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Censorship and Writing: An Analysis of "Harriet the Spy"

Updated on September 24, 2015
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.

Locked Journal
Locked Journal | Source

No matter how old we are or how long we have been writing, the real issue with putting our thoughts on paper is how others may respond if they read it. This is especially true when a writer is too honest. Society may attack the author. Often times, this happens even if they share the same opinions. Many readers are too afraid to write it themselves, so they try to censor the ones who were brave enough to expose it.

In Harriet the Spy, the main character, Harriet (Michelle Trachtenberg) is blamed because one of her enemies took her notebook, and read it aloud to the entire class. Her friends, Sport (Gregory Smith) and Janie (Vanessa Lee Chester) are on her side until they find out the few negative thoughts Harriet has about them. Denial is an element of the story because everyone secretly has at least some negative opinions of their friends, but a good friend will still support them, anyway. The only difference here is they know about those inner thoughts.

Golly: You wrote down the truth in your notebook and your friends who weren't supposed to see it did.

Open Journal
Open Journal | Source

Marion Hawthorne

Marion (Charlotte Sullivan) exposes Harriet's journal for her own personal gain. She's simply blackmailing Harriet because they are enemies, and convincing the class to hate her just makes Marion feel more powerful. They do not realize Harriet is not a selfish or bad person nor do they understand that Marion's intentions are purely meant to make herself feel better. Just as in politics, having power over the public is the key to success. It isn't about one's true intention, but how well they sell themselves.

Marion is used to ruling her class. Year after year she is re-elected as editor of the school newspaper, but her writing lacks the same depth as Harriet's. Marion writes to impress her readers while Harriet writes because it's her passion to observe people and report about them. Other people fascinate her in a way they don't fascinate Marion. Throughout the story, Harriet's writing opens the audience to new perspectives in which to see the other characters. So, it would make more sense for Harriet to put her love for writing to use by being the editor.

Marion: Harriet, sit over there until we decide what to do with you next.

Assorted Pens
Assorted Pens | Source

Dr. Wagner

Harriet is used to being the observer in whatever setting she finds herself. So, when she has an appointment with her new psychiatrist, Dr. Wagner (Roger Clown) she is put in the uncomfortable situation of being the observed. What's more is she doesn't have permission to know what he is writing about her. After the way the other kids have been bullying her, she worries he won't be an ally, either. Since he is in an authoritative position, in an attempt to find out what is being written, she uses a sympathetic approach by warning him that writing negative thoughts about other people could ruin his reputation. Anyone can have these concerns in a work or home environment.

Harriet: I'm just telling you, it's tough getting away with the nasty kind, these days.

Revealing Gossip

To take back the power that Marion stole from her, Harriet reveals what she overheard her parents saying about Marion's father. Apparently, Marion's father left three years ago to live in Amsterdam; therefore, Marion's published articles in the school newspaper about horseback riding with him is all fictional. So, even if Harriet's writing was hurtful toward her friends and peers, she tells the truth and has good intention. Meanwhile, Marion wants everyone to fear and admire her.

Harriet: I heard my parents talking. You don't have a father. All those stories of horseback riding are garbage. You made them all up.

Image courtesy of Janaka Dharmasena /
Image courtesy of Janaka Dharmasena / | Source

A New Direction

Just as in a Democracy, allowing other opinions for the public to consider makes it possible for society to evolve. By the class having more than one choice for editor it changes what the class will read about. When Harriet is elected the new editor, her article gives attention to a variety of people in their school and town instead of boasting about herself the way Marion would. In addition, she uses her power to publicly apologize for the harm she caused, unintentionally, to her friends and classmates, and she praises them for their accomplishments.

Boy with Purple Socks: If we only listen to one person's opinion we may never get anywhere new.

Inspiration for All Ages

The book and film adaptation have the ability to inspire its audience, kids and adults alike, to be themselves no matter how society responds. It encourages individuality, leadership, and diversity. It's a timeless story about what it's like to be an outsider who is surrounded by manipulated peers. It has a beautiful message about acceptance and forgiveness of friends even when it's hard.

Who is your favorite "Harriet the Spy" character?

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