Study Guide

Pippi Longstocking Principles

By Astrid Ericsson Lindgren

Principles

Pippi thought a moment. "You're right," she said sadly, "I am lying."

"It's wicked to lie," said Annika, who had at last gathered up enough courage to speak.

"Yes, it's very wicked to lie," said Pippi, even more sadly. "But I forget it now and then." (1.20-22)

Annika, who we know is very well-dressed and clean and proper, is kind of set up as the pinnacle of principled living, so it's fitting that she's the one to remind Pippi how wicked it is to lie. Pippi's response, however, suggests that maybe Annika needs to relax a little and embrace another set of principles: the ability to laugh, the compassion to forgive, and the humility to admit when you're wrong.

"No, no, Pippi we can't take an old gentleman! We couldn't possibly," said Tommy. "Anyway, whatever would we do with him?"

"What would we do with him? Oh, there are plenty of things we could do with him. […] But if you don't want to, I don't care. Though it does bother me to think that some other Thing-Finder may come along and grab him." (2.36-39)

Pippi rarely gives in on things that are important to her—just ask the police officers—but she gives in immediately when Tommy objects to taking an old man during their thing-finding expedition. Which leads us to believe she was just having a bit of fun. It seems like Pippi does this a lot, actually—like when she knows the capital of Portugal but doesn't give it up right away, or when she hides things for Tommy and Annika to find and pretends to be surprised about it. Could be there's more principle in Pippi than meets the eye.

When they were back home in Pippi's garden, Pippi said, "Dear me, how awful! Here I found two beautiful things and you didn't get anything. You must hunt a little more." (2.63)

After Tommy and Annika find their treasures and go home, they wonder if maybe Pippi planted the necklace and the journal for them to find. What do you think? If she did hide the objects, she had to have done it long before Tommy and Annika ever showed up that morning. What does that suggest about Pippi and about her plans for the day (and about her principles)?

"You are cowards. Five of you attacking one boy! That's cowardly. Then you begin to push a helpless girl around. Oh, how mean!" (2.60)

We love that Pippi refers to herself as a helpless girl. That's a laugh, but then Bengt had no reason to suspect Pippi was anything other than average which, when faced with a ring of six older boys, would make her somewhat helpless. And she is a girl. So by phrasing it that way, Pippi makes it clear that she's standing up on behalf of girls—and underdogs—everywhere. Equality, kindness, not taking advantage of those that may be weaker? Those are some pretty good principles.

"What's the matter? You don't really think that I'm sitting here telling lies, do you? Just tell me if you do," said Pippi threateningly and rolled up her sleeves.

"Oh, no, indeed," said the girl, terrified. […]

"But it's just what I'm doing. I'm lying so my tongue is turning black […]. You mustn't let people fool you so easily." (5.29-31)

Pippi turns her lies around pretty quickly here, making them a lesson in gullibility and self-confidence. If instead of saying no out of fear, the girl had said yes, how do you think Pippi would have responded?

"Once in Arabia he [Mr. Nilsson] ran away from me and took a position as a maidservant to an elderly widow. That last was a lie, of course," she added after a pause. (6.47)

Here we see that Pippi can both respect Annika's stance that lying is wicked, and maintain her zest for storytelling. Sure it's a lie, and she's fine with admitting that, but it's also a pretty amusing idea, and isn't that fun? It's kind of like she's trying to help Annika see that while it's wrong to lie about important stuff, tall tales aren't all bad.

"What a stupid bull!" said Pippi to Annika, who was crying uncontrollably. "He ought to know he can't act like that. He'll get Tommy's white sailor suit all dirty. I'll have to go and talk some sense into the stupid animal." (6.50)

Pippi's ideas of what's right and wrong are interesting at times, to say the least. Most people would be worried for Tommy's safety in this situation, but for Pippi it comes down to a matter of principle: the bull isn't being very respectful, and he may dirty Tommy's clothes, which Pippi knows would be an unfortunate circumstance for her friend.

Even more interesting is the way Pippi extends principles to animals as a matter of fact, which could suggest another possible Pippi principle: that people and animals should live in harmony.

"Well, well, so you aren't going to be a maidservant this time?" said Pippi, stroking his back. "Oh, that was a lie, that's true," she continued. "But still, if it's true, how can it be a lie?" she argued. "You wait and see, it's going to turn out to be true that he was a maidservant in Arabia after all […]." (6.63)

Ha—we love this. Once again Pippi's playing with truth and lies and right and wrong, suggesting that things aren't always as black and white as they may seem.

As they were going out of the door Pippi came running after them and gave them each a gold piece. "These you have honestly earned," she said. (8.64)

If nothing else, you have to agree that Pippi has a strong work ethic. She cooks and cleans and maintains her household, cares for a couple of high maintenance pets, and spent nine years adventuring on the sea to earn her gold pieces. And she's not about to allow anyone else to help themselves to money they haven't earned. But after employing the burglars for the evening, she's happy to give them their due.

And as so often happens at coffee parties, the ladies began to talk about their servants. Apparently, they had not been able to get very good servants, for the were not at all satisfied with them, and they agreed that it rally was better not to have any servants at all. (9.33)

Hm. Gossiping? Talking ill of their servants and claiming it's better not to have servants while still employing servants? Seems a bit duplicitous and malicious and certainly not "ladylike" at all. And yet, these people are ladies of the middle and upper class—people who are considered to be principled, pillars of the community. So… what's wrong with this picture?