This book studies the dialectic relationship between the image of the child and the toy in literary depictions of childhood in 19th- and 20th- century Anglo-American fiction. Drawing from the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, D.W. Winnicott, and Sudhir Kakar, it analyses themes such as the heterogeneity of childhood and the construction of the ideals of childhood. It explores the linkages between the ideals of childhood in Britain and its travel to America and further dissemination in British India. It discusses the established tropes of childhood such as innocence, a formative period, the centrality of play, and the presence of a toy to argue that the mores of childhood are culturally constructed and lead to the reification of a child into an image of perfection. The author problematises the notion of essential innocence and discusses the repercussions of such stereotypes about childhood. The work also highlights parallels between the ideals of childhood established in 19th-century Britain and the portrayals of postcolonial Indian childhoods in 20th-century Indian English literature.

Toying with Childhood will be useful for students and researchers of education, childhood studies, psychology, sociology, literature, gender studies, and development studies. It will also appeal to general readers interested in cultural perceptions of childhood, literary depictions of children, and the works of Sigmund Freud.

1. Introduction 2. Constructing Childhoods 3. Saving the Child 4. The Child and Toy Bond 5. Resonances and repercussions