Pinocchio is the main character in The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. Children and adults love this character in the Disney movie. There are other versions in theatre, film and television. But we usually picture Pinocchio as the wooden boy whose nose grows every time he lies. However, this story is about more than the lies of children. Because the symbolism also refers to the importance of education.
Let’s focus on the Disney version as that is the most famous, although the story is different from the original. It premiered in 1940. And now it is still a good example of the importance of education in children. On the other hand, the world has changed a lot since 1940. So it’s important that we put the story in context. We first try to imagine what life was like in 1940. Then we will turn this beloved character into a modern Pinocchio.
Pinocchio and other stories
Three books appear at the beginning of the film: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Pinocchio. Jiminy Cricket opens the last book. Then the story begins. This link to the other stories is interesting. Disney also made an animated film of these stories ten years later.
When we compare the stories, we see several similarities:
- The main characters are children who don’t want to grow up or who have a hard time growing up.
- The stories contain moral lessons about what is right and wrong.
- Animals with human characteristics appear in it. They play a fundamental role in the story.
- The children ask a lot of questions; they are curious.
- The three stories all critique different aspects of society, especially aspects related to parenting.
We could dissect each story very deeply. But today we focus on Pinocchio and some relevant aspects.
The birth of Pinocchio, the wooden boy
Pinocchio is a doll that Geppetto, an honest, hard-working and good-hearted man, carved out of wood. From the beginning, we see a fatherly instinct in Gepetto. We see it in the way he takes care of his pets: Figaro, the cat, and Cloe, the fish. He treats them as if they were part of the family. With these animals he has created a home and he behaves like a father.
But he longs to have a real child and wishes Pinocchio to come alive. The Blue Fairy is responsible for fulfilling this wish and makes Pinocchio alive. And it is no coincidence that the chosen material is wood. Because it has great symbolism. In some mythologies, the idea of a wooden man served as an explanation for creation. Pinocchio will remain a wooden boy until he proves that he is ready to become a real boy.
The fairy instructs Jiminy Cricket to be Pinocchio’s conscience and his guide in life. This too is important. Because in many cultures the cricket is considered the bringer of luck and wisdom. The Blue Fairy symbolizes the role of the mother for Pinocchio. After all, she gave him life and will appear in those moments when he needs her most.
The way of life
The big problems begin when Pinocchio has to distinguish between good and evil. He must learn to overcome temptation. Jiminy Cricket, will try to help him, but often fails. Conscience is that inner voice that we all possess. It’s something small, as small as Jiminy Cricket, and sometimes it’s hard to hear.
The next morning Pinocchio leaves the house and goes to school. This turning point is a metaphor for the life path. On our way to do good we encounter obstacles. And it is often very easy to deviate from this path. Pinocchio is neither good nor bad. But he still has much to learn and gather wisdom so that he can stay on the right path.
As a result of his innocence and his ignorance of the world, he gets into trouble that will challenge him. On his way, he meets two crooks: a fox named Jantje Decency, and his friend, the cat Gideon. The choice of these characters is not accidental. For foxes are often associated with cunning and cats with treachery.
Both characters are ignorant. They cannot read or write. In addition, they are greedy and take advantage of Pinocchio’s innocence. They’ve gotten carried away with the temptation to be a scammer and get things just like that without doing anything for it.
Pinocchio works as a puppet for Stromboli for a while. He sings and dances, and moves without strings. Here we see the irony and metaphor of the puppet: a doll does not move by itself. It needs strings and someone to pull the strings. Pinocchio doesn’t need it. So he is free. But he soon discovers that life is very different.
Learning and liberation
As soon as Pinocchio is freed from Stromboli, he again falls into Jantje Decency’s trap. Because Jantje Decency gives him an Ace of Spades and makes him believe that it is a ticket for the game island. Everything on this island looks beautiful. Children can play, smoke, drink, use violence… There are no laws and the children are free.
But they are misled. Their ‘fun’ ends when they turn into donkeys. These donkeys will be used for work. A lack of education leads to slavery.
Finally, Pinocchio discovers that Gepetto has been looking for him. A whale has swallowed it. Pinocchio is worried and decides to correct his mistakes. He’s going to save his father. Leaving the whale’s belly symbolizes liberation. It also refers to overcoming adversity and opening doors to knowledge.
On the other hand, this film also emphasizes the problem of lying. We see that Pinocchio is lying to himself. He lies when the Blue Fairy asks him why he is not at school. Pinocchio knows he’s done something he shouldn’t. He instinctively protects himself. Lying is a defense mechanism.
It is not a premeditated lie and not very elaborated, but rather an improvisation of the moment. This is like the way children lie to avoid punishment when they know they’ve done something wrong. This kind of lie is especially common among children between the ages of four and five. But we all know that this behavior can stick. There is even such a thing as Pinocchio syndrome.
Enjoying education is being free
It is important that you view the film from the zeitgeist in which it was made. For at that time, illiteracy was still a serious problem in Western countries. Back then, both the education system and the family model were still very much defined by a certain way of thinking. This way of thinking was in many cases stiff and immobile. It still exists today in certain parts of society. In many others, however, it has been reformed.
Pinocchio sends us a clear message: education liberates us. Knowledge leads us to make good decisions and prevents us from falling into the trap of deception. That is why we, the educators of generations to come, are responsible for raising children so that they are free. We must teach them to think critically and make good decisions independently.
We’re not just talking about education in the academic sense (being good at math, languages, or sports). It is also about education in the sense of having the ability to reason, to think, to analyze, to be critical. Every child is unique. It is our duty and at the same time our privilege to care for them. Teachers play a very important role, but so do the ‘teachers’ in the home situation.