The issue of prejudice in the Paper Bag Princess and Hana’s Suitcase.
Prejudice is defined as an irrational, incorrect and unjustified attitude or opinion towards an individual simply based on their social inclusion or exclusion from a group. It is also known as discrimination and takes many forms. The subject of prejudice is often addressed in children’s literature through the use of stereotypes that may seem ‘normal’ to society and thus acceptable to young minds. The subjects of this literary analysis are Princess Elizabeth from The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Hana from Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine.
The first form of discrimination portrayed in both these books is gender discrimination. Levine tells the true life story of Hana, a young Jewish girl born in Czechoslovakia in Europe. Hana lives an ordinary life with her family up until the Holocaust. When Czechoslovakia was invaded by the German army in March 1939, Hana’s life takes on a downward spiral as her mother and father are taken away by the Gestapo, and she is left with her brother George. Being taken in by her aunt gives no relief as she is later deported along with her brother and taken to a warehouse. Hana’s tribulations are made much worse when upon arrival at Theresienstadt, she is separated from her brother and taken to a girls’ camp. While her brother is later transferred to the East where he ends up working, Hana, being a girl of her age, is taken to the gas chambers immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz, where she meets her death. Levine not only portrays Hana as a helpless female in a bad time in history but also tells a heartbreaking story using irony by describing Hana’s excitement. Once she learned that she was going to the east and having hope that she would meet her brother only for her to end up dead, being no use to the Nazi’s like a girl of that age.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Princess Elizabeth, on the other hand, starts off as a typical princess as is in most fairy tales. She lives happily in her castle, dreaming of marrying her prince charming, Prince Ronald. This is as far as Munsch goes regarding the stereotypical female role. When the dragon swoops down and burns everything in the castle including the princess’ dress and kidnaps the prince, Princess Elizabeth dons a paper bag and goes out to save her fiancé. Unlike traditional tales, the girl in this story is the heroine and not the damsel in distress.She seems fearless and courageous and goes out to save her Prince. Munsch brings out the witty side of the princess who outsmarts the dragon by challenging him to perform various tasks which include flying around the world and to burn the forest with fire, to which the Dragon readily agrees, “Oh, yes, said the dragon and he took a huge, deep breath and breathed out so much fire that he burnt up fifty forests” (Levin, 2003)
The dragon tires after these exertions, allowing the Princess to save her fiancé. The Prince, however, is not impressed by Princess Elizabeth’s appearance and refuses her help. “Elizabeth you are a mess. You have no shoes! You are wearing a paper bag. Come back and rescue me when you are dressed like a real princess.”(Munsch & Martchenko16) This twist that is rare for traditional fairy tales gives way to Munsch’s further advancement of his feminist agenda, as he portrays Princess Elizabeth as a strong minded independent girl. She walks away alone into the sunset, still in her paper bag, showing that despite common belief, women can be happy without a man.
The second form of discrimination regards social status. In Levine’s narration of Hana’s story, Jews are portrayed as those of a lower social standing. The Nazis viewed Jews as their inferiors, and once they invaded Czechoslovakia, Jews faced a lot of suffering at the hands of the Gestapo. Hana’s mother is arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, and her father was also picked up by the Gestapo a short while later, leaving her and her brother, George, alone. Hana was at a loss when she was not allowed to progress to the third grade, could not play in parks keep pets or go outside after a certain time. She was not authorized to go to the movies and was forced to wear a yellow star with the word “Jude” written on it so that everyone would know that she was a Jew. She could not comprehend why it was so wrong to be a Jew. “…Hana went outside less often. She hated the star. It was humiliating. It was so embarrassing.” (Levine 38) When they were eventually deported, Hana spends her 11th birthday in a full, dirty warehouse with many other Jews who were waiting to be sent to the resienstadt. For such young children, this must have been a traumatizing experience, only for the sole reason that they were Jews and therefore inferior. Levine uses hyperbole to describe the appalling conditions Hana faced when she narrates how she gave her brother George the only doughnut she received every week instead of eating it herself and how their grandmother died within three months of arrival at Theresienstadt while living in squalid conditions. It seems highly irrational that human beings would have to suffer such a fate simply because of their social standing or difference in belief.
This theme of discrimination based on social class, otherwise called classism is highlighted in Munsch’s work as well. Despite Princess Elizabeth’s best effort to save the prince from harm at the dragon’s lair, the mere fact that she is wearing a paper bag causes the prince to reject her help. Munsch portrayal of the prince as snobby and uninterested shows the most common characteristic of high-born people who often discriminate against ordinary citizens. The Prince’s character is exaggerated when he prefers the danger of being held by a dragon that can burn fifty forests to being saved by a princess in a paper bag. Munsch uses an elitist tone in the Prince’s response to the Princess, which further shows the selfish character. The Prince obviously has no regard for those who seem to be of a lower standing.
The prejudice against strong female characters is addressed in both Hana’s story and the paper bag princess. Both Hana and Princess Elizabeth are seen to be strong characters, although in different ways. Throughout her harrowing experience at the hands of her captors, Hana keeps a brave face. While she is helpless against the Nazis physically, she can keep her emotional strength at an impressive state for a person her age. She maintains a positive attitude and chooses to see the brighter side of things “So when I want to cry the blues I just recall the centipede. Consider walking in her shoes, and then my life seems sweet indeed.” (Levine 81) Hana uses her mind to defeats the Nazis by keeping positive thoughts of friends and family, the loving memories she has of her family are her weapon of choice. “The girls held hands. They closed their eyes and tried to imagine being somewhere else Hana closed her eyes; she saw the strong, smiling face of her brother.” (Levine 80). Munsch also portrays Princess Elizabeth as a strong-willed and witty individual who uses her mind to outwit the dragon. “Wait! Hold on!” Elizabeth said. “Are you a fierce dragon?” “Oh yes!” said the dragon”’. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Upon rejection by the Prince, instead of being heartbroken and helpless, Princess Elizabeth has a very witty response that generally would not be expected of a princess in traditional fairy tales “Your clothes are stunning, and your hair is immaculate. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum” (Munsch and Martchenko17). Munch’s unconventional approach to the damsel in distress storyline not only highlights important societal issues but also sends a adamant message on empowerment to young readers of all gender.[Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
In conclusion, Levine’s vivid narration of Hana’s story seems much similar to the fictional tale of the paper bag princess, as in an ironic way both of them were the heroines of their stories.
Levine, Karen. Hana’s Suitcase: A True Story. Albert Whitman, 2003.
Munsch, Robert N, and Michael Martchenko.The Paper Bag Princess.Annick P, 1980.