Adoptees in Fiction


Comment on how adoption is portrayed in fiction, either as a fiction reader or writer. Adoption in classic fiction often centers on the orphan experience, from Oliver Twist and Little Men, to orphan Jane Eyre living with her aunt and cousins. Today there’s the Twilight series and others that use adoption to explain “families” comprised of various vampires. Talk about other examples of adoption used as a plot device in fiction. What types of adoption stories or adopted characters have resonated with you? Or haven’t? Are the feelings and experiences described authentically, accurately? 

I was obsessed with orphan storylines as a kid. Some of my favorite books included: The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, and Anne of Green Gables. I know now, as an adult, that I was drawn to these storylines because I was trying to work out some of my own feelings around abandonment and family and perseverance.

Even the games that I played as a kid were storylines around adoption. So my siblings and I were always playing, “orphans” or “lost kids,” where we had been separated from our family and we were trying to get “home.” I wonder if my parent’s had psychological training they might have noticed these play themes and gotten us counseling, but, alas, they did not. When I met Boof he was surprised that my childhood was spent playing “orphanage,” as that storyline never crossed his mind as something to play pretend when he and his sisters were children.

But it seems like, since the dawn of time, stories of orphans have been popular. Mythology, folklore, fairy-tales…Disney. From Oedipus to Romulus/Remus, to Mowgli from the Jungle Book or Little Orphan Annie, Harry Potter or Superman, there is something appealing to people…and I think it’s about overcoming hardship and the search for identity and home and family. Characters being separated tragically from their family from a young age provides a great backdrop for exploring the themes of identity and perseverance, that can’t as easily be found in other storylines. Like the Alex Haley quote goes:

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we came from.”

The adoptee storyline in fiction is one of the reasons that I resonated so deeply with BJ Lifton’s A Journey of the Adopted Self: A Quest for Wholeness. In the book she looks at myth and fictional adoptees and shows how it is quite the archetypal character.

I wonder what other examples of orphans/adoptees/adoptive families can be found in literature. What list could we come up with if we put our brains together?

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