From Hunger to Love: Myths of the Source, Interpretation, and Constitution of Law in Children's Literature
66 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2003
Children's literature is an important and wildly unappreciated source of law: a repository of myth that develops, in children, life-long understandings of law and our relationship to laws. It is not a question of "law and literature" but of literature as law, and law as literature. The article takes the celebrated book by Maurice Sendak, "Where the Wild Things Are", as a case study through which to develop an argument as to the origin and nature of legal consciousness in children. The book demonstrates Norbert Elias' proposition that children's process of up-bringing is precisely a miniature re-enactment of the development of modern civilization in the West. However, the article goes much further than this in arguing that Sendak's story explores precisely what it means to begin to learn how to "interpret" a legal text. One orthodox position would have it that a civilized child simply "obeys" their parents. But Sendak's text dramatizes the inherent difficulties that children face in understanding what it means to be obedient. These difficulties are insoluble, endemic, and intensely felt. To understand a civilized relationship to law as children begin to perceive it requires us to develop a more complicated jurisprudential position. The child Max resolves his proto-legal dilemma, at the end of the dream sequence that forms the centerpiece of the book, through an idea of legal responsibility that is quite distinct from that of legal obedience. The essay argues that "Where the Wild Things Are" asks us to understand love and law as institutions that require us to think about what they are for, in order to interpret what they mean. Drawing on the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, the article concludes that to love the law, or to promise to honor the law of the family one loves, demands an on-going commitment to think about its purposes and its justice. Such a commitment is incommensurable with literalism, legalism, or positivism.
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