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Joe Hoover, S.J.April 01, 2022
A depiction of what Pollyanna would look like if she were a flower, maybe. (A purple flower grows out of a crack in the sidewalk.)A depiction of what Pollyanna would look like if she were a flower, maybe. (iStock)

Leave Pollyanna alone. For the love of God just let this kid be.

It is apparently the sacred right of every modern writer of spirituality and social justice (and probably every other field that people write about) to kick around Pollyanna. To trot out her lovely name only to defame that name. The happy hero of Eleanor H. Porter’s novel is everybody’s favorite thing I am definitely not.

How many times have we come across spiritual or social commentary like this: “Trusting in the grace of God does not mean one has to be a Pollyanna.” Or: “It is not Pollyannish to have a hope-filled attitude about the ‘already and not yet’ Christian worldview.” Or: “Just because I believe in transitioning from the flensing appropriations of unbridled late-modern capitalism to a barter society rooted in both slow food and slow food-trucks doesn’t make me some Pollyanna.”

Leave Pollyanna alone. For the love of God just let this kid be.

Reputations for spiritual edginess, for political realism, for nuts and bolts credibility by otherwise sweet, sunny and charmingly optimistic people are built on the back of Pollyanna. We climb the peak of poor and wretched Mt. Pollyanna to assure the world how hard-nosed we are or how delusional the targets of our criticism are.

In the Guardian in 2013, the writer Carrie Quinlan insists “I’m no Pollyanna,” just because she believes that people “should be promoting happiness as a norm.”

In a headline in the magazine Forward Harmony, Stefan Ravalli declares, “Just in Case You’re Worried about becoming a Spiritual Pollyanna.”

In a Scripture reflection in our own pages, Diane Bergant wonders if Jesus’ calling people to “forgo earthly treasure to have treasure in heaven” was “Pollyannaish and pie-in-the sky.”

It makes us wonder: Honestly, have any of these people actually ever read Pollyanna? Do they know a single drip of what its title character has done, what kind of person this young lady actually is?

We climb the peak of poor and wretched Mt. Pollyanna to assure the world how hard-nosed we are or how delusional the targets of our criticism are.

Who is Pollyanna? Pollyanna is an orphan. Let’s just start with that. Her mom is dead. And her dad? He is dead. Because she is an orphan she is sent to Vermont to live with her stern and cold aunt, in the attic. This is in the early 1900s, by the way. How do we feel now? One day this cruel aunt punishes Pollyanna by giving her only milk and bread for dinner. Milk. Bread. Orphan. Attic. Pollyanna. Are we getting the point here? Are we feeling proud of ourselves?

In the meantime, Pollyanna has a game called “The Glad Game” that her dead dad taught her. In the game, no matter what situation you are in, you find something that can make you glad. And she encourages everyone in town to play this game. And everyone in the town does play it, even the cranky troublesome people, and they all become glad.

We have a problem with Pollyanna’s glad game, which makes people nicer and happier and more hopeful? We want to run screaming from this?

And then, what happens next in the book? Pollyanna is hit by a car. Let me repeat this: A car ploughs into Pollyanna and injures her so badly she can’t use her legs. Orphan in an attic eating bread hit by car and, basically, no legs.

America today announces that we prohibit any street-cred enhancing profanation of the name “Pollyanna.”

Let’s just take a moment everyone and feel ourselves drenched with the cold water of soul-numbing shame.

And then, and then! Pollyanna decides that it’s cool that she can’t use her legs because at least she had legs that she once could use.

Pollyanna goes to a hospital to learn to walk. Her spirit is indomitable. She does not give up. She does learn to walk. Not because she’s “some Pollyanna” but because she worked at it.

By the end of the book everyone loves being around Pollyanna. Today everyone throws rocks at Pollyanna to show how their being glad is not like Pollyanna’s being glad. I am not Pollyanna? You should be so lucky for people to mistake you for Pollyanna.

The maligning of this girl’s good name has to end. And, at least in our pages, it will end. As the hope-filled month of April commences, America today announces that, similar to our ban on using the terms “conservative” and “liberal” when describing Catholics, we prohibit any street-cred enhancing profanation of the name “Pollyanna.” Good Christian writers, leave this kid alone and find someone new to make fun of.

(We would like to note that we firmly believe our new Pollyanna policy does not make us pollyannaish in the least—though this bears watching.)

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