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My Friend Flicka is not like any other novel. While reading this novel, I thought it was more than just a horse story, as it's been graded all along. The narrative incorporates a number of social connotations that take a more philosophical approach to interpreting correctly. Psychological connectivity in the whole book offers an illustrative approach to explaining how children evolve. As parents, Mary O'Hara is trying to encourage them to see their children in a better and more liberal way. In this article, I present an exhibition of the story My Friend Flicka and her film adaptation. Particularly, the research addresses the aspect of development and maturity in children from O'Hara's point of view. It is essential to recognize that children develop in completely different ways depending on their individual choices and preferences in life. Although Rob doesn't understand this perspective, Nell does. When Rob gives up on Ken for lack of focus, just as he does with the horse Flicka, Nell insists otherwise saying
There's a very good reason she's alive-she's got mustang blood in her. She's a fighter, just like our girl (Washbrook 1957)
In both, the story, and its film adaptation, the two children, Ken and Howard are sharply contrasted not only by their father but also as portrayed in the storyline. Arguably, Ken cannot do anything right but cannot stop dreaming, his major hidden strength that not even his parents can recognize until he demonstrates it. According to Dunn, child development is a unique and multi-directional aspect which can take any shape (92). Parents are often anticipatory regarding their children; always wanting specific characters, growth and development paths and qualities that they would like to see in their children. In this research, I demonstrate how O'Hara and John English antagonizes this notion of making parents think of and perceiving their children's growth and development in a completely new perspective befitting every child.
Uniquely, O'Hara and John English encourages children to understand the uniqueness in every child and give them the opportunity to participate actively and fully in their individual areas of interest. To illustrate these facts, this paper concentrates on one revealing aspect of the story: Ken's emotional attachment with the horse, Flicka and how this aspect denotes her inner abilities that Rob comes to realize only towards the end of the story. When Ken manages to tame a horse that has resisted domestication earlier, Rob admits Ken's hidden potential when he says that the three-year-old Stallion has turned out to be something at last (O'Hara and Wells 127). Accordingly, the missing link in Rob's inability to understand Ken and consequently, his horses is his inability to pay attention to the little things they needed.
Ken demonstrates her remorsefulness and ability through her relationship with Flicka. For instance, as the fondness between the two grew, Flicka and Ken become too used to each to the extent that when Flicka is sick and almost dying, Ken feels likewise and the two rejuvenates back to life together. Both May O'Hara and John English tries to send a strong emotional signal concerning how loss of emotional affection between the child and the parents may result in the children seeking emotional attention from other sources. This may not be only dangerous to the child but also a sign of poor understanding by the parents, characterized by insensitivity.
The mid-eighteenth century saw the proliferation of the children literature, known as the genre of children literature, particularly meant to address various concepts and aspects in the developmental stages of children and how these affect their relationship with others through emotional distinction. Some of the key works falling into this classification which was developed during this time included Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughe in 1857, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll in 1865 and The Princes and the Goblin by George MacDonald in 1872 among others (Chevalier 121). Mary O'Hara's work fitted exactly within this area of literature with a unique deviation into what Rousseau termed as the ''paradigm of our lesser brothers'' (Chevalier 121) Which later led to the notion of companion animals, popularly known as the pets. Although this notion, the companion animals, was first applied to the pets and dogs, the first domesticated animals, the adoption of the horses in the West as a response to Rousseau's paradigm. This paradigmatic shift removed the horse from the utilitarian logics and placed them in a newly created position that was defined by the emotional relations between man and the animals.
According to Dunn, no parent knows everything about their children, it takes a closer observation of the child to know what they need or is capable of doing (112). Understanding the parental strategies and the child's developmental characteristics helps them to know what to expect from the children and how to provide the right things that the children need at every stage of their development. These are enabled by consistent observation and understanding the child's physical, linguistic, cognitive, emotional and social development. By choosing the setting of the film, to be the mountainous sceneries of Wyoming with its rugged terrain characteristics, the film, My Friend Flicka demonstrates the logical complexities surrounding the developmental phases of the children and the extra efforts that parents such as Rob needs to pay to understand the issues surrounding their children's lives at this moment. In this choice, the film brings the intentions and anticipations of O'Hara regarding the complexities surrounding the lives of children into a practical view for every parent to understand.
Apparently, Rob doesn't understand the necessity to understand his children and believes that a good child should act the same way he does or as he thinks they should. He is convinced that their 'daughter lives in a fantasy land' (O'Hara and Wells 27) without apparently making any attempt to understand the events surrounding Ken's life. Evidently, Rob is so withdrawn from Ken because he thinks she is a failure and thus, a disappointment to herself and the family too. Child growth and development experts such as Shonkoff et al. observe that the growth-promoting relationships are those that are based on a continuous give and take between the child and the parents, what Shonkoff et al. refer to as the serve and return scenario.
Parents are expected to provide their children with all the available conducive environments for growth and development which the children cannot get anywhere in the world. This means that parents must always strive to ensure that their children get the best from what they can offer. In all circumstances, young children, the age of Ken expect such provisions from their parents (Shonkoff et al. 5). Apparently, however, Rob does not provide such an enabling environment to facilitate an all-encompassing growth for Ken like he does for Howard. English's filmic illustrations of the frustrations in Ken's face when she is confronted by her father after she chooses the worst of all horses is a clear demonstration of Rob's withdrawal and negative attitude towards her.
Another fact which makes Ken a rather disgusting child to her father is her poor performance at school. This is despite being taken to a Porsche boarding school. The National Center for Parent, Family and Community Engagement (NCPFCE) Developed a research-based framework which can be used by parents to ensure wholesome development in their children and thus attain positive gains at schools. The framework is illustrated in figure 1 below;
OHS PFCE Framework (Source: The National Center for Parent, Family and Community Engagement (NCPFCE), p.1)
From the diagram, it is evident that parents play acritical role in creating the much needed conducive environment to enhance cognitive, social and academic growth. Children need to feel loved, cherished and motivated at every stage of their education career to achieve their maximum potential in class. Evidently, Rob cannot guarantee this support hence Ken's poor performance. Ken feels oppressed, undervalued and largely misunderstood by both the teachers and his parents. She wants a path of her own while her father and the teachers insist on another altogether. Regarding this, Ken feels horrified and wonders why everyone wants her to do just as they want despite having an idea of her own;
'I wrote it in my head-just didn't put it down' Wouldn't have made a difference anyway. They just want us to spit back exactly what they wanna hear. I have an opinion; it's just not their opinion (English).
Kalil illustrates a unique position regarding Rob's persistent cruelty not only towards Ken but also towards his horses. He expects everything to happen her way and feels so desperate and humiliated when he isn't able to achieve whatever he has planned to accomplish. Kalil associates this inner frustration to joblessness and the frustrations of having to take care of highly demanding family tasks as she has to do. Lack of a proper and consistent income for a family is a key issue which continues to ravage the well-being of any familial relationships in the home settings. At the opening of the film, English portrays Rob as a military retiree who has just arrived home to take care of an expectant family with not considerable income or plans to go about this. His horse rearing business is struggling, and he still has to sustain his family out of it. Here Rob complements the work of O'Hara who only mentions that Ron has been working in the past but has soon retired. He spends all her money in starting up a horse rearing business which unfortunately does not pick up in the magnitude he expected. Based on Kalil analyses above, we can attribute Rob's frustrations to have come from his inability to raise enough money to support the needs of his family's needs. For these reasons, anyone who doesn't seem to raise his expectations like Ken becomes an automatic enemy.
To conclude, Mary O'Hara's story, My Friend Flicka, and its film adaptation directed by John English provides deep illustrations about the importance of a good relationship between the parents and their children. This paper has analyzed both the story and its film adaptation from a psychological perspective. As evident from the readings, the child's development capability depends largely on the cordial relationships, support and encouragement they get from home. In the absence of these provisions, the developmental capability of the children is interfered with substantially. Rob and Ken's bad relationship is a clear demonstration of these facts. Various factors, however, has been associated with Rob's notable withdrawal from her child, Ken. For instance, Ken is a disappointment and doesn't seem to achieve anything in life from the perspective of her father Rob, other than daydreaming. The sour relationships between Ken and her father is a common discordance that is usually witnessed in various scenarios and does not allow children the opportunity to achieve their best of their abilities as anticipated in their later lives. Despite Ken being a smart and ambitious kid, as she demonstrates by taming the wild horse, Flicka, she fails in class consistently and has to repeat grade five; a fact which further enrages her father.
Chevalier, S.P. Popular Horse Stories and the Invention of the Contemporary Human-Horse Relationship through an Alter Ego Paradigm. Journal of Sports Science, 5 (2017): 119 137.
Dunn, Judy. Children's friendships: The beginnings of intimacy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2004.
Kalil, Ariel. Joblessness, family relations, and children's development. Sydney, Australia: Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2009.
My Friend Flicka. Dir. John English. Perf. Gene Evans, Anita Louise, Frank Ferguson Johnny Washbrook. 1957.
O'Hara, Mary, and Michael Louis Wells. My Friend Flicka. Lippincott, 1941.
The National Center for Parent, Family and Community Engagement (NCPFCE). Understanding Family Engagement Outcomes: Research to Practice Series. Boston, USA: Boston Children's Hospital, 2013.
Shonkoff, Jack P. et al. Young children Develop in an environment of relationships. New York, USA: Havard University Press, 20
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