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Protagonist moral development in children’s translated European war novels Hood, Robin Elizabeth


This study evaluated moral dilemmas and Lawrence Kohlberg's (1975) stages of moral reasoning of protagonists in a sample of children's translated European war novels. The sample, consisting of fourteen books, was defined as all children's European war novels published between 1950 and 1984. The content analysis first determined the moral dilemmas in each of the novels by identifying those story situations where two or more moral issues were in conflict. A second procedure evaluated the protagonists' response to the dilemma, making possible the assignment of a Kohlberg level and stage of moral judgement. The collected data were evaluated following two steps. First, the Issues, Levels and Stages were quantitatively analyzed for representation, number, and frequency. In addition, the Issues and Stages were evaluated for those moral issues most frequently paired with each moral stage. The second procedure examined the relationship between the data and selected variables: Era (Era I 1952-1962, Era II 1963-1973, Era III 1974-1984), Sex of author and Sex of protagonist. The findings revealed that moral dilemmas in the European war novels were most often related to issues of Affiliation Roles, Morality and Mores, and Truth. No dilemma situations arose out of conflicts of the moral issues of Sex or Law. All other Kohlberg moral issues were represented at least once in the sample. The predominant stage of moral reasoning in the sample was Stage 2 (serving one's own needs), closely followed by Stage 1 (blind obedience to authority) and Stage 3 (playing the good role). Significantly, these stages reflect the general moral reasoning capabilities of the intended reading audience, ages 8 12 years. While higher stages were represented, they accounted for substantially fewer protagonist resolutions to dilemma situations. With regard to sex of the protagonist, the findings revealed that male characters more frequently resolved their dilemma situations with sophisticated levels of moral reasoning than did female, a factor which may be linked to the type of story. The relationships between moral development and Era appeared to reflect the transition from traditional realism to modern realism in children's fiction. Books written in Era I (1952-1962) contained few or no moral dilemmas. As with other traditional realistic fiction, child protagonists in that era were insulated from the world around them and thus remained relatively unaffected by World War II. Books written in Era II (1963-1973) and Era III (1974-1984), however, showed evidence of portraying children in the modern mode of realism. Unlike Era I, protagonists of these periods encountered large numbers of moral dilemmas and were highly involved in and affected by the war.

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