Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Literary and Cultural Studies

Committee Chair

Lorinda B Cohoon

Committee Member

Gene A Plunka

Committee Member

Stephen E Tabachnick

Committee Member

Verner D Mitchell


Orphan children in literature often occupy the spaces of reality and fantasy simultaneously because they have had an early encounter with another world--the afterlife. This endows them with supernatural abilities (implied or explicit) that compensate for the loss of a parent and helps them to overcome this traumatizing beginning; this fiction is in stark contrast to the historical reality of an orphan's life, and orphan fiction is a reaction to this reality. Supernatural ability is an almost universal characteristic of the orphan character. This study draws on cultural studies of the orphan , psychoanalytic theories related to the concept of the other, and postcolonial extensions of the concept of othering to explore how the supernatural and extraordinary qualities of fictional orphan characters intersect with readers' conceptions of nation, community, knowledge, identity, and imagination. The texts examined in this dissertation are texts that are popular or have experienced popularity in the past, and they contain the protagonists that have been the most significant in creating the orphan figure most frequently seen in children's literature. Central orphan texts include Oliver Twist, Kim, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Little White Horse, and Harry Potter. The most prevailing characters are the ones readers have reacted to the most, thus producing a character that often has the same characteristics regardless of the genre within children's literature. The archetypal orphan figure in children's literature expresses so many of the qualities discussed in traditional childhood models that it becomes clear that the orphan is its own hybrid model of childhood. The orphan signifies the fearsome realities of death and the possibilities of isolation and abjection. The more the orphan is othered as a result of fear, the more anxiety surrounds understandings of the orphan, and we come to see this child as enigmatic. Finally, as a result of this concentrated othering, we construct a figure that gains great strength and power, power that emerges from a character of unclear background who has survived great misfortune and loss.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.