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Literature / Pollyanna

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If you're looking for the character type, go to The Pollyanna.

Pollyanna, a 1913 novel by Eleanor Porter, is the first of a series of thirteen novels known as "The Glad Books", about an orphaned girl living with her aunt in the early 20th century. Young Pollyanna Whittier goes by a philosophy called "The Glad Game" where she finds something to be glad about in every situation. Combined with her sunny personality, her presence helps to reform her dismal town and, most effectively, her miserable aunt.

The novel was an instant success, warranting twelve sequels by different authors and passing the name "Pollyanna" itself into the vernacular to describe the archetype she embodies. It was adapted into movies and TV series several times including a 1920 silent movie starring Mary Pickford, a 1986 Anime series as part of the World Masterpiece Theater series and perhaps most famously made into a film by Disney starring Hayley Mills as well as a 1989 TV movie (and its 1990 sequel) also released by Disney featuring Keshia Knight Pulliam from The Cosby Show as Pollyanna. The 1960 and 1989 movies differ significantly from the books, both in the main plot and in characterizations.

After Porter abandoned the "Glad Books" series, it was taken over by first Harriet Lummis Smith, then Elizabeth Borton, Margaret Piper Chalmers and finally Virginia May Moffatt. Later books took Pollyanna into marriage, motherhood and war, not to mention living in places as disparate as a tenement in New York, a castle in Mexico, and Hollywood - playing "The Glad Game" and warming others' lives along the way.

The novel provides examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Response: When Pollyanna finds a way for perpetual-invalid Mrs. Snow to play the Glad Game — by being glad others aren't like her — she means nothing more than being grateful that not everyone is bedridden and helpless. Mrs. Snow, of course, is a bitter woman taking advantage of everyone else's generosity, so the remark hits home even deeper than the innocent Pollyanna intended.
  • Blithe Spirit: The first book revolves around the title character reforming her town and its inhabitants by teaching them her philosophy.
  • Break the Cutie: Well, the Universe seems to be trying... At the end, almost succeeding.
  • Cheerful Child: The poster girl for this trope, as well as the one named after her.
  • Cuddle Bug: Pollyanna is very physically affectionate with her aunt and usually greets her with an enthusiastic hug. This is very much a source of humour when you compare her to the strait-laced Aunt Polly.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Three main examples. There's Mrs Snow, the crabby old woman convinced she's ill and who is rude to everyone. There's the reclusive Mr. Pendelton, a taciturn miser. And of course Aunt Polly herself. Pollyanna defrosts them all.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Averting this is the purpose of the Glad Game (it can't be all bad if you can find something good in it, right?) When it seems that Pollyanna herself has lost all hope, the whole town comes to her aid. She eventually gets past her Heroic BSoD.
  • Embarrassing First Name
    • Nancy doesn't like her first name because she finds it too ordinary. Pollyanna tells her that she should be glad that she isn't called "Hephzibah".
    • Aunt Polly isn't thrilled with her niece's name, since it's just a combination of "Polly" and "Anna," the names of two female relatives.
  • For Happiness: Pollyanna likes everyone and wants them to be happy. She seems to accomplish this goal without realizing the size of her role.
  • Foreshadowing / Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Pollyanna's father taught her the Glad Game when a missionary barrel they received contained a pair of crutches instead of a much-wanted doll. He said she could be glad she didn't need to use them. Near the end of the book she finds herself severely crippled after a car accident, with warnings that she may never walk again...
  • Happily Adopted: Several individuals in the series.
  • Happy Ending
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Two in the first book.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Pollyanna can make this happen to anyone. Most notable is Aunt Polly and Mr. Pendelton.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Pollyanna herself, in the most winsome possible way. She sees everyone as a potential friend, assumes everyone's motivations are all good — and instead of being victimized, she transforms the town as everyone tries to live up to the good she sees in them.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In Pollyanna Grows Up; for numerous characters.
  • Letting Her Hair Down:
    • Pollyanna persuades Mrs. Snow and Aunt Polly to let her style their hair and put flowers in it, which gives them each a softening moment.
  • Licked by the Dog: Some people find Pollyanna's friendliness to be this, at least at first.
  • Literal-Minded: Pollyanna, as the innocent that she is. For instance, when Nancy tells her that Mr. Pendleton is so rich that he "could eat dollar bills, if he wanted to, and not know it", Pollyanna responds that everyone would notice that they're eating dollar bills.
  • Maiden Aunt: Aunt Polly is a young-ish version. It turns out that she once had a marriage prospect that didn't pan out.
  • Plucky Girl: Pollyanna merges this with her own trope and manages to transform an entire town of sourpusses into happy people.
  • The Pollyanna: The Trope Namer.
  • Slice of Life: The first two acts of the story don't have much of a plot. It just involves Pollyanna going around meeting various people in the town and winning them over with the Glad Game. The Nostalgia Chick pointed out that this is all very important build-up for Pollyanna's crippling accident and Despair Event Horizon, as well as Aunt Polly's Heel–Face Turn.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Largely idealistic, though part of the charm of the books is how Pollyanna's fundamental innocence leads her to misinterpret actions by adults that are cynical or even borderline cruel — shaming them in the process.
  • Stepford Smiler: While Pollyanna's cheerfulness is mostly genuine, she occasionally shows signs of struggling to maintain that cheerfulness, most notably when she cries while praying to her dead father about how hard it is to be glad all the time and when she gets crippled in an accident and learns that she may never walk again.
  • Think Happy Thoughts: Pollyanna's "Glad Game" involves finding at least one thing to be happy about in any situation, no matter how desperate or sad.
  • Verbal Tic: Nancy has a habit of repeating what she said twice at the end of the sentence, she does, she does. Also, her exclamation "My stars and stockings".
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Unlike her movie counterpart, the book Aunt Polly is not part of a town-wide battle, nor does she rule the town through her wealth. Her main flaw is that she sees Pollyanna as a burden she was compelled by duty to pick up, not as a beloved member of her family.

Adaptations with their own pages:

Other adaptations provide examples of:

  • Cultural Translation: The 2003 British version moves the setting from the U.S. to England, but keeps the same time period.
  • Gospel Choirs Are Just Better: The TV movie Polly includes a song called "Stand Up" in which the entire church congregation starts dancing and celebrating.
  • Pre-Approved Sermon: In the TV movie Polly.
  • Race Lift: The TV movies Polly and Polly: Comin' Home! retell Pollyanna with a with a mostly-African-American cast, featuring Keshia Knight Pulliam from The Cosby Show as Polly.
  • Setting Update: The TV movies Polly and Polly: Comin' Home! move the location and time period from Vermont in the 1900s to segregated Alabama in The '50s.