Childhood Without Children : Ian McEwan and the Critical Study of the Child
Abstract: This study has a twofold ambition. First, it offers a new perspective on Ian McEwan’s works by focusing on his treatment of childhood. Second, by using McEwan’s writing as an example, it seeks to challenge the current critical preoccupation with childhood in the novel in terms solely of child characters. The dissertation argues that it is more productive to understand childhood as an entity distinct from children. Focusing on figurative uses of the child in fiction, it considers the significance of childhood in works that do not treat child characters. It shows that the inclusion of images and metaphors of childhood has significant thematic and formal implications for the overall meanings of literary artefacts.The thesis draws on recent scholarship in sociology and cultural studies which views images of children as documenting societal assumptions. The dissertation employs this approach to the child figure in culture to account for the use of childhood imagery in McEwan's novels.The discussion is comprised of two parts. Part one provides a critical and historical background to the field of childhood studies, the portrayal of childhood in the British novel and McEwan criticism. Part two begins by analysing the representation of a child in Atonement, then continues with the thematisation of childhood in the absence of children in The Child in Time, and then considers the figurative employment of childhood images in The Innocent and Saturday. The dissertation demonstrates that perceptions of childhood are key to McEwan’s critique of post-war British culture and notions of national identity, history, citizenship and civic disorder. More importantly, the dissertation offers a new paradigm for the critical examination of childhood in the novel – one which sheds light on the metaphorical uses of childhood. Ultimately, the thesis illuminates childhood’s capacity to define as well as to disseminate societal values.
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