Texas Wesleyan Law Review
The Dick Whittington Story: Theories of Poor Relief, Social Ambition, and Possibilities for Class Transformation
The New Yorker cartoon, with its pessimistic emphasis on a child's economic prospects, provides a foil to the Whittington story and its optimistic attitude toward law and social possibility. I suggest in this talk that contemporary children's literature shares with the cartoon a similar lack of confidence in law's capacity to generate advancement and prosperity. My comments rely on Eleanor Updale's award-winning Montmorency series and Philip Pullman's widely acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy to try to glean a better sense of cultural understandings of law and of law's contemporary relation to social mobility. I take these books as my texts, not because they are canonical (at least not yet), but because they tell wonderful stories, are superbly written, and illustrate important current themes. Both are written by contemporary English writers and take place in imaginary versions of England in the past, present, and future. In both sets of stories, an orphan, actual or metaphysical, sets out to establish a new persona that requires the crossing of social boundaries. In both, lawinvisible but all-present-drives the story into motion and affects the child's capacity to create that new identity. And in both, the characters experience significantly less happiness than one might expect in their new social roles, and certainly less than is ascribed to Dick Whittington. Turning from the stories, I conclude by briefly taking up the central theoretical concern of this conference-the intersection of law, culture, and literature-and comment on what I think these stories teach about the experience of law in-the-world as it affects class identity. In so doing, I implicitly respond to the argument that literature has little to contribute to law or to legal culture.
The Dick Whittington Story: Theories of Poor Relief, Social Ambition, and Possibilities for Class Transformation,
Tex. Wesleyan L. Rev.
Available at: https://doi.org/10.37419/TWLR.V12.I1.3