The following assignment is suggested by Michael Joseph, Rare Book and Jerseyana Catalog Librarian, Rutgers University Libraries. Michael Joseph is also the owner of the Listserv Childlit.
The ways in which illustrators interpret the texts they illustrate may reveal their own expectation about the world. For example, Eric Kincaid's interpretation of the dwarfs mourning Snow White depicts them all in the same red and green outfits, and they are all bald! The addition of the matching outfits may simply reflect Kincaid's design sensibility, or it may reveal something more important. Perhaps Kincaid assumes the dwarves represent a single, undifferentiated entity, or perhaps grief has drowned their individual personalities.
Similarly, in Trina Schart Hyman's illustration of the Queen disguised as a pedlar (to accompany text reading: "dressed herself like an old pedlar, and was quite unrecognizable"), the queen practically disappears beneath the mountain of garments and sack of goods Hyman has laden upon her. While, again, her interesting appearance may represent Hyman's characteristic exhuberance and maximal approach to illustration, the addition of so much apparel may also suggest some expectation of Hyman's, with regard either to the idea of "unrecognizability," or to that of character. The Queen becomes unrecognizable in the act of burying her physical self within the pedlar's clothing. By contrast, Snow White stands exposed (another form of addition), both plainly vulnerable and unmistakably herself; it is perhaps both Snow White's person and her individuality that are assaulted by the encumbered Queen's pair of laces: being "tightly laced," Snow White is truly no longer herself, but an extension, perhaps, of the thoroughly laced up Queen. In either case, she suffers a symbolic loss of self: a kind of death. She is only revived when the dwarves loosen the laces.
The contrast in clothing, and the symbolic conflict it represents, reveals Hyman's perception of the story "behind" Snow White, or what some theorists have in other contexts called the schema meta-story or frame. (In some disciplines, these are sometimes called myths.) Hyman would seem to read Snow White as a story about self: the danger of being exploited or having one's self (that which is most beautiful) torn away.
In an essay on frames or framing in discourse, Deborah Tannen identifies sixteen categories of evidence for the presence of frames in discourse. Some of these are perhaps relevant or may be relevant to the analysis of illustration. One of the things she discusses is "ADDITION," that is, the inclusion of details not in the story at all. In this instance, we would be looking at visual details.
Some of Tannen's other categories useful in this investigation are:
- Repetition: Repeated use of the same image
- Omission: Choosing not to represent some relevant text
- Inexact Statements: Combining textual elements in one illustration. Or, representing some textual element with a closely related, but not identical graphic element
- Interpretive Naming: Deducing types from non-specific description.
(Thus, for example, a character described as having a hooked nose might be figured as a witch)
- Generalization: Representing many things when only one is given in the text. (So a forest might be depicted when only a tree is signified.)
- Evaluative language: Deducing value from non-evaluative language
- Judgmental language: Depicting characters from a moral perspective not specifically held by the text.
- Incorrect Statement: Depicting a reality in direct conflict with the text.
Using the text and accompanying illustrations of Snow White, find instances of the above categories (including addition). Describe how the frame evidence reveals the illustrator's own interpretation, and his or her ideas about the world. Say whether these ideas correspond or conflict with the author's (if there is no author, the narrator's). Consider that some illustrators may be very self-aware of their roles as illustrator, and be responding to expectations about these roles (e.g., illustrations SHOULD be beautiful, illustrations SHOULD be meaningful). Consider whether these expectations conflict with the act of configuring text. Think about your expectations of illustration as well, and think about whether they correspond to the illustrator's or do not.
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Created January 29, 1997 and is continuously revised