Harriet The Spy: Mental Suvival



In Harriet the Spy we are shown the life of a young newly bound sixth grader by the name of Harriet.  She is from a well off New York family, and is under the guidance and care of a Nanny named Ole Golly.  Harriet, however, is a spy.  Now one must not get confused, she is not a “spy” per se, in the vain of high octane action and suspenseful moments of life or death, no, instead Harriet is more of a snooper.
Under the influence of Ole Golly following her words of advice: “Ole Golly says there is as many ways to live as there are people on the earth and I shouldn’t go round with blinders but should see every way I can.  Then I’ll know what way I want to live and not just like my family” (pg. 32).  It is in a moment like this that we find what words really stick with Harriet from Golly.  To Harriet, she feels outside and alone from her actual parents, always hinting at the fact that it seems they never listen to her.  She confides most of her life into the care of Golly, which is something that is prevalent in manors that have a Nanny and hardly any parent-child interaction.  However, we see that Harriet kind of feels alone.  She seems to be wanting the attention from her parents as well as the attention from Golly, which we see has a wrench thrown in the gears with Mr. Waldenstein.
Harriet, seems to me to be oblivious to her own actions.  When she is on her route we get a window into the lives that she gazes at every afternoon.  During these scenes, Harriet writes in her notebook every detail going on in her mind about that subject.  However, we see her naivety come through.  When she is viewing Harrison Withers and his twenty six cats, Harriet is quick to judge Withers for only eating a quart of yogurt as food.  She explains: “There is also that yogurt.  Think of eating that all the time.  There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then” (pg. 73).  In this exact quote we see the hypocritical statements of a naive and curious young girl.  She is criticizing Withers for eating just plain yogurt and nothing else, but also states that tomato sandwiches are great now and then, even though, we as the reader know that she gave the “one word” answer treatment to her mother and cook when discussing her tomato sandwiches from page 25 to 26.  It’s all she eats, and has eaten at school for five years.  So how are we to trust Harriet as a character if she is so naive to not even notice her hypocritical notions?
This naive notion is also shown during the criticism of the kids at school.  While Harriet is judging all of the children and stating how they have varying changes, most for the negative, or none at all, Pinky Whitehead, we begin to judge her.  She seems to have a grasp and attention to detail on her reality, but this shifts away from her own self.  Harriet is wise, but she is null, for she does not know what goes on inside her own self.  She cannot see the fact that she is a highly judgmental person; there may be nothing wrong with that when you have that characteristic in moderation, however, due to her youth, Harriet seems to be swimming in the ocean of endless judging.
What can be said about Harriet then?  We have a curious child who has the opportunity to administer her dreams in any way she can see fit in her reality.  But, we see how this can’t be for every child in the novel.  While we have characters like Janie and Harriet, and other school children who pull up in black limos (Beth Ellen), they are from well to do off backgrounds that allow for greater chances to experience things.  Then we are shown Sport.  Driven to the house duties of his home, due to a mother who left his drunk, writer father with all their money, Sport is left to do all the chores and take care of his father’s finances, or they don’t eat.  This is a dramatic juxtaposition in character.  When Harriet visits Sport on the way back from her route, we are shown the inner workings behind Sport.  Not only is he a driven child, but is also smart.  Something we don’t see when he interacts with Harriet outside of his house, for Harriet takes on that role.  But in Sport’s house, he is the intelligent one.  He knows how to make financial ledgers like a C.P.A; he knows how to clean every inch of his house; he knows how to cook, even though it is usually eggs, but nonetheless, Sport is very much independent and very intelligent for that.  When we compare that to Harriet, whom has a nanny to care for her, a cook to make her food, and I’m assuming people who clean and maintain the house (maids and what not), we see that in Harriet’s house she is merely the child.  In Sport’s house, he is the adult, and his father is the child.  This also shows us what brings up children the way they are.  Harriet is a curious child who loves to dream and know everything about everyone and the outside world.  Sport, however, is more akin to financial dreams and making it by, a more chilling reality, but regardless a reality among children.
Overall, throughout book one of Harriet the Spy we have seen many instances of thematic elements, character development, and also a greater sense of the overall message of the book.  By us seeing that Harriet is very judgmental to others and naive to her own workings, we can only foreshadow a downfall.  Something will happen to her that will damage her outlook on the world and it will be cast under, begging her to desperately find a new way out of that situation.  Yet another children’s novel latent with adult material that can be heavily interpreted, or stand alone as just a story, we must marvel at the brilliance of how our realities and lives are somehow connected through childhood and how those years seem to be the ones we long to live through again.  It is a great novel for many young children, but also for any self reflecting adult who may feel that they are alone in the world, or may not have a good grasp on their own identity.  Harriet the Spy is a novel that can transcend the boundaries of social progression and change, and forever will be a written work of classic intent.

One thought on “Harriet The Spy: Mental Suvival

  1. I like the contrast we see between Harriet and Sport a lot, how Harriet is clearly very intelligent but also doesn’t quite understand much beyond her own experiences and naivete, and how Sport seems like such an average child but he is incredibly adult for his age, because he is forced to care for his father. It’s especially funny to me that Harriet doesn’t take more interest in Sport’s lifestyle, given how unusual it is for someone his age and how curious and fascinated she is by the unusual.


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