DaNae's Reviews > Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

Hitty by Rachel Field
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Feb 17, 11

bookshelves: z11-11-11, 5th-grade-reading-list, adventure, historical-fiction, newbery-medal
Read from February 05 to 08, 2011

She was shaped from a six-inch piece of mountain-ash, carried from Ireland in a peddler’s pack to ward of witches and other forms of evil. In Hitty: her first Hundred Years we travel though the titled century with that little vagabond piece of feminine-shaped ash as she is flung over a good portion of the world. From her respectable beginnings within a puritanical home she moves into situations that would scandalize most proper folk. Among her many incarnations Hitty can résumé graven-idol, snake-charmer, whaler, fashionista, artist’s muse, effigy, and pincushion. Not to mention that half the world scrutinized her underwear.



Hitty’s author, Rachel Field, employs the clever device of Hitty’s memoirs to expose the reader to a wide swash of U.S. and world history. I’m sure the historical sweep was secondary to the creation of the rollicking adventure story. Hitty keeps us in touch with the timeline mainly through her wardrobe changes, along with at least one major historical event, the Civil War. Field also slips in a couple of notable writers: Charles Dickens and John Greenleaf Whittier, to anchor the date.



Using an inanimate being, with no control over her world, can be limiting in a protagonist. Narration was heavier during Hitty’s era than is considered respectable in today’s fiction. Having a protagonist limited in conversational skills seems to have necessitated that the narrator tell the reader everything she should be thinking about the goings-on in the story.



Although Hitty’s conversation is limited, she does have a distinct voice. I would label it ironic-prude. She is often quite funny when commiserating over her fading beauty. “It is a hard world for those of us who are not able to keep our complexions.” (Pg. 107) She was scandalized by the changing fashions of the early 20th century. “. . .the sight of children with bare legs and arms and brief dresses, and ladies with hair and skirts almost as short.” (pg. 197)



Among the vast array of characters that traipsed through Hitty’s life some were more vibrant than others. Oddly the adult characters were better developed than many of the children. It was common for Hitty to tell us the disposition of her new companion rather than show us.



As was the sad norm of the time, Hitty does not fare well in the arena of political correctness. There was the assumption in India that the “little brown people” were waiting to be saved from their heathen ways. The “savages” who took Hitty as their god did not develop beyond the first dimension. Even in Field’s treatment of African-Americans, in which I truly believe she strived to be liberal and open-minded, there was still an implied assumption that she was describing a lesser bit of humanity. The collective “they” was used to group the former slaves on the plantation. She was sure to show that they were now happy and content to be working for wages. She described the plantation Colonel and his daughter’s magnanimous generosity in doling out Christmas presents from the big house. Of course Hitty was also much consoled when she passed from the black hands of little Car’line into the “quality” hands of Miss Hope. I’m a little uncomfortable dishing out to harsh of a judgment in hindsight, as I wonder with what blinders I’m viewing today’s world.



Although there are a few weaknesses when held to today’s standards, I would say that Hitty holds up as an enjoyable story with an engaging, if a bit puffed-up, little heroine. The scope of the story is to be admired and enjoyed.
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