A few child characters that are very vivid in my memory are “Dennis the Menace”, from the evergreen cartoon strips by Hank Ketcham; Scout, the little girl from the book by Ms Harper Lee “To kill a mocking bird” and the little boy Calvin from the comic strips “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Waterson.
One frame of a cartoon depicts Dennis introducing a Negro kindergarten mate to his mom. He says, “Mom, this is Tom, the only difference between us is that he is left handed”. At that age, caste, color, creed, nationality and language differences haven’t corrupted the children yet. How do children imbibe such discrimination? The simple answer is, from the living societal environment. Most of the discrimination are picked up from conversations overheard at home, among family, friends and other grown up people.
The next character in line is the six-year-old girl, Scout Finch, from the book “To kill a Mocking Bird”. She and her brother Jeremy are totally embroiled in the societal pressures on their father Atticus Finch, who is defending a Negro charged with rape in court. The girl does not understand the nuances of the case, but knows that it is serious. She asks her father, “Atticus, what is rape?” Atticus answers, “It is the carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent”. The answer is too complex for the little girl to understand, but being straightforward, she accepts it.
Now comes Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes”. He is on the other extreme of the spectrum. His home environment of loneliness affects him and his stuffed tiger doll. Hobbes is his imaginary active partner in all his thought trails. He has anti-establishment thought processes while being forced to eat a veggie meal by his mother, on being taken out on a nature camp by his father and also when a babysitter is forced on him while his parents go out. The imaginations run wild in these comic strips.
The above characters are all fictitious, but they do reflect about the family and life values that we pass on to our children. We, the grown up people, project our prejudices and discrimination through behavior, conversations and gestures, without realizing that we are being observed by children all the time. We need to build good life values in our children; hence it is our responsibility to lead by good examples in life.