Pollyanna’s Debt of Honor

//by Harriet Lummis Smith//published 1927//


The fifth Glad Book picks up a few years after the conclusion of Pollyanna’s Jewels.  The Pendletons are still living in a Boston suburb, and although the children are all a little older, things seem to be more or less the same.  However, the neighborhood is intrigued when new neighbors move into the house across the street from Pollyanna and her family.  A father and daughter, the young woman is strangely shy, claiming to be to invalidish to have company, but seen walking briskly in and out of her house and heading off on drives in a way that doesn’t seem to be sickly at all.  Pollyanna soon manages to meet and befriend Lorraine, and is determined to help her overcome her troubles.

As those of you who have read my other Glad book reviews know, I am thoroughly enjoying this series.  The characters, while old-fashioned, are endearing.  Pollyanna has transformed from a bubbly, happy child to a kind, thoughtful adult.  Her determined optimism is a foundation of her character, but isn’t overdone or pushy.  At the same time, Pollyanna has firm morals and beliefs and is unafraid to stand up for them when the need arises.  She is no milk-and-water miss, as the saying goes.  While modern feminists would look down on her, I actually believe that Pollyanna is an excellent representative of true femininity – strong, independent, intelligent, and well-informed, while at the same time thoughtful, kind, intuitive, and gentle.  Pollyanna would never say that she was better than her husband, or that he was better than her – she completely understands that they are simply different, and that it is, in fact, this very difference that enables them to be such a wonderful match, as their strengths and weaknesses complement and bolster each other.

These are not stories full of high drama.  They don’t have a strong, driving plot that will keep you awake at nights.  However, there is a pleasant simplicity to the stories.  The dialogue is natural and engaging, and the characters face problems that somehow transcend the nearly hundred years since the book’s publication date, and become oddly applicable to modern life.

One thing that I love about Pollyanna is her fearlessness in defending what she believes to be right and true, even if it means standing up to people she loves and respects.  In this story, their old friend James Carew, now a famous author, writes a book that Pollyanna disagrees with.  James has followed what Pollyanna believes to be the deplorableness of  modern times by writing what his publishers tell him will sell – a story of loose morals, where those who do wrong are rewarded, and those who try to say otherwise are portrayed as narrow-minded and ridiculous.  An altercation comes to a head when James’s secretary, an impressionable young woman, nearly runs away with a married man.  Pollyanna confronts James:

“Pollyanna, you can’t be serious.  You can’t mean you hold James responsible because a crazy girl decided to follow the example of one of his characters” [James’s wife, Sadie, said].

“I  hold him responsible for making respectability seem tame and cowardly, and immorality romantic and beautiful.  Here’s a young girl who naturally respects James and his opinions.  Day after day she is saturated with ideas that are upsetting to anybody so inexperienced.  Aren’t the people in ‘Growing Pains’ [James’s book] who are shocked when Mrs. Rutledge leaves her husband for her lover, the meanest characters in the book, narrow and small and Pharisaical?”

She looked James in the eye and waited until he answered slowly, “Why, yes, I suppose they are.”

“All the nice people practically condone her conduct.  At least it doesn’t make any difference in their attitude towards her, does it?”

Pollyanna’s perspective is one that is probably a bit startling for the modern reader.  We’re now multiple generations into the attitude that says that people should do whatever they want, whatever makes them happy, and that they should be able to do so completely free of judgment.  But I think that Pollyanna has an important point.  We’ve somehow gotten to this place where if anyone dares to say they don’t believe something is “moral” or “right,” then that person is immediately labeled as “intolerant” and “narrow-minded” and “prejudiced.”  Pollyanna’s character may have strong views on the sacredness of marriage vows, but that doesn’t make her intolerant, narrow-minded, or prejudiced.  Instead, she is kind, generous, and giving.  She welcomes all sorts of people into her circle, reaching out to those in need.  But she doesn’t do it by patting them on the head and telling them that every decision they’ve ever made was the right one.  She does it by helping them to see that when one makes wrong, selfish decisions, one has hard consequences to face.  But if one faces them and tries to make things square, life has a way of straightening itself back out.

Another conversation in this story that really struck me was one wherein Pollyanna and speaking with Lorraine.  Lorraine was in a car accident and her face was severely scarred.  Hence, she doesn’t wish to be seen/speak with anyone, and it is slowly embittering and destroying her life.  Throughout the story, Pollyanna tries to help her to see that beauty is not the cornerstone of a woman’s worth.

“I’m going to tell you something surprising.  I’m really glad not to be a beauty ….  A woman who is loved for her beauty and nothing else, must be almost afraid to look in the mirror every morning, for when her beauty goes, everything goes with it.  But hundreds of thousands of women like me know we are loved for something independent of our looks as our bodies are independent of the clothes we wear.  I don’t mean to get wrinkled or lose my teeth any sooner than I must, but Jimmy wouldn’t stop loving me on that account any more than he’d stop loving me if I put on an unbecoming dress.”

These are not perfect books.  Sometimes I roll my eyes at a plot line, and sometimes there are too many little “funny” children’s anecdotes, but overall, these books are of a type similar to Louisa May Alcott.  They are strong, sturdy little books that know exactly where they stand and are unafraid to be there.  They emphasize family values, marital fidelity, and clean fun.  They remind the reader that these are things within the grasp of every person, no matter where they live, how much money they have, or any other physical circumstance.  We all have the ability to find the good in every situation, and to live every day glad to be living, and glad to  be living with those we love.