7 - Just through the looking glass: children's understanding of pretense  pp. 102-114

Just through the looking glass: children's understanding of pretense

By Angeline Lillard

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“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that's all.”

(carroll, 1871/1946, p. 238)

Alice's world through the looking glass, though actually a world of dream, is in some respects like the world of pretend. Just as Humpty-Dumpty can be master of words, making them mean what he wants them to mean, in pretend play children designate what various objects and activities denote. Pretending is a special frame that organizes the activities within it. What goes on in the frame has its own reality, stipulated as the players choose, such that a behavior acted while pretending may have alternative significance while not pretending (Bateson, 1955/1972). This impressive ability to deal in framed worlds is fundamental to pretense (Fein, 1981; Bretherton, 1984). Framing also appears fundamental to other human activities, such as reflecting on dreams and understanding others' minds. Like pretense, another's mental world is framed by that person's prespective. When children learn to pretend, they learn to deal with worlds that are framed differently from the real world. In the looking glass world, nursery rhyme characters come to life, words mean anything you want, and memory can work both backwards and forwards.

The pretend world is not entirely unconstrained.