payson, the Reverend Ford, and Jimmy Bean—all find their lives much richer for Pollyanna's presence.

The story's sub-themes of duty, pride, loneliness, and invalidism are all linked to the overarching theme of the Glad Game that Pollyanna teaches the whole community to play. Pollyanna has perfected the game of "just being glad" no matter how disappointing, difficult, or hopeless a situation might seem; she welcomes the challenge of a tough situation, saying "the harder 'tis, the more fun 'tis." When Pollyanna arrives at Miss Polly's, for example, she hopes for a lovely room with nice furniture and mirrors and pictures on the wall. Instead, she gets a bare room in the attic. She decides she can be happy where there are no mirrors, because she will not have to look at herself and see her freckles, and she can be happy that there are no pictures on the walls, because she has the best picture—a view of the countryside—through her window. The implicit symbolic equation is that if she had mirrors and pictures on the walls, then she might be spoiled and self-centered instead of the out-going child of nature that she is.

Pollyanna's greatest challenge occurs after the tragic automobile accident, when she almost yields to despair. But in a satisfying resolution of plot and thematic design, all of the villagers who have learned to play the Glad Game pull her out of despondence. Porter suggests that an individual's concern for others has the potential to generate communal reciprocation when it is most needed. At the end of the novel, Pollyanna writes a letter to Aunt Polly to tell her she can walk again, and she signs the letter, "with heaps of love to everybody." These are the last words of the book, and they reinforce its underlying themes.


Pollyanna successfully evokes the texture of life in small-town New England in the early 1900s. The use of country dialect and the rich regional flavor that marks the dialogue of such characters as Nancy and Old Tom typify the "local color" fiction popular early in the twentieth century.

Porter also skillfully employs imagery and symbolism. Miss Polly's "tight hair" represents her tight, aloof personality. The various images of prisms and rainbows define Pollyanna's character, while the images of the crutches and the missionary barrel fore-shadow the near-tragic fate that awaits Pollyanna at the end of the book.

While some readers may tire of Pollyanna laughing "hysterically," breathing "tremulously" and "rapturously," smiling "eagerly," "bravely," and "cheerfully," the novel is generally satisfying, for it moves vivid characters along a tight plot line toward a satisfying resolution.


It should be noted that Pollyanna is one of the very few characters in all literature to have given a word to the language. Dictionary definitions of a "Pollyanna" range from "a blindly optimistic person" or "a foolishly optimistic person" to someone who is "fatuously or exasperatingly optimistic." People often use the term to suggest a person who is insensitive to the suffering and evil in the world, someone who persists in being optimistic despite evidence to the contrary. This appears to be the meaning of the term "Polly-anna" as our culture has come to define it, but this is definitely not the meaning of "Pollyanna" as found in Eleanor Porter's novel. The real Pollyanna is anything but complacent, inane, and self-deceiving.

The Pollyanna of Porter's book feels deeply the suffering of those around her; because she has had more than her share of random, inexplicable pain and tragedy, she wishes to live fully and to make the best of everything, no matter how bleak the circumstances. Even though Porter's Pollyanna may possess some of the marks of a sentimental romance, its fundamental vision of suffering and joyful redemption is shared by much of the world's great literature.

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Alice Mills (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Mills, Alice. "Pollyanna and the Not So Glad Game." Children's Literature 27 (1999): 87-104.

[In the following essay, Mills examines the psychological nature of the "Glad Game" in Pollyanna: The Glad Book, particularly in respect to the game's relation to Pollyanna's physical disabilities.]

      Pity would be no more
      If we did not make somebody poor;
      And Mercy no more could be
      If all were as happy as we.
                    —William Blake, "The Human Abstract"

When Eleanor Porter's Pollyanna was issued by the Boston publisher L. C. Page in 1913, Porter was already a successful author, with the best-selling Miss Billie to her credit. But Pollyanna was more than a best-seller; it was a publishing phenomenon. For two years Pollyanna stayed on the American best-seller list, to be joined in 1915 by its sequel, Pollyanna Grows Up, also published by Page.1 In both books, Porter sets up and solves mysteries of identity and relationships. Pollyanna is the story of an orphan reluctantly taken in by the bitter spinster Aunt Polly and of the child's transformation of her aunt and everyone else who comes close to her by means of her Glad Game. Pollyanna Grows Up deals with the mysterious origins of Pollyanna's friends Jamie and Jimmy alongside Pollyanna's own maturation and falling in love, together with more examples of the Glad Game at work transforming the unhappy and the unwell.

After Porter's death, her publishers commissioned other writers to carry on Pollyanna's story in twelve more "Glad Books," to marriage and beyond, to her family's travels and the adventures of her children from babyhood to marriage. The sequels' titles indicate the general drift of most of their plots from Porter's original. Harriet Lummis Smith began with Pollyanna's marriage, in Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms, and then started to move Pollyanna across America for fresh interest in Pollyanna's Jewels, Pollyanna's Debt of Honor, and Pollyanna's Western Adventure. Elizabeth Borton kept changing the locale in her contributions to the series, Pollyanna in Hollywood, Pollyanna's Castle in Mexico, Pollyanna's Door to Happiness, and Pollyanna's Golden Horseshoe. Margaret Piper Chalmers contributed only one book, Pollyanna's Protegée, before the publishers turned to a fourth author, Virginia May Moffitt, for the twelfth and thirteenth volumes in the series, Pollyanna at Six-Star Ranch and Pollyanna of Magic Valley. For the final, tired Glad Book, Elizabeth Borton tried her hand at a spy story in Pollyanna and the Secret Mission. By 1950 Porter's two volumes and the other Glad Books had sold two million copies.2 The Glad Books by other writers are almost forgotten now, but Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up are still readily available.

Although all the Glad Books pay homage to Pollyanna's powers of positive thinking, it is the treatment of the Glad Game—Pollyanna's strategy for happiness—that distinguishes Porter's two-volume story of Pollyanna from all of its sequels. Without the game, Pollyanna would be little more than an insipid variant on the stories of Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or Porter's own Miss Billie: the story, that is, of a poor girl transforming the lives of all the unhappy people among whom she comes to live, winning hearts with her unspoiled innocence, and finally marrying happily. The Glad Game distinguishes Pollyanna from these other spontaneously happy heroines,3 for it is a specific technique learned from her father and taught to all she helps.

After her mother's death, Pollyanna's missionary father is sent a barrel of charity goods for himself and his daughter. The child hopes to find a doll, but the only item in the barrel suitable for a child is a pair of small crutches. At the height of Pollyanna's disappointment, the girl later recalls, her father taught her to find something to be glad about:

"Oh, yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what 'twas," rejoined Pollyanna earnestly. "And we began right then—on the crutches."

"Well, goodness me! I can't see anythin' ter be glad about—gettin' a pair of crutches when you wanted a doll!"

Pollyanna clapped her hands.

"There is—there is," she crowed. "But I couldn't see it either, Nancy, at first," she added with quick honesty. "Father had to tell it to me."

"Well, then, suppose you tell me," almost snapped Nancy.

"Goosey! Why, just be glad because you don't—need—'em!"

                                 (Pollyanna 38)

This strategy for gladness is Pollyanna's only inheritance from her father, who dies and leaves her an orphan shortly before the start of the first book. It becomes critical to her sense of who she is, how she should behave, and how she might console others in trouble.

The original game is described retrospectively in each of the books except Chalmers's Pollyanna's Protegée. In Borton's Pollyanna's Door to Happiness, for instance, Pollyanna explains it this way:

"Why, I used to play the Glad Game," she began. "It went like this. No matter what happened that was sad or unexpected, one needn't ever be sad or cry. Because if you looked and studied enough, you could find something to be glad about. My father was a poor missionary, and at Christmas I used to look forward to the missionary box from the church … oh with such longings and dreams. One year I wanted a doll … dreadfully. But there was no doll in the missionary barrel. There was only one thing for a little girl. It was a crutch. I've no idea how it came to be sent. But I was glad I didn't have to use the crutch. And then … oh, millions of times, I've played the Glad Game. It has always been the key to contentment, and the door to happiness, for me…."


In this book, as in the rest of the Glad Book sequels, it is the technique of thinking positive thoughts that is significant, and the reliving of Pollyanna's childhood is not entailed each time the game is played. Borton does not consider it important, for instance, to mention that it was her father and not Pollyanna herself who invented the game. In Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up, however, the Glad Game is emphatically Pollyanna's paternal inheritance, not so much an intellectual technique as a scene from her earlier childhood lived out again and again either by Pollyanna herself or by those whom she instructs. In a psychoanalytic reading, this compulsively relived childhood episode is Pollyanna's version of the Freudian primal scene, and it dominates her life, as far as Porter takes the story.4

In Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up the original Glad Game is relived three times. In the first book, Pollyanna's new neighbor, the sad and lonely John Pendleton, falls and breaks a leg; as he graduates from bed to crutches to recovery, he learns to play the Glad Game and find new happiness:

"I thought you didn't like to have folk round," she said.

He made a wry face.

"Oh, but that was before you taught me to play that wonderful game of yours. Now I'm glad to be waited on, hand and foot! Never mind, I'll be on my own two feet yet, one of these days. Then I'll see who steps around," he finished, picking up one of the crutches at his side and shaking it playfully at the little girl.


Pollyanna herself is later knocked down by a car, and her lower back is injured. She is expected to remain paralyzed from the hips down for the rest of her life, but a doctor provides a miraculous cure. Pollyanna ends as its heroine begins to walk again. At this point Pollyanna may well be a little girl in need of a crutch. The child who once found gladness in not needing a crutch becomes the child who finds gladness simply in being able to walk.

In Pollyanna Grows Up, the crutch episode is revisited explicitly when Pollyanna meets Jamie, a boy injured in two falls, who is confined to a wheelchair. In the worst times of his troubles, he had compiled a Jolly Book: "Everythin' that had anythin' about it that I liked I'd put down in the book. Then I'd just show how many 'joys' I had…. Well, I didn't expect to get many, but—do you know?—I got a lot. There was somethin' about 'most everythin' that I liked a little, so in it had to go…." (68). Pollyanna instantly appropriates the Jolly Book as her own game, played unknowingly by the boy before he met her. By the book's end Jamie is able to walk with the help of crutches, though he never makes a full recovery. Jamie has more trouble than Pollyanna in finding a source of gladness in his crutches. He compares himself unfavorably with Pollyanna and her able-bodied friends Sadie and Jimmy. Thus Jamie might be said to play a Sad Game with his disability.

Superficially, Jamie's Jolly Book and Pollyanna's Glad Game can be regarded as demonstrations of a reframing technique at which Pollyanna is an adept. "Reframing" is a method of changing the meaning of an experience by "changing the frame in which a person perceives events" (Bandler and Grinder, Reframing 1). One of the strategies for therapeutic intervention developed by Bandler and Grinder as part of their neurolinguistic programming (NLP) approach to human behavior modification, as a general process it is neither novel nor unfamiliar. For example, reframing occurs when the ugly duckling of the Hans Christian Andersen story no longer conceives his judgment of himself in the world of ducks but moves to the world of swans. For Rudolf the reindeer the red nose is in one context ridiculous and in another a precious source of light. Bandler and Grinder formalize the reframing intervention in a six-step model and an advanced six-step model, which generalize the process to any perception of events and any emotional response. One significant difference between their model and Pollyanna's practice, however, is that her version of reframing has gladness as its sole outcome.

The Glad Game is thus a very limited version of reframing, a way to recast what has been understood as bitter, painful, hopeless, or unendurable into something cheering. Each turn of the Game is a similar maneuver applied to another personal or domestic complaint. Being able to walk just a few steps, for example, is a source of misery if put in the context of having the full use of one's limbs; reframed in the context of being bed-ridden and unable to move one's legs at all, it is a source of gladness. In the later Glad Books a wide variety of personal and domestic problems are reframed. In Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up, however, Pollyanna's own bout of paralysis, John Pendleton's broken leg, and Jamie's permanent disability suggest that for Eleanor Porter there is something peculiarly attractive in the game's primal episode, which draws the child to return to it not only by way of retelling but also through reenactment with variations. Porter's reframing, then, is limited not only in outcome but in the type of problem to be considered.

To a psychoanalytic critic, such repetitions indicate the return of the repressed; to a psychotherapist, they represent an unsatisfactory therapeutic model. In order for the Glad Game to operate, there must be a problem. Porter's iteration of the same problem—how can one be glad about crutches?—hints at something unresolved in Pollyanna's father's first response. What is lacking in the original case, in which the little girl longs for a doll and is offered a crutch, is any allowance for grief, disappointment, longing, or rage. Reframing can be a potent therapeutic device when it refocuses conscious attention on another way of perceiving an issue, but not when it denies and suppresses a problem. Bandler and Grinder's model also differs significantly from Pollyanna's practice in its level of coercion. For the NLP practitioner, the client must always consent to the change in context, and all parts of the client's psyche must agree that the new outcome is preferable to the old understanding. In contrast, Pollyanna, like her father before her, expects her "clients" and herself to accept reframing almost as a moral duty. Pollyanna's father is insistent that his daughter feel nothing but gladness, even when she is left orphaned by his death:

"Glad!" Nancy, surprised into an interruption.

"Yes—that father's gone to heaven to be with mother and the rest of us, you know. He said I must be glad."

                                 (Pollyanna 24)

Pollyanna successfully pursues the same strategem with all those who cross her path (or almost all: a would-be seducer in Pollyanna Grows Up is outside her range). Pollyanna can be seen in this context as a compulsive rescuer who is endlessly though unconsciously trying to save her own child-self from the desolation that her father forbade her to experience. In Freudian terms she is using projection and denial as defense mechanisms against the return of the repressed. She forever is drawn to external manifestations of her own repressed grief and rage and, like her father, manipulates other sufferers into denying their first responses. The lost child within Pollyanna weeps still for the doll she never received and is denied each time the story is retold.

The Glad Game is a set of crutches rather than a cure. In the case of Aunt Polly, especially, transformation is only temporary and depends on outside supports for its continuation. Once she loses her husband and her money, she is back to her old bitter self.5 Aunt Polly is not the only character, though, who relies on external help to play the Glad Game. In Pollyanna, the servant Nancy practices the game by reframing the doctor's life. The doctor, she says,

"can be glad because he isn't like other folks—the sick ones, I mean, what he doctors," finished Nancy in triumph.

It was Pollyanna's turn to frown.

"Why, y-yes," she admitted. "Of course that is one way, but it isn't the way I said. And—someway, I don't seem to quite like the sound of it."


Here Pollyanna knows that something is wrong with this argument but does not work out exactly what the difficulty is (presumably because that would have made her philosophy untenable). The problem lies in Nancy's reliance on other people's misfortunes, on feeling superior and judging others as less worthy or happy.

There is a similar difficulty with Pollyanna's own technique of reframing. She finds reason for gladness in a covert comparison with others after which she can congratulate herself on her difference. Her whole philosophy is based on this tactic. To be glad because she does not need crutches predicates a class of people who do need them. Porter can allow her heroine to criticize Nancy's efforts to play the Glad Game but never to apply the same moral discrimination to herself; otherwise the game would self-destruct.

Another problem with the Glad Game is revealed when Pollyanna uses her favorite technique on her Aunt Polly's cold and loveless behavior toward her. Each time Aunt Polly tries to rebuke or punish Pollyanna, the child reframes her words and actions as loving, leaving her aunt disoriented: "Certainly, as those first July days passed, Aunt Polly found occasions many times to ejaculate, 'What an extraordinary child!' and certainly the reading and sewing lessons found her at their conclusion each day somewhat dazed and wholly exhausted" (57).

Small wonder that Aunt Polly feels light-headed and fatigued, for her true feelings are being denied by Pollyanna's insistence on an ideal aunt, a procedure that if consciously chosen would be moral blackmail.6 This is almost the mirror image of Aunt Polly's attempts to convert the child Pollyanna into a "good" little girl according to her aunt's standards. In this sense, Pollyanna is simply playing back the tactics that adults employ with her. Aunt Polly is Pollyanna's double in this respect, as the similarity in names would indicate. Eventually the flesh-and-blood woman learns to love, of course, and Pollyanna's naive trust becomes justified retrospectively—or, to put it rather differently, her unconscious manipulation succeeds. In this case, unlike Pollyanna's own first encounter with the Glad Game, the aunt is given plenty of time to apply her niece's insights to her own behavior, plenty of time to transform rather than suppress her bitterness. Even so, she slips back into her old self very easily. If she is understood as Pollyanna's double, her relapse into the old ways suggests that Pollyanna too is not totally secure in her gladness, that the Glad Game is a tactic of self-persuasion producing an inauthenticity in both the aunt-mother and the niece-daughter.

The Glad Game is not only rather too close to moral blackmail, not only dependent on self-congratulatory comparison, it is also limited in its operation. It is a fair critique of the novels that the game's range is limited largely to domestic problems, relationships, and illnesses, for there is an implicit claim that Pollyanna's technique can cure anything that ails the psyche. Yet even as early as in Porter's second book, some characters and some behaviors are beyond the game's reach. In Pollyanna Grows Up the young Pollyanna talks to Sadie, a distressed young woman whose heart is suddenly converted back to virtue as a result of the Glad Game. The worldly-wise reader knows, though Pollyanna does not, that it is sexual seduction that tempts Sadie. When a would-be seducer comes to the park bench where Pollyanna and Sadie are sitting, he coaxes, she refuses, but "then he sneer[s] with a hateful look in his eyes. At last he sa[ys] something very low and angry, which Pollyanna d[oes] not understand. The next moment he wheel[s] about and str[ides] away" (51), never to be seen again. Pollyanna and Sadie rejoice in the Glad Game together, but the anonymous seducer remains unregenerate and invisible in this book's list of gladnesses. Pollyanna's aunt-to-be, Mrs. Carew, eventually establishes homes for virtuous girls to supplement the houses for fallen girls of which Sadie is so painfully aware. The unreformed male seducer is invisible in this part of the story, while all the women's efforts go into saving potential female victims.

A less obvious limitation of the Glad Game is its need of an endless supply of problems. Pollyanna transforms the lives of sour bachelors and spinsters, lost children, cripples, and the bed-ridden, but it is questionable who needs the other more. Her dominant philosophy is all too dependent on problems and misery. This suggests one reason why the seducers and other evil characters remain unreformed: quite apart from Porter's limited range of characterization, Pollyanna needs a continuous supply of wicked people who cause distress to others, to whom she can then teach the game. Lois Lowry, in her 1986 after-word to Pollyanna, argues that there is "something charming in the book's innocence…. It's a never-never land, far away from the stark reality of modern problem novels. Pollyanna's world is full of problems, to be sure, but one by one they unwind and resolve themselves" (220-21). What Lowry misses here is Pollyanna's need for fresh problems to keep the Glad Game in play, a need not so very far removed from that of the charity-givers whom Sadie rebukes in the second volume. To Lowry, Pollyanna's universe is utopian, but in practice it is stuck repeating the same moves toward utopia via a transformation of dystopian characters and events. The Glad Game feeds off misery.

Porter's successors in the series apply the game to a more diverse group of characters than do the first two volumes. Pollyanna is happily and virtuously married, with ideal children, so that the figures of the lost child, the orphan, the unloved, and unloving who need to play the Glad Game are for the most part displaced from Pollyanna's immediate family to neighbors and new friends. As the series continues, the authors attempt to attract readers by the added interest of exotic (but not too faraway) settings such as Texas and Mexico. Everywhere, of course, the Glad Game prevails. At best, the ease with which Pollyanna can be transplanted suggests that the Glad Game has universal validity, at least across North and Central America; at worst it suggests a superficial attempt to keep up sales.

The fourteenth volume, Pollyanna and the Secret Mission, attempts to combine all the features of the earlier Glad Books with another genre, the spy story, but the combination does not enhance any of its components. The spy story is told indirectly for the most part, with Pollyanna an uncomprehending observer, so that most opportunities for suspense and excitement are foregone. More seriously for the book's success as a Glad Book, little attempt is made to apply the game to the social, economic, and political issues raised by the spy story. Toward the end, Pollyanna dutifully turns her mind to the game: "About Ron and Judy. Yes, I can be glad now. My darling need not yet know of Ron's work, since he doesn't want it that way, but she need not be so worried at this moment. Perhaps he will be allowed a small vacation. Oh, I am glad that nothing happened to Ron in all this dangerous business. I am glad of that!" (159). Pollyanna finds these reasons for gladness: her daughter Judy has not been sexually betrayed by her husband the spy; one of the female characters has escaped from a dangerous love affair; another woman has "done right" even though it cost her her life. Notably missing from her list of gladnesses are the nastier characters involved in the spy story. With nothing to be glad about in their lives, no transformation to goodness and love, they are as featureless as Sadie's seducer in Pollyanna Grows Up. Applied to the world of domesticity and personal problems, the game is presented as omnipotent in book after book, but in the outer world of doing, of politics and business, the authors usually do not even try to apply it.

Pollyanna and the Secret Mission is the exception among the Glad Books. The rest of the sequels stay within the domestic and romantic confines of the genre, and, like Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up, their plots range from melodrama to mild social satire. Several, although not all, of the volumes include a mystery concerning a lost boy or girl who is eventually reunited with his or her anguished family. This takes up one of Porter's themes from the first two books: that of the lost child and heir for whom a grieving adult desperately searches. (Of course this motif is not original to Porter.) Another motif (again not originated by Porter) involves a character melodramatically saved from death. In Virginia May Moffitt's Pollyanna of Magic Valley the two motifs are combined: Pollyanna's daughter saves an unknown girl from death under a train's wheels in the first page, and the girl's lost aunt is finally rediscovered and reunited with her grieving father. Similarly, in Harriet Lummis Smith's Pollyanna's Debt of Honor, a mysterious stranger saves Pollyanna's baby from being killed on the road.

A Glad Book, then, has to include Pollyanna herself and to accommodate the plots and characters introduced in previous books in the series; has to demonstrate the game, particularly by a ritual retelling of its first episode; and may include a mildly exotic setting, a mystery, a character saved from death, or all three. What it need not include, however, is the reliving of the primal episode that characterizes Porter's two books. In Smith's Pollyanna's Western Adventure, for instance, Luke Geist is a version of the bed-ridden Jamie, but without the crutches, a man whose miraculous cure occurs completely offstage. Nelson Kipps in Pollyanna of Magic Valley is another reclusive John Pendleton, but when he falls downstairs and hurts his leg the story speeds on to his full change of heart, and nothing is mentioned of crutches. Porter's successors may repeat favorite motifs, but they do not have their characters reenact stories from the previous books.

When the Glad Game is freed from this compulsive quality of reenactment, it sometimes ceases to be the Glad Game at all. In Smith's vapid Pollyanna's Western Adventure, for instance, we find the following:

"You never were at my house," Mattie insisted doggedly. "There's nothing nice about it. And nobody has anything to say, and nobody ever laughs the way you do here. There's nothing nice at all—except your books."

"Well then," smiled Pollyanna, "You can start with being glad for the books."

"Oh, yes. I'm glad of them," said Mattie quickly. She looked at her new friend with worshipful eyes. "And I'm glad of you."


This conversation occurs just after the critical moment, when Pollyanna has told her primal story, but Smith's version, with its escape from a confined life through Pollyanna's friendship and gifts of books, has lost its reframing characteristic. Mattie is asked not to reassess her domestic problems but to leave them behind. Nothing here is transformed, denied, or repressed, and Pollyanna's peculiar gift of finding gladness in calamity itself does not come into operation. Pollyanna's Western Adventure is a Glad Book in name only, although the source of gladness in this episode is less questionable than most in the series.

A similar contrast between the formulaic and the compulsive can be drawn when the love affairs in the series are compared. As with the Glad Game—so suggestive of repression and coercion in Porter's two books and so bland and clichéd in her successors' volumes—the love affairs that provide most of the plots and puzzles of the series are suggestive in Porter's books, banal in the rest of the series. Porter's intricate tangle of orphans, missing heirs, substitute fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons are in psychoanalytic terms prime cases of potentially incestuous relationships. In their obscurely troubling love games, the Oedipus complex—that is, the little girl's longing to be her father's sexual partner and to rid herself of her rival, the mother—is played out. In the rest of the Glad Books, love affairs involve straightforward sexual attraction and relationship outside the incest taboo.

Whereas the sequels abound in formulaic love stories with a simple, simply resolved choice of partners, Porter's love stories abound in mysteries and shifting family relationships, to the point of obsessiveness. Pollyanna ends with one marriage, Pollyanna Grows Up with three, but both books involve at least three potential marriage partners and at least one mystery about the past for each marriage. Each marriage also entails a readjustment of the characters', and the reader's, understanding of how these people are related to one another.

In Pollyanna, Aunt Polly has a secret lover from her past. Little Pollyanna has to learn through trial and error whether he is the morose neighbor John Pendleton or the lonely Dr. Chilton. As she discovers the truth, the doctor finds happiness with his beloved Polly. This seems not unlike the situation of Dorothy in Pollyanna's Western Adventure, who has to find out which of her suitors she really prefers (again with Pollyanna's help), but Porter's love story also contains the revelation that John Pendleton loved and failed to win Pollyanna's dead mother, Aunt Polly's sister. Thus at the time he invites Pollyanna to live with him, saying, "It takes a woman's hand and heart, or a child's presence, to make a home, Pollyanna, and I have not had either" (140), Pollyanna understands him to be inviting her as the daughter he might have had with his supposed lost love Aunt Polly, and she understands the "woman's hand and heart" to refer to her aunt. But he is really thinking of Pollyanna as the daughter he might have had with his actual lost love, Pollyanna's dead mother. These implied relationships are further complicated by Aunt Polly's development toward becoming a loving substitute mother for Pollyanna, taking her dead sister's place for the child though not for the man.

Jerry Griswold is one of the few literary critics to discuss Pollyanna at any length, and he finds her (as I do) to be an expert manipulator, even a blackmailer. Griswold sketches out a Freudian reading of Pollyanna, along with all the other children's books that he includes in his study. As Griswold comments, "Pollyanna is like these other books in its account of oedipal development. Like many of America's other literary orphans, Pollyanna's 'angelic' mother, the mother of infancy, dies before the story opens" (227). Griswold tracks the oedipal theme through the stages of Pollyanna's relationship with her aunt and the development of the child's friendship with John Pendleton and the doctor. He sets out a brief Freudian overview of the love affair in Pollyanna, the aunt's hostility toward the child, and the potential sexual rivalry between aunt-mother and niece-daughter where Dr. Chilton is concerned.

Griswold's analysis of Pollyanna backs away, however, from the novel's most psychoanalytically interesting section, towards the end. What in Griswold's reading is "murky confusion and revealing reduplication" (89) is better understood as variations on a basic oedipal problem in which mother and daughter, father and son, struggle for the same sexual partner. Read thus, Pollyanna 's "revealing reduplications" make excellent psychological sense. It is a shame that Griswold confines his psychoanalytic reading to Porter's first volume, because there is much richer material for an oedipal reading in the second book.

The interrelationships in Pollyanna are not developed into their full complexity until the end of Pollyanna Grows Up. In this book, the orphan child Jimmy, whom John Pendleton has adopted in lieu of Pollyanna, grows up to court her and become engaged to her. Pollyanna will now become John Pendleton's daughter by marriage as well as desire. Furthermore, several characters in the second volume suspect that John and Pollyanna have enjoyed a secret romance, that they are in love and will marry. This suggests, in retrospect, an incestuous reading of his proposal to the child Pollyanna. If he asks not only for her presence but for her woman's hand and heart, as Jimmy believes, then Pollyanna is being asked to substitute for her dead mother in John's bed; and Jimmy, whom she actually desires for a husband and who desires her for a wife, is in danger of becoming her son.

Pollyanna Grows Up deals with this tangle by summarily discarding it. Pollyanna becomes engaged to Jimmy, John Pendleton is an uncle-father safely married to another woman, and Aunt Polly is safely and sadly widowed. These endings do not, however, outweigh the plot developments of volume two in particular, the ever-more-complex family relationships, their ever-increasing potential for incest. Both of Porter's Pollyanna books are amazingly oedipal in their fascination with crippled legs, mysterious parentage, incest, and marrying one's father. Their happy endings can be read as retreats from overdetermined intimate relations rather than as resolutions.

There is further mystery and confusion about the male orphans in Porter's two books, but not about the orphan Pollyanna's origins. At the start of the first book the reader is informed about her dead father and mother, and nothing afterwards calls this account into question. Orphans, like people on crutches, proliferate in Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up. The two orphan boys, the able-bodied Jimmy and the crippled Jamie, are marked as doubles by their names as well as the mystery of their parentage. Toward the end of Pollyanna Grows Up, they act as doubles in Pollyanna's love life in that Jimmy believes that Jamie is his successful rival. The two orphan boys are also rivals for the place in life belonging to Mrs. Carew's lost nephew Jamie, whom she yearns for as a son. In fact, when the crippled Jamie is eventually accepted as the lost nephew, she adopts him as a son. Meanwhile, John Pendleton has adopted the real missing nephew, Jimmy, as his son.

So far all is fairly clear, but in the course of courtship most of these relationships become more confusingly overdetermined. John Pendleton now falls in love with Mrs. Carew. Pollyanna comes to think that Jimmy (her beloved, John's adopted son, Mrs. Carew's real nephew) is in love with Mrs. Carew, his real aunt-mother, who turns out to be his new step-mother when John Pendleton marries her. Meanwhile, Jimmy believes that Pollyanna is in love with the crippled Jamie (Mrs. Carew's adopted son, not her real nephew), who turns out to be Pollyanna's new brother-in-law when Mrs. Carew marries John (adoptive father to Jimmy, who marries Pollyanna).

There are two particularly surprising elements in this oedipal farrago. Porter's second volume ends with the wrong Jamie publicly acknowledged as the nephew-son, while the right one (Jimmy) knows the truth but yields his place out of love. In a sense, both candidates receive the prize of status and wealth, one overtly and the other privately. Porter reassures the reader that Mrs. Carew loves the crippled Jamie as a son, so that this ending could be considered the best possible solution for everyone, but only if the element of deceit, in his family's withholding critical information from Jamie, is ignored.

Equally surprising is Porter's insistence on sexual partnering possibilities between parent and child. Jimmy is supposed by Pollyanna to be in love with a woman who becomes his step-mother, while Pollyanna herself is suspected of a love affair with John Pendleton, her mother's suitor, her future father-in-law. When Jimmy explains to her that John, his adoptive father, is his rival for Pollyanna's hand, she sadly argues that she must marry the older man: "Don't you see? It was Mother, long ago, that broke his heart—my mother. And all these years he's lived a lonely, unloved life in consequence. If now he should come to me and ask me to make that up to him, I'd have to do it, Jimmy. I'd have to. I couldn't refuse! Don't you see?" (Pollyanna Grows Up 199). Pollyanna's remarkable willingness to take the blame for John's reaction to her mother's behavior is symptomatic either of a rescuing pattern that is compulsive to the point of being ludicrous or of an oedipal drama like Jimmy's supposed courtship of his father's beloved, Mrs. Carew. The incestuous implications of these relationships are just manageable when the partnerings remain in the realm of jealous fantasy, but when Pollyanna puts into words her obligation to live out her mother's unlived life, to please her substitute father, the whole Glad Game begins to look like a desperate oedipal ploy to gain the father's love.

Although Porter's successors all include a love story in their Glad Books, only one, Harriet Lummis Smith, takes up the oedipal mysteries and cripplings from the first two volumes. Pollyanna's Jewels rounds out the mystery of the crippled Jamie's parentage with full disclosure. Despite all the secrecy that Pollyanna, Jimmy, John Pendleton, Aunt Polly, Sadie, and Mrs. Carew have sustained, Jamie finds out one night at the dinner table that it is Jimmy, not he, who is the true nephew by blood. Quite reasonably, it might seem, Jamie feels distraught, betrayed, and out of place: "'If you don't mind,' he said, 'I'd rather be by myself for a little. The fact is I married you under false pretences. Our child is the descendant, not of one of the leading families of America, but of a nameless waif. Please give me a little time to think this out'" (228). John Pendleton responds to the crisis by reframing the family's behavior from conspiracy to sacrifice: "But Jim, here, was willing to relinquish his rights to spare Jamie's feelings. I don't see why, when we've all been ready to make every sacrifice, he should act as if we'd been in a conspiracy against him" (229). Jamie is quite correct when he accuses the others of conspiracy. He has indeed been both conspired against and treated as an untrustworthy child. What has been sacrificed by Jimmy is social status; Jamie has lost dignity and been denied the truth. Pollyanna wants him to surrender still more than has already been taken from him: "'If I had an idea of trying to comfort anyone,' explained Pollyanna, choosing her words carefully, 'it would be Aunt Ruth [Mrs. Carew]. I'm sure there's nothing that hurts like ingratitude…. Jimmy was willing to be regarded as a waif, whose heritage was an unknown quantity. If anybody had made such a sacrifice for me, I think I should feel a little bit grateful'" (231-33). Like her father in the long-ago primal Glad Game, she cannot tolerate Jamie's negative reaction, which she characterizes as selfish ingratitude. She is explicitly described as behaving toward Jamie like a mother scolding her small boy—casting Jamie into the very role of irresponsible child that she is supposedly helping him to grow out of. The whole extended family, then, has conspired against and continues to behave in such a way as to infantilize the unfortunate Jamie. For many of his subsequent appearances in the Glad Books he is sulky, resentful, and prone to play the Sad Game once more.

Apart from Jamie's moral blackmail, Porter style, in Pollyanna's Jewels, the love stories in the sequels to Porter's works do not rise above the perfunctory and formulaic. At the books' simplest, a man and a woman are attracted sexually and the story line ends with their friendship, engagement, or marriage. There are usually problems that call for the Glad Game in the process. The basic romance formula usually followed by these authors complicates the love story by placing two or three suitors or several girls in rivalry for the same person. Pollyanna's Western Adventure offers a straightforward example of this type of love story: for much of the novel Jerry and two other men are rivals for Dorothy's affections, and toward the end Dorothy, Minnie, and Ange the nurse vie for Jerry's attention. There is no doubt in this love story about the identity of any of the characters, and there are no disclosures about hidden parentage or unexpected family relationships. All is very much as it seems.

So too is the treatment of the lost child motif in the Glad Books that were written after Porter's death. A mystery is set up, but it is completely solved and has no uncomfortable ramifications. Examples of lostness, literal and metaphoric, abound throughout the Glad Books (Pollyanna lost in Boston, Sadie on the edge of a sexual fall, Judith's husband possibly committing suicide, and so on), and they range from the momentary (a girl snatched from the path of a train, a baby from the wheels of a car) to the temporary (a child missing for an afternoon, a baby kidnapped for some weeks) to the very long term (a missing daughter kidnapped by bandits and believed to be long dead). These examples almost all concern a mystery as well as a risk (who is the boy who claims to be the lost daughter's son? who is the mystery woman who rescues baby Ruth? where is baby David?). For most of the Glad Books such mysteries are fairly mechanical plot devices with a guaranteed happy ending. Everything is resolved, and there is no interference between the lost child motif and the love story.

In comparison with the later books in the series, Porter's works shine out as original,7 for it is the weaker, more conventional aspects of her work that her imitators repeat. Apart from Smith's unpleasant finale to the mystery of Jamie's identity, the sequel writers generally soften the moral blackmail of Porter's Pollyanna. Always they avoid the incestuous potential of sexual liaisons among their characters; always they avoid the compulsively detailed iterations of the primal Glad Game that Pollyanna and those around her play out in the pages of Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up. In avoiding these characteristics, the books are at best mediocre, at worst hack work.

Porter is never a hack. Rather, she offers a set of fascinating case studies in the psychology of the child victim and the child victim turned manipulator. There is little Jamie, the infantilized cripple, the bad lost child who can never escape his mother's admonitions to stay little, take the blame, and hold on to his crutches. There is little Pollyanna, the good lost child who can never escape her father's admonitions to please him, to be glad that she does not need crutches. There are all the child and adult players of the Glad Game whose psyches are manipulated by expert moral blackmail and who do not always stay glad. There are the families who dance their not-quite-incestuous patterns around Pollyanna at two critical stages in her development: the little girl not allowed to grieve for her dead father, the young woman moving into sexual experience. Beneath all that happens to her in Porter's stories, a little girl is compulsively reliving her abusive past and forcing those around her to relive it with her. It is not surprising that Porter's successors avoided such dangerous ground.

Porter's Pollyanna is both victim and expert manipulator, under the guise of the innocently loving child. She and almost all the other players of the Glad Game in the two books report that they feel much better for it. Feeling better has a hidden cost, though, that is hinted at by the books' repetitions. The first episode can never be walked away from. It is no accident, psychologically, that Pollyanna is surrounded by sad and angry people, cripples and crutch-wielders. In some sense she is attracting them so that she can deal with her own repressed pain as best she can, which is never completely. If Pollyanna were ever to wake up to what she is doing, in Porter's books, she might become a tragic figure, finally feeling the pain of that long-ago denial that her father demanded from her, finally able to renounce the crutches that have crippled her. And after that, if only Porter had been able to imagine it, Pollyanna might have been truly able to be glad.


1. See I. Hart's "The One Hundred Leading Authors of Best Sellers in Fiction from 1895 to 1944," p. 288.

2. This is according to J. Hart's The Popular Book, p. 213.

3. See MacLeod's American Childhood, pp. 22-23.

4. My reading of the Pollyanna series is informed by my practice as a psychotherapist, in which I have found a Freudian framework useful in treating clients who compulsively repeat early childhood experiences. As in this paper, I use in such therapy Jungian understandings of the lost child and Bandler and Grinder's neurolinguistic concept of reframing.

5. Allentuck's comment that "because Pollyanna treats her like an integrated individual, she is able to integrate herself" (448) ignores this later development in order to argue for Pollyanna's healthy optimism.

6. Jerry Griswold also interprets Pollyanna's tactics as highly manipulative to the point of blackmail.

7. This is not to claim that they are better written.

Works Cited

Allentuck, Marcia E. "Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter." Georgia Review 14 (1960): 447-49.

Bandler, Richard, and John Grinder. Reframing: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the Transformation of Meaning. Moab, Utah: Real People, 1982.

Borton, Elizabeth. Pollyanna and the Secret Mission. 1951. London: George G. Harrap, 1952.

――――――. Pollyanna in Hollywood. Boston: L. C. Page, 1931.

――――――. Pollyanna's Castle in Mexico. Boston: L. C. Page, 1934.

――――――. Pollyanna's Door to Happiness. 1936. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1939.

――――――. Pollyanna's Golden Horseshoe. Boston: L. C. Page, 1939.

Chalmers, Margaret Piper. Pollyanna's Protegée. Boston: L. C. Page, 1944.

Griswold, Jerry. Audacious Kids: Coming of Age in America's Classic Children's Books. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Hart, Irving Harlow. "The One Hundred Leading Authors of Best Sellers in Fiction from 1895 to 1944." Publishers Weekly 148 (January 19, 1946): 285-90.

Hart, James D. The Popular Book: A History of America's Literary Taste. New York: Oxford University Press, 1950.

MacLeod, Anne S. American Childhood: Essays on Children's Literature of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994.

Moffitt, Virginia May. Pollyanna at Six-Star Ranch. Boston: L. C. Page, 1947.

――――――. Pollyanna of Magic Valley. 1949. London: George G. Harrap, 1950.

Porter, Eleanor H. Pollyanna. 1913. Afterword Lois Lowry. New York: Dell, 1986.

――――――. Pollyanna Grows Up. 1915. New York: Dell, 1988.

Smith, Harriet Lummis. Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms. Boston: L. C. Page, 1924.

――――――. Pollyanna's Debt of Honor. Boston: L. C. Page, 1927.

――――――. Pollyanna's Jewels. London: George G. Harrap, 1925.

――――――. Pollyanna's Western Adventure. 1929. Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1941.

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Additional coverage of Porter's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 108; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 9; Literature Resource Center; and Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers.



Fisher, Margery. "Pollyanna Whittier." In Who's Who in Children's Books: A Treasury of the Familiar Characters of Childhood, p. 287. London, England: Weidenfield & Nicolson Limited, 1975.

Brief look at the title character of Pollyanna: The Glad Book which famously calls the young heroine "possibly the most exasperating heroine in fiction."

Mills, Claudia. "Children in Search of a Family: Orphan Novels through the Century." Children's Literature in Education 18, no. 4 (winter 1987): 227-39.

Compares several of the decidedly optimistic orphan novels that dominated early twentieth-century children's literature—such as Pollyanna: The Glad Book—with their more pessimistic counterparts from the latter half of the century.

Nodelman, Perry. "Progressive Utopia: Or, How to Grow Up without Growing Up." In Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Conference of the Children's Literature Association, University of Toronto, March 1979, edited by Priscilla A. Ord, pp. 146-54. Villanova, Pa.: Children's Literature Association, 1981.

Notes the similarities in setting, plot, and denouement between various orphan narratives, including Pollyanna: The Glad Book.

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