I’m sure most of you are at least familiar with Pollyanna, if only from the 1960 Disney Movie staring Hayley Mills. Or if not from the movie then from the cultural icon that Pollyanna has become as the ever cheerful optimist. This is my second time through the novel, and while it isn’t a great novel it is comforting and a bit more complex then the archetype Pollyanna has become.
Pollyanna is an orphan (and really what is it with early 20th century novels and orphan girls?) who is taken in by her stern Aunt Polly after her father dies. Using her cheerful demeanor and bright personality she wins over the hearts of the Vermont town and even her Aunt Polly. The 1960 movie is a decent adaptation, though as it isn’t a complex novel there really isn’t a whole lot that needed to be changed for the movie format.
Despite being a fairly simple book, and Pollyanna being a cheerful optimist, Pollyanna’s grief at the death of her father comes through pretty clearly, as does her distress at the fact that her Aunt Polly didn’t like her father and doesn’t want to hear about him. Also coming through every time Pollyanna recounts the start of the glad game is the desperation of a man trying to raise his daughter in poverty. There’s a lot that needs to be read between the lines, but it adds just enough pathos to balance out the cheerful optimism presented in the book.
One minor thing that bothered me, as Pollyanna is from somewhere ‘out west’ and she comes to a small Vermont town there is an element of ‘sensible mid-west values teaching those uptight east-coast intellectuals how to really live’. It makes me wonder just a little how long this rivalry between middle America and the coasts has been going on. It’s not enough to completely destroy the book, but it does bother me slightly. Ironically, Porter grew up and lived in New England so I doubt that sentiment was intentional.
I read this book because I needed a dose of looking for the good in bad situations, but also because I found out that there is a sequel and obviously I had to read it. It’s a fairly quick read, and I do think it’s a novel that stands the test of time.