Literary Orphans

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The Modern Orphan Figure

There are several famous literary orphans, from Jane Eyre to Oliver Twist to Anne Shirley. Traditional orphanages have been replaced by more modern solutions but orphans as main characters are still quite prominent, from Harry Potter to Theo in the Goldfinch to Wade Watts, the protagonist of recent science fiction novel Ready Player One. Explore the use of this trope in modern day settings.

  • Leighann Morris's article "Why Are So Many Disney Parents Missing or Dead?" will be a really crucial resource for this topic: http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/culture/film/216573-disney-single-parents-dead-mothers – Piper CJ 4 years ago
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  • This is a recurring theme in many stories. I think Joseph Campbell's The Hero of a Thousand Faces can be a good resource for this paper, even though it is quite an old text. But I think it's a good idea to analyze how it works nowadays, perhaps it was a different meaning than it did back then. – odettedesiena 4 years ago
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  • Love this topic! There are so many literary orphans you could talk about. You might even argue the trope is one of the oldest, since so many fable and folktale characters are orphans. Another angle to explore: have modern orphans become stronger and more self-determined? And, does "orphan" currently mean "no parents," or does it mean, "child without adequate parental figures?" (Example: Katherine Patterson's Gilly Hopkins, whose mother is alive but absent). – Stephanie M. 4 years ago
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  • I think this is a really good topic. You can add a psychological twist in how being an orphan, something that is a bit psychologically traumatic, can lead into resilience, strength and heroism. Maybe this is why so many great writers still use orphans as their main characters. – birdienumnum17 3 years ago
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  • I agree that this trope is a strong characterisation, adding to the psychology of a character. But I wonder if this trope is more affective in the character is a child - rather than when they're an adult, as the term "Orphan" means anyone whose parents are deceased. Most references given tend to be of child orphans, which goes to prove if not support that claim. But then, is a character more powerful is they're only an emotional orphan - where their parents are there, but distant, such as in Coraline? Regardless, this aspect of literature helps bring a third dimension to a character, and is always a good writing tool. – Joshua Haines 3 years ago
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