The Literature of Latency
Through universally loved fairy tales, movies, comics, video games and TV programs, the Latency-aged child deals with the major developmental themes of the first decade of life.
The hero in fairy tales is often a child who has magical powers or associates with those who possess them.
Such powers compensate for feelings of impotence and lack of control in a world dominated by adults.
are Peter Pan, Alice (in Wonder Land), and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. The wish to be “top dog” is reflected in the absence of siblings. When brothers or sisters are present, they are often ugly and awful such as the step-sisters in Cinderella. Sometimes animals or unusual characters represent various aspects of the self and others, as exemplified by Bambi and the dwarfs in Snow White.
The reflection of the conscience is everywhere, sometimes almost literally as in Pinocchio where Jiminy Cricket sits on Pinocchio’s shoulder and whispers advice and warnings in his ear. Of course, we all know what happens when Pinocchio lies. Heroes are very good, such as Superman and Wonder Woman; villains, very bad, such as Captain Hook and the Wicked Witch of the West. Heroes use their superhuman powers in the service of good and justice and never deviate from the straight and narrow, at least until Superman used his x-ray vision in the movie version to see the color of Lois Lane’s underwear.
The wish to be grown up and have adult attributes and qualities is everywhere. Take, for example, the competition between Snow White and the Wicked Queen—“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”—or the competition between Cinderella and her stepmother and stepsisters for the favor of the handsome prince. But the wish to be an adult is stripped of any direct expression of sexuality because of the ever-present vigilance of the conscience. Snow White can only be awakened from the sleeping spell put on her by the queen by a kiss from a handsome prince. But it is as pristine a peck as one can imagine. In Cinderella, the prince can only be won by the maiden whose foot “fits” the shoe placed upon it by the prince in his determined search to find his beloved. In both of these stories, the sexual underpinnings of the tales are swept under the rug. The future of the relationships is expressed in that greatest of generalities, “and they lived happily ever after.”
As adolescence approaches, literature begins to express a new sophistication. The heroes are often children who use their intelligence and wit to challenge the intricacies and mysteries of the adult world, such as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Those who wish to explore this subject in more depth are referred to Bruno Bettleheim’s (1976) book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.