“We Have a Great Task Ahead of Us!”: Child-Hate in Roald Dahl’s The Witches
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The depictions of cruel witches in Roald Dahl’s novel The Witches echo the cruel, abusive measures taken by adults in the historical treatment of children. The concept of child-hatred, described by Lloyd Demause and other critics, is an effective lens through which to view the hyperbolized hatred of children described in The Witches. However, Dahl’s text deals with more than just the explicit hatred of children. In fact, in its characterization of Grandmamma as an adult that truly values the state of childhood, and in Dahl’s narrative treatment of both his child protagonist and his child audience, Dahl’s text counters the notion that we have progressed to a culture that values and, at times, sacralizes the child. The Witches presents to readers the possibility that child-hatred is not some now-defunct phenomenon, but rather an extant danger in the historical present of childhood, a danger made ever more threatening by its ability to hide under a mask of benevolence. With the many instances of both child-protection and child-hatred that pervade The Witches, the text serves as an apt illustration of the ambivalence inherent in many works of children’s literature, which has been a central concern for scholars of children’s texts for decades.
KeywordsRoald Dahl The Witches Child-love Child-hate Demause Child abuse Fantasy
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