A Little Princess: On Bearing Hardships

When I was younger, I saw four screen adaptations of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (two English, one Tagalog and one Japanese version). To be quite honest, I don’t remember ever being moved by any of them (despite Miss Minchin’s cruelty toward Sara after her father’s death) except for the fact that they’ve all entertained me as a child. So I wasn’t in the least expecting to cry my eyes out as I read. None of the screen adaptations has captured any of the scenes of the book perfectly. It was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s wonderful way of writing that made the story more vivid to me and helped me understand Sara’s circumstances more fully. That or everything just makes me cry nowadays.

Sara Crewe, seven, was sent to Miss Minchin’s seminary for young ladies in England by her father Captain Crewe, after which he went back to India where they live. Miss Minchin secretly disliked Sara but was “far too worldly a woman” to show disdain toward their wealthiest student. In other words, Sara made the school look very desirable. Unlike Mary Lennox (from the book The Secret Garden by the same author), who is also from India and comes from an affluent family, Sara is good-tempered and loves to share her privileges and belongings. After news of Captain Crewe’s death on her eleventh birthday, Sara was forced to become a servant.

I love how the story didn’t focus solely on Sara’s inner strength and bravery, but it dealt more with having to bear any kind of hardships. In Sara’s case, hardships meant being ordered around and scolded by Miss Minchin and the cooks, being ignored by her fellow students, getting physically hurt, wearing clothes that are too tight and too small for her, sleeping in a dingy attic together with the rats and suffering from cold and hunger as she was sometimes forbidden to eat as punishment, as if the others weren’t punishment enough, causing her to get thinner as time passed by.

Before Captain Crewe’s death, back when Sara was a parlor boarder with the finest room, the finest clothes, the finest toys and a French maid, everybody thought highly of her. Her schoolmates enjoyed listening to her imaginative stories and believed her to be a princess. As soon as she became ragged and lonely, everyone seemed to have forgotten about her and chose to take no notice of her. It reminds me of stories of friends losing their money, their business, their job or anything that may seem to bring prestige and losing friends and even relatives in the process. Sara never told anyone how she felt. She bore it all.

Like many people who are experiencing trials, Sara has lost her temper at times and thought ill of others, specifically her friend Ermengarde. Her awkward manner of asking Sara if she was unhappy caused Sara to sarcastically respond with “What do you think?” and even thought of her friend as stupid. Ermengarde in this scene reminds me of times when I as well as others don’t know what to say to anyone who’s struggling or who suddenly finds him- or herself in a difficult situation, and we say the wrong or the stupidest things as a result. I’ve definitely experienced being both—being that person who thought of others as stupid, uncaring and unsupportive and that friend who doesn’t know how to properly react to other people’s struggles. Little by little, as the story progressed, Sara learned that Ermengarde was actually trying to reach out, hoping to retain their friendship. Sara admitted she was just “too proud to try and make friends.”

“You see, now that trials have come, they have shown that I am NOT a nice child. I was afraid they would. Perhaps … that is what they were sent for.”

The screen adaptations I’ve seen have different endings, and despite my disappointment that the book didn’t have the ending I prefer, it was still a joyful one for Sara and an unpleasant one for Miss Minchin. There are many more significant characters I haven’t mentioned, such as Becky and Ram Dass, who have both brought comfort to Sara in different ways, but I decided to focus on what moved me the most. This book is a good reminder that changes can happen in a flash but that all trials eventually come to an end. And as Sara has said, “The worst thing never QUITE comes.”

Published by Sunny Day Reads

I’m Macy. This space is for my love of books and sharing what I learn with you!

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