by Mary Norton
Arrietty goes from being a meek and sheltered girl who has never seen the world beyond her own house to a brave youth who stands up to her worst fears. And, oh yeah, her parents, too. Her drive for independence and courage make her like two other major characters of the novel—Kate, and the Boy.
She's All Grown Up
Arrietty is so used to being dismissed for having the opinions of a child that she can't believe her ears when her mom is all, "The child is right." (6.60)
Seriously, check out her reaction:
Arrietty's eyes grew big. "Oh, no—" she began. It shocked her to be right. Parents were right, not children. Children could say anything, Arrietty knew, and enjoy saying it—knowing always they were safe and wrong. (6.61)
Arrietty's "shock" soon matures into self-assurance and wisdom. She gets used to this whole grown-up business, where her opinion isn't squashed just because she's a youngster. Now she's almost an equal to her parents, and in some cases, she even helps to parent them:
"They [Pod and Homily] are frightened," Arrietty realized; "they are not angry at all—they are very, very frightened." She moved forward. "It's all right—" she began. (14.9)
What's this? Arrietty is playing the parent to her own parents? You betcha. She realizes that although they seem angry that Arrietty is in contact with humans, in reality, they're simply terrified. And that's something she knows how to deal with. Just as a good parent would try to soothe a frightened child, Arrietty tries to comfort them.
Arrietty is not only super brave for standing up to her parents, she's also brave in the face of fears, like when she is confronted with the gigantic Eye of the Boy:
Arrietty stared at the eye. "I'm not going to tell you," she said at last bravely.
"Then I'll hit you with my ash stick!"
"All right," said Arrietty, "hit me!" (9.12-14).
Arrietty is definitely not the meek little creature she once was. She doesn't kowtow to anyone or do anything she doesn't want to, even in the face of physical danger.
But the best part about this newfound courage is that it totally opens her up to awesome new opportunities. Arrietty is brave enough to put her own inherited prejudices aside and befriend the boy, even though her parents have told her to steer clear of humans. Making decisions for yourself, and not just absorbing the information force-fed to you by your parents or other authority figures, is a huge part of growing up, and boy does Arrietty have that part down.
One of the decisions that little Arrietty makes for herself is to seek out freedom, and to see the world from a different perspective. When she finally gets let out of the clock,
She was so full of happiness that, out of Homily's sight, her toes danced on the green moss. Here she was on the other side of the grating—here she was at last, on the outside—looking in! (8.18).
Arrietty wants to have a fresh worldview, to see if the grass is greener on the other side, or at least if it's a different shade. But the best part about checking out the outside world is that it teaches Arrietty a ton about herself, too. As she experiences the world on her own terms, Arrietty matures from a meek sheltered girl to a brave youth with the courage to question prejudice and bring about change in the relationship between humans and borrowers.
A Lot Like Kate
Sure, both Arrietty and Kate are a bit naughty, a bit headstrong, and a bit wild. But the similarities don't stop there.
Kate loves the morning room where Mrs. May lives, and Arrietty, too "was glad to see the morning room: the door luckily had been left ajar and it was fascinating to stand at last in the thick pile of carpet gazing upward at the shelves and pillars and towering gables of the famous overmantel" (12.4).
While that may seem like no more than a passing similarity, it actually packs a rather meaningful punch. See, both girls love losing themselves in imaginative worlds and tales, and the morning room is the ideal place for them to indulge that habit.
And one thing both Kate and Arrietty love to imagine is the end of a story. Kate imagines what happens to the borrowers after they leave Great-Aunt Sophy's house, and Arrietty likes to imagine what has happened to a different family of borrowers, the Overmantels:
So that's where they had lived, she thought, those pleasure loving creatures, remote and gay and self-sufficient […] and they had lived only on breakfast food—[…] crispy bacon and little sips of tea and coffee. Where were they now? Arrietty wondered. Where could such creatures go? (12.4).
What exactly is the point of all this imagining? Glad you asked. We think there's a connection here, between a bold imagination and a bold coming-of-age. What we mean is that, the more these lovely ladies imagine, the more they learn about themselves and the world around them. Where your mind takes you when it's most free, it turns out, says a lot about the person you'll come to be.
A Lot Like the Boy
Stack 'em up. Let's list the similarities between our Arrietty, and her new bestie:
• They both have been deprived of independence.
• They both want a friend.
• They both get in Major Trouble for their friendship.
• They both yearn to learn about the wider world.
• Oh, and they both have the same handwriting. Hmm.
Wait a second. Let's talk about that last one:
"Arrietty used to make her 'e's' like little half-moons with a stroke in the middle—"
"Well?" said Kate.
Mrs. May laughed and took up her work again. "My brother did too," she said. (20.66-68)
Okay, so here's the Million Dollar Question: Is Mrs. May hinting at the fact that the boy and Arrietty are one and the same? Shmoop is definitely suspicious. It's possible that Mrs. May's brother invented the story of the borrowers, and Arrietty herself, when he had rheumatic fever. Or something like that.
To which we say: what? You mean this whole time we've been reading an untrue story? Why? And here we arrive at the real effect of having Arrietty and the boy be so similar in nature: it blurs the line between fantasy and reality, leaving it up to the readers to decide.
Are the borrowers real characters, or are they a figment of the boy's imagination? Did he invent Arrietty on purpose to tell his sisters a story of an adventurous youngster much like himself? The great thing about The Borrowers is that we can read it again and again, and never know for sure.Arrietty's Timeline