Conflicting Messages

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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However, that very pleasure and desire provide the rationale for why, more often than not, sweets in children’s stories bear complex, conflicting messages—of abundance and scarcity, desire and restraint, obedience and disobedience. In Little House on the Prairie, when Mr. Edwards swims the Verdigris River to bring Laura and Mary candy and cakes from Santa Claus, the sweets highlight scarcity. The awed pleasure with which Laura tastes her one stick of candy, or notices the pure white flour and sugar of her tiny cake, is born of their rarity. She tastes her candy right away, “just one lick.” But that is not enough for Wilder’s story; she goes on to comment, “But Mary was not so greedy. She didn’t take even one lick of her stick.” Even in the context of scarcity, she implies, where there is pleasure, there can be sin; indeed, the possibility for reprehensible self-indulgence in relation to sweets is a theme that is thoroughly mined throughout children’s literature.