Study Guide

Pippi Longstocking Gender

By Astrid Ericsson Lindgren


"As soon as my papa has built himself a boat he will come and get me, and I'll be a cannibal princess. Heigh-ho, won't that be exciting?" (1.4)

Okay, so lots of girls fantasize about being princesses, otherwise there would be no Disney princesses and no Princess Diaries. But a cannibal princess? This hints right away that Pippi isn't exactly a typical girl.

Annika never fussed when she didn't get her own way, and she always looked pretty in her little well-ironed cotton dresses; she took the greatest care not to get them dirty. (1.10)

Right after we hear that Pippi wants to be a cannibal princess and that her "family" consists of a monkey and a horse, we get this quote about Annika. You know, just in case we forgot how girls are supposed to act.

Bengt turned around and saw a little girl he had never seen before […] "Boys," he said, "boys, let Willie alone and take a look at this girl. What a babe!" […] "Have you ever seen hair like hers? Red as fire! And such shoes […]" (2.54-56)

Big mistake, Bengt—big mistake. Bengt the bully, like so many others, assumes Pippi—being a "babe" and all—will be an easy target for ridicule. Bengt needs to adjust his attitude about women.

Then all five boys joined hands around Pippi, jumping up and down and screaming, "Redhead! Redhead!"

Pippi stood in the middle of the ring and smiled in the friendliest way. Bengt had hoped she would get mad and begin to cry. At least she ought to have looked scared. (2.57-58)

Yeah, you would kind of expect a nine-year-old girl to cry or look scared, but Pippi's all about breaking down those expectations. You can judge a book by its cover, and you can't judge Pippi by her gender, age, or size.

[…] she lifted the horse down on the ground and they rode on him, all three. At first Annika was afraid and didn't want to, but when she saw what fun Tommy and Pippi were having, she let Pippi lift her up on the horse's back. (3.43)

There are two things we like about this quote. First that Annika—who is scared—decides to take a risk when she sees how much fun everyone else is having, and second that it's Pippi who lifts her onto the horse's back. We have to think that having a gal-pal like Pippi would inspire even the most timid young ladies to step out of their comfort zones. Just for kicks, take a minute to think how this scene (and others like it) might be different if it was always Tommy who saved the day. Would it matter? Why? And how?

[…] right in front of the gate stood a cow who looked as if nothing would persuade her to move. Annika yelled at her, and Tommy bravely went up and tried to push her away, but she just stood there staring at the children with her big cow eyes. To put an end to the matter, Pippi set down her basket and lifted the cow out of the way. (6.16)

We hate generalities just as much as the next Shmoopster, but in this case, Annika does what is generally expected of girls in conflict—she uses words. Tommy does what is generally expected of boys in conflict—he uses physical strength, or at least tries to. And Pippi? Well she uses physical strength, which is more of a boy thing, but she uses it in a way no boy—or man or woman—possibly could. Pippi's strength transcends regular human strength, and Pippi transcends gender.

"Oh, no, you couldn't," said Annika, "he's the strongest man in the world."

"Man, yes," said Pippi, "but I am the strongest girl in the world, remember that." (7.54-55)

In the world of Pippi Longstocking, the strongest girl beats the strongest man every time. Of course, what's really interesting here is that it's Annika who Pippi has to remind of this. Annika, being a girl, is quite used to having boys and men be stronger than she is—but Pippi, who is also a girl, is not. And that's kind of cool.

"That must be the girl," whispered Thunder-Karlsson to Bloom. "And no doubt she sleeps soundly. But where in the world is Nilsson, do you suppose?" (8.23)

The burglars, like so many others before them, underestimate Pippi because she's a little girl. The one they're worried about is Mr. Nilsson, who—because of the Mr. in front of his name—they assume is the "man of the house." Little do they know that Mr. Nilsson is actually the monkey of the house, and it's the little girl (ahem, the strongest girl in the world) with whom they should be concerned.

Pippi stretched her legs out in front of her and placed the plate of cakes between her toes. Then she merrily dunked cakes in her coffee cup and stuffed so many in her mouth at once that she couldn't have uttered a word no matter how hard she tried. […] The ladies looked disapprovingly at her, but that didn't bother her. (9.22)

You don't need to be Miss Manners to realize that Pippi's behavior at the ladies' coffee party is a bit off the mark when it comes to proper etiquette. Of course, she's not bothered by the ladies' disapproving looks yet—mainly because she hasn't noticed that she's not blending in. When she does, she actually tears up. Being ladylike—at least the way society has defined it—doesn't work for Pippi, and this scene points out one more way Pippi doesn't fit into a traditional gender role.

Tommy didn't want to show that he was frightened, and in a way he really did want to see a ghost. That would be something to tell the boys at school! Besides, he consoled himself with the thought that the ghosts probably wouldn't dare to hurt Pippi. (11.48)

We wouldn't dare to hurt Pippi either (who would?), but this situation is really cool because instead of the typical dynamic—where a girl feels safer with a guy around or a guy feels safer with a bigger guy around—we've got a guy feeling safer because there's a girl around. It's more common in books today, but remember—Pippi was published in 1950.