All of us, at some point of time in our lives, have loved fairy tales. I still love them. A fairy tale is not a way to escape reality. In fact it makes reality easier to bear. Fairy tales are born out of imagination, and without imagination, the world has no meaning.
‘A Little Princess’ is the tale of imagination, friendship, love, faith and kindness. Here, the princess does not have a fairy godmother, yet she experiences magic. She does not live in a castle guarded by a witch who has cast spells to imprison her, but she bravely faces the pain and struggles of being a prisoner.
Captain Crewe’s wife passed away giving birth to their daughter, little Sara Crewe. Sara lived with her father in India, where he was part of the British Army. The climate of India was considered too harsh for British children. Therefore the British families sent their children to England. Sara Crewe was not an exception. Her father took her to Miss Minchin’s seminary in London.
Captain Crewe was wealthy, and he so loved his daughter that he showered all kinds of luxuries on her without a second thought. On Captain Crewe’s orders, a well furnished private room with a sitting room was given to Sara at the seminary. She had her private carriage, an attendant and all the beautiful possessions a girl could wish for– exquisite dresses, toys and lots of books.
Sara was not at all spoiled by the abundance of wealth. She was a kind, intelligent and dignified child. She loved reading and telling stories. Her power of imagination was so strong that she was immune to all the jealous remarks of her class mate Lavinia. Miss Minchin was secretly envious of Sara’s wealth, wisdom and good nature, but she never expressed it. Rather she treated Sara as a show pupil and tried to please her as much as she could lest her father might be displeased.
Sara made friends with Ermengarde, Lottie, and Becky. Ermengarde used to have trouble learning her lessons, Lottie was a little girl who often threw tantrums and Becky was a poor scullery maid. Lavinia and her friends mocked Sara by calling her ‘Princess Sara’.
Sara might not have been a real princess, but in her heart she believed she was. Her life completely changed when she received the news of her father’s death and learned that he went bankrupt. Miss Minchin revealed her true self by being as mean as one could possibly be.
All of Sara’s possessions were taken away. She was driven out of her own room and put into a dingy attic room. She was underfed and overworked. She was forbidden from speaking to other girls. During those times only Ermengarde, Lottie and Becky secretly kept meeting her.
Even in this miserable situation, she did not stop believing she was a princess.
Her life takes a new turn when an Indian gentleman arrives in the neighbourhood.
I leave the rest of the story for you to explore.
Sara’s sufferings, her encounter with poverty and hunger, her loneliness and despair poignantly touched my heart. I was in awe of her unshakable faith. It was like a silent rebellion against adversity and cruelty. Nothing could break her down. Miss Minchin practiced cruelty on her in every possible way, but Sara’s dignity troubled her.
I was moved by Sara’s act of kindness towards the poor hungry girl in front of the baker’s shop. She herself was hungry, yet she gave the larger part of her own food to the shabby looking girl.
I was heartbroken when Sara walked the streets in biting cold, looking through the windows into the houses, imagining how warm and comfortable it would have been inside them.
Frances Hodgson Burnett enchants the readers with her beautiful storytelling. This is not just a children’s story about a little girl. There is something deep, and something vast. Everything felt so real, that after finishing this book, I stared at the ceiling and thought about how silly my problems were. My worries seemed trivial. My attitude towards my own life had been something I can now laugh at.
Growing up has taught us to be cynical and insecure about the smallest things, and Sara taught us to believe in all that is good in the world.