Childhood: Work, Play, and Shame Friendship in the Discourse of Enterprise

  • Reena Dube
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series (LDS)


This chapter examines the work/play thesis in the discourse of colonial enterprise in the Enlightenment narrative of Robinson Crusoe (1719), Italian neo-realism, postcolonial cinema, and Hollywood cinema. Through the inclusion of a Hollywood film, Penny Marshall’s Big (1988), this chapter demonstrates the productive alliances that can be made between the study of Hollywood cinema and postcolonial cinema. I juxtapose the critical responses to the colonial capitalist narratives and fantasies about enterprise as pleasurable play by a Hollywood woman filmmaker and a postcolonial male director, in order to demonstrate that postcolonial theory is a richly suggestive theoretical apparatus for studying mainstream cultural production in relation to the margins. I investigate Ray’s aesthetic and political projects in delineating childhood as the source of difference, creativity, humour, and curiosity in his critique of colonial enterprise in the prologue of The Chess Players (1977), and his ten-minute documentary for the US public television series Two (1964).


Chess Player East India Company Adult World Capitalist Enterprise Hollywood Film 
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  1. 1.
    There has been an efflorescence of novels from India on the theme of postcolonial childhood. In my view the focus on postcolonial childhood and the children of empire in the postcolonial novel testifies to the need for a literary-theoretical investigation of the discourses of childhood and the political function of children’s play. See Ardeshir Vakil’s Beach Boy (1997) andGoogle Scholar
  2. Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), andGoogle Scholar
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    Edward Said brought critical attention to the novel Kim in his introduction to the 1987 Penguin paperback. Said’s essay is also reprinted in Culture and Imperialism (1994). See also S. P. Mohanty’s “Kipling’s Children and the Colour Line”, Race and Class, 31, No. 1 (1989) 21–40;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Edward Said’s Out of Place: A Memoir, New York: Knopf, 1999;Google Scholar
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  9. 8.
    Andrew Robinson, Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye (1989) 71. Ray also took from Bicycle Thief the notion that film should be freed from the studio set and resituated in outdoor locations, as well as the possibility of making a film on a shoe string budget with non-actors. In his 1982 lecture Ray described the viewing of Bicycle Thief as a formative moment, “I came out of the theater my mind firmly made up. I would become a filmmaker” (71). I tend to agree with the ways Martin Scorsese defines the difference and similarity between Ray’s cinema and Italian neo-realism, he recalls the experience of viewing the Apu trilogy at the age of eighteen, he was taken aback by the style of the films “at first so much like the Italian neorealist films, yet surprising the viewer with bursts of sheer poetry” (cited inGoogle Scholar
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    For a critique of the theme of paternalism in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, see Toni Morrison, ed. and intro. Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (1992).Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    In the field of postcolonial theory interest in the colonialist implications of the Crusoe myth was sparked by the publication of J. M. Coetzee’s Foe (1986). Coetzee reinterprets the main outlines of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, by adding bits and pieces of the mother–daughter theme in Defoe’s Roxana, Moll’s discovery of her parentage in the New World in Defoe’s Moll Flanders, and an encounter between the author Defoe and Susan in London. In Coetzee’s novel the exclusively male colonialist myth of Crusoe–Friday and the island is represented through the female protagonist, Susan Barton, who is shipwrecked on Crusoe’s island. Through Susan’s eyes readers gaze at a landscape that is denuded rather than beautiful, at a Crusoe who is an ageing and querulous man with no interest in anything apart from his obsession with his island kingdom. Coetzee debunks the myth of the enterprising Crusoe through Susan’s gaze. She says, “Growing old on his island kingdom with no one to say him nay had so narrowed his horizon – when the horizon all around us was so vast and majestic! – that he had come to be persuaded he knew all there was to know about the world” (1986, 13). Much of Coetzee’s narrative revolves around the strange relationship between Susan Barton and Friday, as she tries to penetrate his silence.Google Scholar
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  17. 43.
    Penny Marshall is part of a generation of female cultural workers in America in the 1980s and 1990s (Roseanne and Rosie O’Donnell are included among this generation) who used the medium of television to aggressively sustain working-class culture, celebrate its world view as well as debate the political positions of the working class on issues like the family, sexuality, employment, man–woman relations, women’s rights and children’s rights. Penny Marshall came into prominence when her brother Garry Marshall cast his sister and her co-star Cindy Williams in the television comedy of the 1970s Laverne and Shirley, in which Penny played Laverne DeFazio. There is a strong relation between the television comedy Laverne and Shirley and Big: the former explored the problems and dilemmas of two single working-class girls and the latter explores the world of the working-class male child. Other notable Penny Marshall films are A League of Their Own and The Preacher’s Wife. See the unauthorized biography of Penny Marshall by Lawrence Crown and Louis Chunovic, Penny Marshall: Director and Comedienne, 1999.Google Scholar

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© Reena Dube 2005

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  • Reena Dube

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