“Pollyanna” has become a noun meaning an overly optimistic person,but some may use the term without realizing the name is the title character of a best-selling novel.
Eleanor H. Porter’s book was first published in 1913, and anyone who reads the story learns that an eleven-year-old orphan named Pollyanna Whittier often had a difficult time finding something in her life to feel glad about.
We’ll start with Pollyanna’s mother, who had been born into a prominent family, had been expected to marry the wealthiest man in town, and was ostracized for marrying the pastor of a small mission church in a western state. The Rev. Whittier’s family was so poor that all clothing, toys, rugs or pictures had to come from mission barrels of donated items.
Pollyanna had been the only one of the Whittier children to live beyond infancy, and Mrs. Whittier died when her daughter was quite young. The girl was raised by her beloved father and the Ladies’ Aiders – church women in the Ladies’ Aid society. When her father died she was sent to live with her maternal Aunt Polly Harrison.
Aunt Polly was a wealthy forty-year-old spinster who took in Pollyanna because it was her duty to do so, though she had no interest in her sister’s child. She had an attic room prepared for her niece to sleep in, and sent Nancy, her hired girl, to meet the train bringing the unwanted relative. The orphan girl arrived when the summer sun made the attic sweltering hot, but the attic windows had no screens so were not allowed to be opened to cool the room at night, for Aunt Polly didn’t want flies in her house.
Pollyanna was a friendly chatterbox who loved to get to know everyone she met. She found comfort in talking about her father, but Aunt Polly forbade her to mention Rev. Whittier in her presence – so the aunt became one of the few residents in town who didn’t immediately learn about her brother-in-law’s Just Being Glad Game.
The game began when Rev. Whittier asked that a doll be sent in the next mission barrel, but instead of a toy a pair of crutches were received. To lessen his daughter’s disappointment the minister told her to think of something good about the barrel’s contents, and Pollyanna was able to be glad that she hadn’t needed to use the crutches. Soon she discovered that if she tried hard enough she could find something to be glad about in the most trying of times.
When Pollyanna entered her aunt’s house, was walked past beautifully furnished rooms, and then saw her shabby attic room, it took awhile for her to be glad. But then she saw the view from the window, and said she didn’t need pictures on the walls when she could see beauty by looking outside. Despite the Glad Game she cried herself to sleep on her first night in the attic, for her father had gone away to Heaven, and she was so far removed from anyone else in her aunt’s big house.
Pollyanna began teaching the Glad Game to over-worked Nancy, and to Mrs. Snow, an invalid neighbor who had been finding fault with everything for the past fifteen years. And she began greeting the dour man who never spoke to anyone – especially fool girls who insisted on being cheerful. Soon most of the townspeople were trading stories of how the girl with the sunny disposition was making life a little brighter.
The girl tended to see the best of people, but some events troubled her rosy outlook. One day she met ten-year-old Jimmy Bean, who wanted to leave the Orphans’ Home and find a home with a family, where there would be a mother, and not just a matron. Pollyanna was sure her Aunt Polly would take in the boy, but her aunt refused to offer him a home, and called him a dirty begger.
That was a shock to Pollyanna, but she felt the best solution was to go to the local Ladies Aid meeting to find Jimmy a home. Once again she met with refusal, plus she learned some Ladies Aiders were only concerned with having their name at the top of the list of contributers to the foreign missions – a status that would be compromised by helping a boy in their own community.
Our heroine continued on with spreading gladness, and was gratified with the positive change in Mrs. Snow’s outlook on life. Aunt Polly’s heart thawed enough to move Pollyanna out of the attic and into a beautiful bedroom, and even the grumpy man who hated everyone made an exception and became friends with Pollyanna.
But even a loving girl raised on her dear father’s Just Be Glad Game has her breaking point, and Pollyanna’s occurred when she was struck by an automobile and suffered spinal injuries. Pollyanna overheard the doctor say she will never walk again, and becomes so devastated that she is unable to think of anything to be glad about.
Fortunately all the people Pollyanna had been helping began stopping by with messages about how playing the game had made them glad, and it eased their difficulties. She even learned that Jimmy Bean would be getting a real home. Aunt Polly is finally told about the Glad Game and is able to help Pollyanna take up the game once more. And if Aunt Polly could only bring herself to get over a quarrel that took place fifteen years ago there was someone who knew someone who might help Pollyanna walk once more….
Pollyanna is a novel about a likable girl with enough minor faults to make her believable. She tends to talk too much, which often leads to humorous reactions from those around her. At times she does seem a bit too naive and good natured, but I found her story entertaining.
The book can be downloaded free of charge at: