The Idealization of Childhood in Wordsworth’s “Ode” and Moonrise Kingdom
Many film goers can think of their favorite quotes from a movie. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is rife with them. “That’s not a safe altitude (Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, 2012)..” “I’m going to find a tree to chop down (Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, 2012).”And many more quotes that cinephiles love. However, when reflecting on quotes from Moonrise Kingdom , the viewer can find many similarities in other works, including William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” Both Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Wordsworth’s “Ode” idealize childhood. However, when comparing the two works, the differences in how Wordsworth and Anderson idealize childhood become apparent. Wordsworth idealizes children for their imagination and because they have more life to live compared to adults. Differing from Wordsworth, Anderson idealizes children by portraying them as extremely intelligent in comparison to the adults. Nevertheless, although both artists convey the idealization of children for different reasons both Moonrise Kingdom and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” idealize childhood.
Before continuing one serious question must be addressed: what age range defines childhood? When Wordsworth wrote his “Ode,” childhood ended when youths could marry or work. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, child labor and marriage at a young age occurred often (Austin,5 ). For example, in the eighteenth century, girls could respectably marry at age twelve and boys at fourteen, while child labor made the end of childhood the age acceptable for employment for the working class (Austin,5 ). However, an area of psychology, life span development, places childhood between ages six and twelve, counting all young characters in Moonrise Kingdom that pertain to this paper as children, thereby applicable for comparison to Wordsworth’s “Ode” by today’s standards and likely still children, but at the end of their childhood in Wordsworth’s time. The age range considered childhood in both Wordsworth’s time and present day allows for discussing the idealization of childhood in both works.
Wordsworth’s “Ode” contains many instances where Wordsworth idealizes childhood because he equates the life of children to a longer life without the idea of morality looming to a better life than that of adults who worry about mortality. Wordsworth envies children because it involves the beginning of one’s life and not the end (Wordsworth, 556). Wordsworth’s does idealize children because the poem focuses on immortality and how youth do not worry about mortality, while adults do as they age. He follows this trend when he refers to growing older as a “prison-house” for a youth (Wordsworth, 555). However, he does not only notice the amount of time they have to live without worrying about old age compared to adults, but also for their imagination. The poem begins with Wordsworth calling children the “Father of the Man,” which suggests that he has a great respect for them (Wordsworth, 553). Wordsworth’s respect for children becomes clearer as the poem continues; he respects them for their imagination. He refers to children as “Nature’s [Priests],” while as an adult they will see the splendor of nature “die away/ And fade into the light of common day” (Wordsworth, 555). Calling children “Nature’s [Priests]” implies that children communicate with nature better than adults. That idea furthers when Wordsworth describes how this relationship will die away with age as their imagination lessens. This comparison between children and adults continues the idealization of children by implying that children have a superior imagination. Nevertheless, Wordsworth seems to once fault children, although through closer inspection more specifically the growing up process. The only time he drifts even slightly from his idealization from youth, he does so to charge children for trying to grow up too quickly, but only because he views youth with such rose colored glasses (Wordsworth, 557). However, this drifting from idealization faults more growing up and less children. Thus Wordsworth idealizes childhood throughout the poem for their imagination and longevity. However, Wordsworth does not idealize children for their intelligence as Wes Anderson does in Moonrise Kingdom.
Moonrise Kingdom contains many instances of the idealization children in the film, especially when comparing their intelligence to those of the adults. The children find many ways to outsmart the adults in the film. Suzy and Sam run away twice while under adult supervision, without the adults knowing until much later. Sam and Suzy survive in the wilderness on their own for a couple days when they run away the first time, a difficult task for anyone. Also, Suzy and Sam keep their letters a secret from the adults in the film; the letters allow them to hatch their plan for running away. In their letter correspondence, Sam reveals the lack of intelligence his foster parents have. His foster parents decide to give him up because they perceive him as difficult, which shocks the Scout Master Ward and Captain Sharp who see Sam as different from the other children, but not difficult. Sam writes a letter to Suzy explaining one of their misunderstandings:
Dear Suzy, I accidentally built a fire while I was sleepwalking. I have no memory of this, but my foster parents think I am lying (Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, 2012).
Most adults would not give up a foster child and orphan for such a superfluous reason as sleepwalking. Additionally, Scout Master Ward did not know that Sam lived with a foster family; he is naive, a bad flaw for a camp counselor. His naivety allows Sam to run away once and the entire camp to run away on a separate occasion. In contrast, Suzy seems more worldly; she easily discovers her mother’s affair with Captain Sharp by watching her mother’s comings and goings. When Mrs. Bishop apologizes to her husband, their conversation hints at more problems than just this occurrence of infidelity.
Laura Bishop: I’m sorry, Walt.
Walt Bishop: It’s not your fault. Which injuries are you apologizing for, specifically?
Laura Bishop: Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.
Walt Bishop: Half of those were self-inflicted (Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, 2012).
Their discussion hints at a failing marriage that may or may not recover, a serious problem. In contrast, Suzy and Sam have a very strong romance and they are both twelve. Both of the children use their intelligence to better their relationship unlike Mr. and Mrs. Bishop. The children in the film remain veiled by idealization in the film by outwitting the adults continuously and this blog post is not the only article that discusses the idealization of childhood in Moonrise Kingdom.
This post does not stand alone in comparing the children and the adults in Moonrise Kingdom. Many other reviews have noticed the idealization of children in the film. As one article described how Anderson portrays different ages in the film, “[the children] are centered, wise, judicious, and brave,” while the adults are “benighted, hysterical, fanciful, and vulnerable” (Beck, 91). The author’s commentary hints at the poor character of the adults and when looking at the flaws of the adults, the author’s characterization of them rings true. The adults have many issues: infidelity, problems with communication, lack of compassion, and naivety. Meanwhile, the children remain intelligent in the face of adversity. Encountering all of the serious problems adults have in Moonrise Kingdom, the audience can surmise that the adults have many issues and cannot reach the level of idealization of the children.
Thus, in both Wordsworth’s “Ode” and in Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, children appear ideal. Wordsworth expresses this ideal through reflecting on how much time children have until they reach old age compared to adults as well as by focusing on their imagination. In contrast, Anderson portrays the children as more intelligent than the adults, thereby superior to the adults. Both Moonrise Kingdom and “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” idealize childhood even though their methods for conveying the idealization of childhood differ.
Austin, Linda M. “Children Of Childhood: Nostalgia And The Romantic Legacy.” Studies In Romanticism 42.1 (2003): 75-98. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 4 Sept. 2015.
Beck, Bernard. “Young Campers In Love: Who Are The Grown-Ups In Moonrise Kingdom ?.” Multicultural Perspectives 15.2 (2013): 88-91. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Sept. 2015.
Moonrise Kingdom. Dir. Wes Anderson. Indian Paintbrush, 2012. Film.
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“Wes Anderson Animated GIF.” Giphy. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://giphy.com/gifs/wes-anderson-moonrise-kingdom-10gg0R3v94H1cc>.
“Wes Anderson Animated GIF.” Giphy. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://giphy.com/gifs/wes-anderson-moonrise-kingdom-12WeWcDjTO08Xm>.
“Wes Anderson Animated GIF.” Giphy. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://giphy.com/gifs/wes-anderson-moonrise-kingdom-5VMNBOossIrE4>.
Wordsworth, William. Ode: Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. 1807-1815. The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. New York; Longman, 1992. 553-558. Print.