- Student: Ivon Huang
- National Pingtung University
- June 2022
Many specialists argue for the functions of children’s literature. Is it not only beneficial to children but also adults? Peter (1999) indicated that children’s literature is worth reading for adults. Children experiences are often unknowable by writing texts, but most of us strongly suspect it to be rich and complex (Peter, 1999, p.4). What’s more, the functionalities of children’s literature cannot be ignored. In Luke’s view, children’s literature brings pleasure, and makes children understand the ideas of other humans (Lukens, 2007, p.76). On the other hands, Crippen noted that “Quality literature does not tell the reader everything he/she needs to know; it allows for some difference in opinion.” (Crippen, 2012). Therefore, the functions of children’s literature could be splendid and useful in many ways for children and adults. Lukens stated that it is possible to develop full characters and create engaged plot in simple picture books, so the text could be judged by the standards of literary excellence (Lukens, 2007, p.49) From here we know a children book always consists of many literature elements, in this chapter, the researcher will focus on discussing the definitions of characters and plots.
Generally, stories have characters. They are one of the important elements of literature. In the children’s literature, the terms “character” means a person or a personified animal or object. The “development of character” shows the complexity of life beings, no matter he or she is a person, and animal or an object (Lukens, 2007, p.76). Thus, the main character of an enjoyable story needs is seeming like a real person (Norton, 1993). Readers can understand the character from their speeches, actions, and opinions (Lukens, 2007, p.84). The importance of a character in a story determines how the character will be developed, who may be primary, secondary, or in the background. The closer the character to the center of the conflict shows how important the character is, and the complexity of the character’s personality (Lukens, 2007, p.77). They can be divided into two types: round characters and flat characters.
When it comes to the core of the story, there are always some explicit character(s), which are “Round characters”. Round characters are fully developed, which means the traits of the character are demonstrated in the story. Readers could feel and understand characters’ personalities more. Therefore, round characters are usually complex and undergoing development, just like a real person (“Flat and round characters”, 2021). Sutherland (1997) stated in his book:
Main characters, especially the central character or protagonist, must be fully developed; that is, the reader should learn of the characters’ many traits—theirstrengths as well as their weakness.
(Sutherland, 1997, p.31)
He also stated that round characters are developed through changes:
The main characters in an excellent work of fiction for children are rounded, fully developed characters who undergo change in response to life-altering events.
(Sutherland, 1997 p.31)
To conclude, the round character is dynamic who have the capacity of changing. Round characters may grow or change through the story, so readers are able to understand the character deeper.
In comparison with round characters, characters who are less important in the story are “Flat characters”. Though flat characters are essential to the actions, but not fully developed, who are quickly made known to the reader (Lukens, 2007, p.82). There are always few words to describe their “types”: mad scientist, evil stepmother, animal sidekick (“Flat and round characters”, 2021). In this regard, flat characters seem do not like an individual human being; whereas who does have a few traits of a class, this is so called “stereotype” (Lukens, 2007, p.82). Sutherland stated that:
Flat characters are often stereotypes who poses only one side of their personality. Flat characters are usually static, undergoing no change in personality throughout the book.
(Sutherland, 1997, p.31)
Therefore, the difference of flat and round character lies in the complexity of the personality, the former is those with little complexity or depth of personality.
The plot is simply one thing after another thing, what happened and what happened next in a story (Margaret, 1983). However, a good writer will also add how and why to a story. As Lukens stated that the plot is a sequence of events showing characters in action. The author consciously selects a good way to tell hist story (Lukens, 2007, p.99) The plot catches reader’s eyes to see the flows and tensions of a story. Forster also suggested that “the plot organize the events according to a sense of causality” (Forster, 1927, p.86). This means. in contrast to a “story” which is just an event, it requires “cause and effect” to produce the plot (Bunting and Reid, 2022). To make it clearer: “The king died, then queen died” is an event, whereas “the king died, and queen died of grief” is a plot (Forster, 1927, p.87). Furthermore, the plot drives the story to a climax, which is so-called conflicts, a situation(s) in which characters must make a hard decision to solve problems.
Plots does not only involve sequence of event but also conflicts. Climaxes it made could make readers willing to know what will happen next. Contemporary authors often develop plots about child who face and overcome problems (Norton, 1993, p106). As Lukens defined, conflicts include tension, friction, alternatives, excitement, suspense, discovery, and resolution. When the protagonist struggle with the antagonist, the conflicts are occurred. The four kinds of conflict in literature are person-against-self, person-against-person, person-against-society, and person-against-nature (Lukens, 2007, p.103). Furthermore, a variety of conflicts may exist in a single story (Lukens, 2007, p.108). The Wind in the Willows represents two conflicts, which are: Person-against-self conflicts and person-against-person conflicts.
In person-against-self conflict, when the character is facing multiple moral choices, to decide what the right choice is (“What Is Conflict in Literature? 6 Different Types of Literary Conflict and How to Create Conflict in Writing.”, 2021). As Lukens defined, a tension that pulls Tom Sawyer toward either of two courses of action, so he is facing “internal conflicts”, this kind of feeling is called “person-against-self conflict " (Lukens, 2007, p.103). The common type of internal conflict is encompassing mental struggles, which is the distinctive way of demonstrating internal conflicts. (“What Is Conflict in Literature? 6 Different Types of Literary Conflict and How to Create Conflict in Writing.”, 2021)
As the name suggests, person-against-person is the most common types of conflicts in literature. This type of story involves two characters with different opinions, outlooks, or goals. And if both sides think they were right, this could make the story richer (Edwards, 2020). Lukens stated that:
Tom Sawyer must face an additional conflict. The strain between the two forces is what holds our continuing interest and our intense curiosity about the outcome. Tom’s internal conflict, his growing awareness of justice opposing his fear for his life, forces him to take action in a person-versus-person conflict that causes him to face the vengeance of a villainous man.
(Lukens, 2007, p.106)
To know what the main idea of a story is, and what the author wants to suggest or imply us by the story, it is the theme of the story. Lukens noted that:
Theme in literature is the idea that holds the story together. It is the main idea or central meaning of a piece of writing.
(Lukens, 2007, p.131)
Because the definition of literature is “a significant truth expressed in appropriate elements and memorable languages”, the significant truth is the Theme, which is understandable for human beings without words (Lukens, 2007, p.131). Also, themes can be stated explicitly or implicitly. This means that implicit themes are easy to understand while the implicit, or the truth is hidden behind the texts, which only could be realized by reading throughout the whole story (Lukens, 2007, p.142). There are plenty of types of themes, such as Good VS. Evil, Hubris, Identity, Friendship, Nature. What’s more, the themes could be explored through literature elements: conflicts, characters, plots (Glatch, 2021). In conclusion, the theme of a story may be bright or dim. By understanding it more, we can get closer to the truth told by the author.
In conclusion, we have discussed the basic elements of children’s literature: Character, Theme and Conflicts of plots. Characters are essential to the story no matter they are round or flat characters. Round characters are the main roles of the stories whereas flat characters are necessary for events. Plus, in order to make “events” turn into “stories”, the author must write a good plot, which always consists of multiple conflicts to push the stories forward. Finally, the reader may can get the main idea and learn something from the whole story. This is the function of theme, which can be expressed implicitly or explicitly.