Study Guide

Pippi Longstocking Isolation

By Astrid Ericsson Lindgren


Way out at the end of a tiny little town was an old overgrown garden, and in the garden was an old house, and in the house lived Pippi Longstocking. She was nine years old, and she lived there all alone. (1.1)

Couldn't be clearer than this about the fact that Pippi's house is off the beaten path and she lives there alone. Sure Pippi seems pretty happy with her dwelling, but you can't get away from the fact that she's a little girl in a big house by herself. At twenty-nine, or even nineteen, that might be nice. But at nine? You tell us.

Her mother had died when Pippi was just a tiny baby and lay in a cradle and howled so that nobody could go anywhere near her. (1.2)

Two things: no mom and no comfort. It's bad enough that her mom died when she was a baby, but that second part? About her crying so loud nobody could get close to her? Not even her dad? That just breaks our hearts.

"Have you ever seen hair like hers? Red as fire! And such shoes," Bengt continued. "Can't I borrow one? I'd like to go out rowing and I haven't any boat." (2.56)

Red hair is rare, and lots of redheads have a hard road because of the way it makes them stand out. Pippi is no exception, at least in that it gets her teased and judged. She may be an exception when it comes to the way she deals with it, though.

When Pippi was sitting on the edge of the bed, taking off her shoes, she looked at them thoughtfully and said, "He was going out rowing, he said, that old Bengt." She snorted disdainfully. "I'll teach him to row, indeed I will. Another time." (2.71)

See that? We always want to believe that Pippi is indestructible, that nothing bothers her. She got the best of Bengt and his band of bullies, and everything turned out fine. Case closed. Except that this statement shows that the altercation is still on her mind when she crawls into bed later. And she still seems upset. So maybe Pippi does get bothered once in a while. And maybe it would be nice for her to have someone to sing her to sleep on those occasions so she didn't have to do it herself.

Then the teacher said she understood and didn't feel annoyed with Pippi any longer, and maybe Pippi could come back to school when she was a little older. Pippi positively beamed with delight. (4.57)

Pippi beams with delight because someone has finally offered her a little bit of acceptance and a place where she might one day fit in. Sure Tommy and Annika are good friends, but remember: they fit in at school and at coffee parties and circuses. People don't chastise them for behaving badly or suggest they don't belong—things that happen to Pippi on a fairly regular basis.

Then they heard the "ding-dong" that meant the bell was ringing for dinner at Tommy's and Annika's house.

"Oh bother!" said Tommy. "Now we've got to go home." (5.74-75)

Ask not for whom the bell ding-dongs; it ding-dongs for Tommy and Annika. But not for Pippi. Okay, the dinner bell is a little weird since they're next door, but it's apparently the Swedish equivalent to having your mom stick her head out the window and yell for you. Which no one ever does for Pippi. Tommy and Annika have a family to go home to. Pippi has pets to feed. And she has to feed herself, too. (We're guessing there isn't any good Thai takeout near Villa Villekulla.)

"Horrible child!" hissed the ringmaster between his teeth. "Get out of here!"

Pippi looked at him sadly. "Why are you mad at me?" she asked. "What's the matter? I thought we were here to have fun." (7. 35-36)

Sadly. See that? While it's true that not much gets Pippi down, situations like this generally do. She gets very sad when the teacher tells her she shouldn't be allowed at school, and she tears up when Mrs. Settergren tells her never to come back if she can't behave better. How do you think you'd react if a ringmaster at a circus hissed, "Get out of here," at you? It can't be a very pleasant thing to hear—especially when you're hearing it over and over again.

"You must never come here again," said Mrs. Settergren, "if you can't behave any better than this."

Pippi looked at her in astonishment and her eyes slowly filled with tears. (9.47-48)

Okay, so this is like the third (or fourth or fifth) time Pippi is told, in no uncertain terms, that she doesn't belong. And just like each of the other times, Pippi responds with sadness. It can't be fun to keep hearing that people want you to go away and not come back unless you can change something about yourself that you don't know how to change.

One Sunday afternoon Pippi sat wondering what to do. Tommy and Annika had gone to a tea party with their mother and father, so she knew she couldn't expect a visit from them. (10.1)

After her performance at the coffee party, it'll probably be a while before Pippi gets invited to another adult social event. If ever. Tommy and Annika, on the other hand, are children who know how to behave in such situations, which means that they will continue to be invited, which will leave Pippi with plenty more afternoons to sit wondering what to do.

[Pippi] pretended she was a sardine in a sardine box, and it was a shame Tommy and Annika weren't there so they could have been sardines too. (10.2)

Lest you think Pippi's not bothered by her friends' absence, picture what's happening here: Pippi, after spending the day not really sure what to do with herself while her friends are away, has crawled into a woodbox and pulled the cover down, pretending to be the only sardine in a sardine box. The whole thing about sardines is that they're crammed in the box so tightly that they're piled on top of each other. But Pippi is alone. The lone sardine. Now that's isolation.