Recognising the spirituality of the Golliwogg: An analysis of Upton's Golliwogg picture books


Buttigieg, Olga. (2014). Recognising the spirituality of the Golliwogg: An analysis of Upton's Golliwogg picture books [Thesis].
AuthorsButtigieg, Olga
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The Golliwogg first entered childhood imaginations as a character in the Upton picture book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls, 1895. Florence Upton’s own childhood toys, an old black doll and five wooden dolls became the inspiration for this first picture book. The success of this picture book led to the creation of other Golliwogg narratives for children from 1895 to 1909. This character became the first black protagonist in English picture books. Golliwogg narratives invited children to enter a world not their own; to identify with new characters and experiences that would awaken their imaginations. Thereby, Upton appeared to instinctively know that the child’s imagination could be enriched through picture books - the combination of word and image. The Golliwogg narratives were published in what has been referred to as the golden age of children’s books, the period of the latter half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Upton’s contribution to children’s literature has been significant, yet she has not been recognised in the same manner as her contemporaries Caldecott, Crane and Greenaway. There is little correct published information about the much loved childhood character, Golliwogg, and his original identity has been misrepresented by subsequent childhood authors. In fact, a tension exists in our contemporary world in relation to the identity of the Golliwogg. These misrepresentations of the Golliwogg have led to him being labelled as a racist and politically incorrect image, due to his original character being caricatured. This change reflects the different social conditions under which many people appropriated the Upton Golliwogg and used his name and image in ways that reflected racism. However, the Upton Golliwogg was a character who brought a new kind of spiritual presence to childhood literature. Accordingly, the aim of this research was to reclaim the Upton Golliwogg as a spiritual character. This research study is located within broader research that has examined how spiritual nurturing in children may be addressed through the use of picture books. Spirituality is defined in this research as an individual’s relatedness or connectedness to oneself, others, and the world and beyond and this understanding has been applied to and understood as Golliwogg’s spirituality. Implicit in this research study was the notion that Golliwogg’s spirituality was communicated to children as a way of being in the world. Rhetorical narrative criticism and a visual analysis of picture books were used to investigate the spiritual qualities of the Golliwogg in the Upton stories. This methodology was also applied to Golliwogg stories by other childhood authors where the image and identity of the Golliwogg was often changed from the original character. The main findings from this research study identified two themes: freedom and a paradoxical way of being which were, both, further identified as spiritual traits thereby claiming the Golliwogg as a spiritual character. He invited children to embrace all of life’s experiences by drawing them into various adventures and creating characters with whom children could identify, thereby providing the potential to nurture their spirituality. His key spiritual qualities of kind-heartedness and imagination were legitimate ways of knowing and being in the world. A further finding from this research study pointed to the potential of picture books being a valuable resource to nurture children’s spirituality. Buttigieg

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Final version
Publication dates01 Apr 2014
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