New Yorker scribe Adam Gopnick has penned a nice, lengthy essay about the continuing controversy surrounding Babar, the titular hero of the popular children’s book series.
As Gopnick explains, people like the Chilean author Ariel Dorfman have indicted the series as “imperialist propaganda”:
Babar, such interpreters have insisted, is an allegory of French colonization, as seen by the complacent colonizers: the naked African natives, represented by the good elephants, are brought to the imperial capital, acculturated, and then sent back to their homeland on a civilizing mission. The elephants that have assimilated to the ways of the metropolis dominate those which have not. The true condition of the animals “ to be naked, on all fours, in the jungle “ is made shameful to them, while to become an imitation human, dressed and upright, is to be given the right to rule.
Gopnick also takes a look at the less-serious controversy surrounding the depiction, in the first book of the series, of the murder of Babar’s mom, which many parents consider too harsh for young readers.