Study Guide

Pippi Longstocking Society and Class

By Astrid Ericsson Lindgren

Society and Class

"Tomorrow morning I'll begin school."

Tommy and Annika clapped their hands with delight. "Hurrah! We'll wait for you outside our gate at eight o'clock."

"Oh, no," said Pippi. "I can't begin school as early as that." (4.15-17)

Ha. Even when she's getting ready to do what society wants her to do, Pippi is determined to do it in her own way and on her own schedule, which begs the question: is she really doing what society wants her to do?

All the children sat looking at Pippi, who lay flat on the floor, drawing to her heart's content. "But, Pippi," said the teacher impatiently, "why in the world aren't you drawing on your paper?"

"I filled that long ago. There isn't room enough for my whole horse on that little snip of paper." (4.49-50)

There isn't room on the paper for Pippi's horse, and there isn't room in the school for her way of doing things. That "little snip of paper," as Pippi refers to it, is highly symbolic—think of it as a little snip of freedom. The teacher has told the children they can draw whatever they want… right here, in this space, with these crayons, at your desks. A little freedom, a little compromise. Pippi's great at the former. Not so good at the latter.

"Have I behaved badly? […] You understand, Teacher, don't you, that when you have a mother who's an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don't know just how to behave in school with all the apples and the ibexes." (4.56)

Here Pippi reminds us just how far outside of regular society she's spent most of her life to this point. We imagine she's right—it would be pretty difficult to go from life on the sea to life in an elementary school classroom in the blink of an eye. Especially when you've got a horse parked outside waiting to carry you home.

"What if I can't behave myself?"

"Of course you can," said Annika.

"Don't you be too certain about that," said Pippi. "You can be sure I'll try, but I have noticed several times that people don't think I know how to behave even when I'm trying as hard as I can. At sea we were never so fussy about things like that." (9.5-7)

We get the feeling that the rules were very different at sea and not nearly as constricting as the rules in this tiny town. The important thing here, though, is the notion that Pippi isn't willfully misbehaving or revolting against society. She's not trying to stand out or make trouble—she honestly doesn't know what is expected of her.

The ladies were talking quietly with one another, and Tommy and Annika were sitting on the sofa looking at an album. Everything was so peaceful.

Suddenly, the peace was shattered. (9.12-13)

Just in case we hadn't noticed that Pippi doesn't quite fit in to the traditional society of this town, this quote makes it pretty clear. Mrs. Settergren, her friends, Tommy, and Annika are all able to co-exist in perfect peace. Pippi? Shatters it. (And remember—this is one of those times she's trying her hardest to be "one of the ladies.")

At that moment Ella, the maid, came in with the coffee pot, and Mrs. Settergren said, "Please come and have some coffee."

"First!" cried Pippi and was up by the table in two skips. She heaped as many cakes as she could onto a plate, threw five lumps of sugar into a coffee cup, emptied half the cream pitcher into her cup, and was back in her chair with her loot even before the ladies reached the table. (9.20-21)

Um, yeah—this might be appropriate at a Coney Island hot dog eating competition, but in a living room festooned with lace doilies? Not so much.

[Following Pippi's first tale of her grandmother's maid, Malin]: Pippi looked around and smiled pleasantly. "Yes, that was Malin for you," she said and twiddled her thumbs. The ladies acted as if they had heard nothing. They continued to talk. (9.35-36)

This is where it gets painful—these ladies find Pippi's behavior so out of line they won't even acknowledge her. In their eyes, she's doubly out of place, breaking two societal rules at once: the one that dictates appropriate behavior at a ladies' coffee party, and the one that says children shouldn't speak until they're spoken to—or, if you prefer, children should be seen, not heard.

Pippi can't win here. Because she's trying to fit with the ladies, she can't take her place with her friends, and because she's a child (and because she's Pippi), she can't take her place with the ladies. What's a true individual to do?

Pippi looked at her in astonishment and her eyes slowly filled with tears. "That's just what I was afraid of," she said. "That I couldn't behave properly. It's no use to try; I'll never learn. I should have stayed on the ocean." (9.49)

The ocean again. It seems to be the only place where Pippi has really belonged in her life, which is interesting, because the ocean is kind of an in-between place. Most people cross the ocean on their way to land—they don't stay there—but for Pippi, the in-between place, the place where no country's rules and laws apply, is the only place she seems to fit.

Presently she noticed the little boys up in the attic. To her astonishment they looked as if they weren't enjoying the fire at all. That was more than she could understand… (10.13)

That's how far away Pippi is from what most of us would consider a "normal" perspective. She's just as unable to understand the boys' point of view as the crowd is unable to understand what seems to be callousness on her part. But Pippi isn't being callous, she isn't looking up at the boys in the burning building and sneering, "What's their problem?" She really doesn't get it.

What is terrifying for everyone in the crowd—and the boys in the building—looks like fun to Pippi. Is it any wonder she has trouble finding her place in society?

"Three cheers for Pippi Longstocking! Long may she live!" cried the fire chief.

"Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray!" cried all the people—three times. But there was one person there who cheered four times.

It was Pippi Longstocking. (10.40-42)

Amazingly, it is Pippi's individualism that finally secures her a place in the society of this little village. For most of the book, her… ahem… unique perspective makes her stand out like a broken nose. But in the end, when her individual abilities and rare outlook save the day, the people of the town finally seem ready to accept her as one of their own. Though they still may not be ready to invite her to their coffee parties.