Symbolism of Education in Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

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Pinocchio is a children’s story, and the primary purpose of most children’s stories are to be taking some kind of educational responsibility. For many of us the story will exist only in our mind and imagination, nevertheless it is helpful, when reading a children’s story, to have in mind the practical problems faced by the producers or the characters trying to interpret the story. Certainly the plot of Pinocchio is exciting and full of education. We would not, of course, expect education to be the dominating theme of a children’s story which seeks to explore how a child like Pinnochio grows up rather than merely to excite the spectator. Yet some educational scenarios are important dramatically in Pinocchio and it is not artificially contrived. Thus it seems that Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio tend to offer clues towards his ideas of the puzzling aspect of children’s educational processes. It is brought about by the natural behaviour of characters, and often by the unpredictability of Pinocchio. This essay is going to explore whether Carlo Collodi wants to promote or critique educational processes through Pinocchio.

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The story begins with master Anthony finds a piece of wood which is able to speak, laugh and cry, then he gives this piece of magic wood to his friend Old Joe, who always longs for a piece of wood that can be turned to a fabulous puppet. It is noticeable here, that why Collodi has to introduce two men relate to Pinocchio as he could have had only Old Joe himself alone finds the wood and uses the piece of wood to create Pinocchio? And if we look back to the moment when Master Anthony encounters Old Joe, these two old fellows even fights twice for some funny reasons! Perhaps Collodi would like to remind us of the impact of family background can have on a child: Pinocchio is born in a single parent family. Being parents is a job hard enough, but I reckon doing it alone just doubles the difficulty. The phenomenon of single parent family is not as common in Collodi’s time as it is in our time now, but possibly Collodi might have already noticed the effect a single parent family may bring on a child. Then the story continues with sort of chaos, when the puppet Pinocchio runs away from home after he is just completed and given a name. This naughty (or even worse – rebellious) personality of Pinocchio marks his fortune and the relative education he is going to accept as the story unfolds. Unlike any infant or new born kids that symbolize pureness and naivety, Pinocchio seems to be very distinctive because of his wildness and naughtiness. The scenario of Pinocchio runs away also leads to poor Old Joe’s life in jail for a few days, yet it is worth noticing that Old Joe does not condemn Pinocchio for his wildness. Perhaps it is because the miserable experience Pinocchio has while Old Joe is in jail distracts his attention. It is what normally happens when parents see their children get hurt even it is their own accounts. Possibly Collodi is not criticizing if it is right or wrong, yet according to Old Joe’s attitude towards Pinocchio more or less indicate Collodi’s acquiesce in parent spoiling their children.

Pinocchio’s naughtiness and wildness leads his father Old Joe to think about letting Pinocchio go to school. But Old Joe makes up his mind too soon, in despite of considering the possibility and availability. At this point Collodi shows his mastery of creating touching and emotional scenario: Poor Old Joe sells his cape to buy Pinocchio an alphabet book. As a father, no doubt that he wishes his child could learn to be a sensible and amenable child. Nevertheless it appears this kind of orthodox education process does not work on Pinocchio. Thus one may argue, is going to school the only way to teach children to behave properly and be sensible? It is reasonable to speculate that Collodi’s answer is likely to be: No! Because in fact even until the end of the story when Pinocchio eventually becomes a real boy and behaves appropriately, school is something never has any obvious positive effect on him.  Though going to school is a daily requirement in his life, however he is in constant mental battle whether to go or not. There is just too much temptation ahead of him, such as puppet play, the land of toy, etc. In order to watch the puppet play he sells his book which costs his father the only cape and he takes the risk of not becoming a real boy to go to the land of toy, where he and his ‘friend’ Candle-Wick turned donkeys. His desire of becoming a real boy is so strong, yet his remarks are always inconsistent with what he promises.

In a way Pinocchio stands for ordinary immature children, who need proper guide and appropriate help from the adults. However the images of ‘adults’ are pretty grim throughout the whole story, apart from his father Old Joe, the talking cricket and the Fairy. Considering those adults from the beginning: the careless police who puts Old Joe into jail; the puppeteer Swallowfire almost makes Pinocchio a great contribution to his dinner (but he could be positive as he shows his mercy by giving Pinocchio 5 gold coins); the fox and cat swindles Pinocchio’s money, etc. I do not think Collodi is being cynical but surely he shows his concerns of the social environment, in which children grow up. What shall we expect from children when they are growing up in a society which is full of dishonesty, lies and incredibility? Furthermore, it is funny that we hardly see any glimpse of Old Joe as the action progresses. As Pinocchio’s only family, Old Joe is bound to teach Pinocchio things like how to tell right from wrong or how to avoid mixing with wrong people. Whereas until Old Joe joins the reunions with Pinocchio inside fish, he scarcely appears and his role is ironically fulfilled by the talking cricket and the Fairy. In this crucial stage of growing up, it is quite a pity there is hardly any trace of Old Joe.

Despite his wildness and rebelliousness, Pinocchio does not seem to be a precocious child and he gives an impression of genuine simplicity and naivety, particularly when it looks as if everything is so convincible to him. Nevertheless there is one thing is highly noticeable, that is he is unable to tell any lie. Of course it is the way the Fairy helps him to always tell the truth and learn to be honest, but is it not too cruel for a child, when he must be totally honest otherwise his nose gets longer as punishment? It seems the world have no mercy on him, because his destiny is to be an honest man. When the story comes to the end, Pinocchio finally becomes a real virtuous boy, but the price for it, I am afraid, is a bit too high, as he makes his dream come true by overcoming too many troubles like a yoke which is too heavy for a child to bear. Moreover, even though he is merely a puppet, he has the human traits. He shows true warmth and love towards his father Old Joe and the Fairy.

In conclusion, of course the whole story of Pinocchio is rather an example of the kind of presence of mind with which educational stories are wont to amaze the children and thus successfully becoming a real boy is a tribute to Pinocchio’s tireless effort to behave properly and learn to be a virtuous boy, however the progress of his grow-up is riveting. Yet with the examples of traditional education processes presented by the author in the story, and his occasional critiques on the society in which children are brought up, the confrontation remains as we dare not assert if Carlo Collodi himself is promoting or criticizing educational processes. Thus it is reasonable to argue, that the balance between promoting and criticizing educational processes is well maintained by Collodi.


Collodi, C., (1996). The Adventure of Pinocchio. trans. A.L.Lucas. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Stewart – Steinberg, S., (2007). The Pinocchio Effect: on making Italians 1860 – 1920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Zipes, J.D., (2007). When dreams came true: classical fairy tales and their tradition. New York: Routledge


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