The Adventures of Pinocchio,
said of himself, "I was the most irresponsible, the
most disobedient, and impudent boy in the whole school." With this
realization, he persuaded himself that he was losing the good will
of teachers and the friendship of fellow students. Then, he
explained, "I too became a good boy. I began to respect the others
and they in turn respected me" (Commire, 1971, p. 76). This article
takes a fresh look at the sophisticated lessons wrapped in this
classic children’s tale.
Carlo Collodi, the original author of
The bedtime story ritual was well under
way. The lights were turned down low, and they cast a warm glow on the
two young children who were tucked snugly into their beds. Their
covers were pulled up around their chins, and their eyes were round
with anticipation. The silence in the room was palpable. "Keep
reading, Daddy!" the 3-year old finally blurted out. I sat on the edge
of the bed staring at the book in my hands. The 6-year-old chimed in,
"Daddy, what’s wrong? You said you would read us Pinocchio." It
had suddenly occurred to me that the story I was reading was very
different from what I remembered from my own childhood.
I continued the story in my best
Geppetto voice. "Do you see those children?" I read, "They are going
to school. Now that you are a little boy and not a puppet, you must
also go to school." My daughters rolled their eyes and giggled at my
accent. As I continued the story, I marveled at the exquisite way in
which the fable depicts the transition a child must make to become a
young man or woman. I was suddenly aware of all of the "Pinocchios"
I’ve known in my life. I also had forgotten how accurately this fairy
tale depicts the conflict in a youth searching for identity and the
vital importance of a reclaiming environment.
the story of a troubled lad searching for self-worth, self-esteem, and
positive discipline. He is in desperate need of, and unconsciously
seeking, what the authors of Reclaiming Youth at Risk described
as a "circle of courage" (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 1990).
Brendtro et al. drew from the teachings found in traditional Native
American wisdom, which identify independence, mastery, belonging, and
generosity as the universal ingredients necessary for positive
The character of Pinocchio is that of
an awkward youth snared by the pitfalls of the adolescent stage of
development. He is a vulnerable adolescent who, in today’s world,
would undoubtedly be labeled as a maladaptive juvenile delinquent
suffering from attention-deficit disorder, lacking impulse control,
and needing external controls and supervision. Additionally, early
childhood trauma, family disruption, a single-parent home, and
negative peer influences are clearly present as environmental risk
factors and precursors of Pinocchio’s straying misadventures.
does a remarkable job capturing the dynamic and contradictory forces
found in burgeoning youth everywhere. The idiosyncratic and ungainly
way in which teenagers grapple with decision making is a universal
dilemma that is clearly portrayed in this drama. It poignantly
captures the adolescent’s capacity to rationalize destructive and
self-defeating behavior. It was suddenly apparent to me that this
fable provides a diagram of the human psyche and offers a map for
understanding the quandaries with which many of its youngest members
An authoritative scholar of mythology,
Joseph Campbell, recognized the magic of classic children’s stories in
capturing suffering, healing, and unfathomed wonder (1972). These
familiar fables possess magical and spiritual symbolic and universal
themes; they are permanent vestiges of the human spirit. Campbell
conjectured that the purpose of these old tales and images is to keep
us in touch with our "secret and motivating depths" (p. 24).
An Italian author, Carlo Collodi, wrote
the famous children’s story Le Avventure di Pinocchio
(1883/1965) toward the end of his life. It is an archetypal fairy tale
of the inward conflict associated with the process of change, growth,
and development. It is also noteworthy that Pinocchio contains
the prescription to remedy these human dilemmas. Like many classic
stories, fables, and myths that have weathered the passage of time, it
carries the symbolic blueprint for social and emotional conflict and
the potential for resolution: Pinocchio has many unhappy adventures as
he progresses from his wooden and dependent state to true independence
as a real boy. He finally attains fulfillment and happiness when he
completes his symbolic quest for the psychological foundations of
If you have forgotten some of the
intricacies of this allegorical tale, allow me to outline the main
features. Pinocchio is the creation of a kindly woodcarver named
Geppetto. As a toy puppet, he is subject to the commands of his maker.
He is totally dependent on Geppetto, who makes him walk and dance by
manipulating his strings. Geppetto truly wants a real boy, so he makes
a wish, "Star light, Star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I
may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight!" (Disney, 1986, p.
9). The Blue Fairy appears, and with a wave of her magic wand makes
his wish come true. Blue is the symbolic color of divine intervention
and represents the intervening miracle of the gift of life.
Now Pinocchio has the freedom to move
on his own. The fact that he is still awkward and wooden typifies the
transitional nature and uncertainty found during the pubescent state.
"You may be a real boy some day," the Blue Fairy instructs, "but
first, you must prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish"
(Disney, 1986, p. 14). This becomes the symbolic test that Pinocchio
must pass to prove himself worthy of achieving the rite of passage
from a dependent wooden toy to an authentic, independent person.
Besides his freedom, he is also given
"that still, small voice"—a conscience—in the form of a cricket named
Jimmy, whose unwavering commitment to Pinocchio is expressed through
his consistent and dependable comradeship. He hops tirelessly after
Pinocchio to provide unconditional acceptance, regard, and guidance.
Jimmy models the vital reclaiming quality of "presence" (Krueger,
Pinocchio begins his journey toward
independence full of enthusiasm, good intentions, and confidence. He
immediately falls into trouble, however, as he is influenced by
circumstances and external influences. Like many youth I’ve known,
Pinocchio is driven by a strong need to fit in and be accepted. He is
led astray by mischievous friends. One such chum is a fox named J.
Worthington Foulfellow, who explains, "my friends call me Honest John"
(Disney, 1986, p. 28).
The dubious characters Pinocchio
encounters personify the predatory elements that feed on innocent and
naive children everywhere. Pinocchio’s lack of experience makes him
highly susceptible to negative peer influences and criminal elements.
"School!" sneers Honest John. "Why waste your time going to school?"
"Come with us…we’ll make you a star" (Disney, 1986, p. 31).
Lured by the temptation of instant
gratification, Pinocchio quickly forgets his original quest and is
abruptly caught up in circumstances that are beyond his ability to
control. The wooden boy succumbs to the youthful qualities of
experimentation, narcissism, and rebellion. When his actions lead to
his being locked up in a cage, he responds by concocting elaborate
excuses laced with rationalization and lies.
It is at this point that the Blue Fairy
intercedes in the youth’s conflict cycle (Menninger, 1976; Powell,
1989; Wood & Long, 1991) by facilitating self-discovery. Her
problem-solving approach to Pinocchio’s conflict is to engage him in a
life-space interview (Redl & Wineman, 1952). She conducts a highly
empathetic interview that emphasizes the importance of effective
communication while recognizing that problems may be a catalyst for
Her commitment to understanding
Pinocchio’s version of the story conveys a strong sense of acceptance,
even as his nose continues to grow longer and longer with every
prevarication. "You see, Pinocchio," the Blue Fairy explains, "A lie
keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your
face" (Disney, 1986, p. 47). When confronted by the discouraging
results of his poor choices, Pinocchio is supported in learning from
his mistakes and offered opportunities for redemption.
Pinocchio faces another challenge when
he is lured to Pleasure Island by the promise of games, toys, and all
the candy he can eat. As a result of his unconscionable actions, he
turns into a donkey. Once again Jimmy follows Pinocchio to the source
of the problem and intervenes in the crisis by demonstrating
unconditional acceptance, understanding, and nonjudgmental guidance.
When Pinocchio returns from Pleasure
Island, he learns that Geppetto, while searching for him, was
swallowed by Monstro the Whale. At the bottom of the ocean Pinocchio
finds Geppetto in the cavern-like belly of the whale. He saves his
father and carries him on his back to shore. When they arrive, washed
up on the beach, Geppetto discovers that Pinocchio is lying face down
and lifeless in the water.
Geppetto carries Pinocchio back to the
village. He lays Pinocchio on his bed and kneels by his side. "Little
Pinocchio, you risked your life to save me," sobs the old man,
lowering his head in sorrow. The Blue Fairy appears once again, waves
her magic wand, and declares, "Now you have proven yourself brave,
truthful, and unselfish. Today you will become a real boy. Awake,
Pinocchio, awake!" (Disney, 1986, p. 92). Like countless other time-honored
tales, rebirth is symbolically manifested as a vital component of the
Surrounded by his family and friends,
the lifeless wooden boy arises as a living person. He is resurrected
by the authentic trials and tribulations of his experience and the
reclaiming environment provided by those who care for him. Redemption,
forgiveness, and salvation are central themes of his catharsis and are
facilitated by the vital quality essential for reaching troubled
youth: the spirit of love (Brendtro & Ness, 1983). By demonstrating
perseverance over the tumultuous challenges of the growing up process,
Geppetto and Jimmy teach us that "love is exactly as strong as life"
demonstrates how vitally important it is that children have continuous
support and guidance from caring adults. Despite the seemingly
inescapable problems Pinocchio faces, the guardians in his life
continue to place him in the center of their circle of support. Their
persistence in surrounding him with a reclaiming environment allows
him to receive the vital lessons from his struggles and challenges.
Despite the exhausting effort, the
circle of committed and compassionate caregivers in Pinocchio’s life
never falter in providing respect for his journey. By nurturing the
positive qualities of healthy connection and attachment, Pinocchio’s
supporters find that a strong bonding takes place in their
relationship with Pinocchio. Through their actions, Geppetto and Jimmy
illustrate that creating a sense of belonging is a more essential need
than self-esteem or self-actualization (Maslow, 1962).
The story shows that until
belongingness occurs, the development of a healthy self-concept and
conscience may not be achieved. This may suggest an important clue for
addressing the staggering increases in juvenile delinquency, crime,
and violence in our contemporary society. In the absence of nurturing,
consistent, and healthy relationships, children and youth will seek
out and find alternative attachments. Pinocchio’s realization of
interdependence with those who care for him is the culmination of his
The Polish physician, child advocate,
and innovative educator, Janusz Korczak (1878—1942) personified this
absolute devotion to and respect for children. Although he understood
that childrearing is challenging and exhausting work, he resisted the
notion that we must eventually tire of stooping to the child’s level
of intellect. Instead, Korczak emphasized that the real work is in
having the courage to rise to the challenge of providing greater
sensitivity, understanding, inclusion, and involvement. He concluded
that the true accomplishment is when we learn to raise our experience
of troubled youth beyond the limits of blame, accusation, and threat
to embracing the most reluctant and resistant (1991a, 1991b). We must
lift our capacities to teach by example the indispensable principles
of courage and caring.
As I gazed upon the peaceful, sleeping
faces of my own children and quietly went about the business of
turning out the lights, I found myself genuinely admiring the colossal
efforts of Geppetto and Jimmy in their tireless pursuit of Pinocchio.
Their child-centered commitment to him conveys an ageless wisdom known
by heroic parents, educators, and advocates everywhere. The commitment
to reclaim troubled youth is a covenant, a sacred pact and
responsibility toward caring for life’s most precious resource.
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Bockern, S. (1990). Reclaiming youth at risk:Our hope for the
future. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
Brendtro, L. K., & Ness, A. E. (1983). Re-educating troubled youth;
Environments for teaching and treatment. New York: Aldine de
Campbell, J. (1972). Myths to live by: How we re-recreate ancient
legends in our daily lives to release human potential. New York:
Collodi, C. (1965). The adventures of Pinocchio (M. A. Murray,
Trans.). New York: Grosset & Dunlap. (Original work published 1883)
Commire, A. (1971). Something about the author: Facts & pictures
about contemporary authors and illustrators of books for young people.
Disney, W. (1986). Pinocchio. New York: Penguin.
Korczak, I. (1991a). The child’s right to respect (F. P.
Kulawiec, Trans.). Washington, DC: University Press of America.
(Original work published 1925)
Korczak, J. (1991b). When I am little again (E. P. Kulawiec,
Trans.). Washington, DC: University Press of America. (Original work
Krueger, M. (1995). Nexus: A book about youth work. Washington,
DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Maslow, A. (1962). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NI:
Menninger, K. (1976). The human mind (3rd ed.). New York:
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youth care workers. In M. Krueger & N. Powell (Eds.), Choices in
caring. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.
Redl, F., & Wineman, D. (1952). Controls from within. New York:
Wood, M., & Long, N. (1991). Life space intervention: Talking with
children and youth in crisis. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
By Allan D. Nass. (1997).
Rediscovering Pinocchio. Reclaiming children and youth.
Vol. 5 No.4. pp 239- 241