“Oh, I’m sick of being a puppet!” cried Pinocchio, giving himself a slap on the head. “It’s time that I became a man!” “And you will become one, if you deserve it." “Really? And what can I do to deserve it?” “A very easy thing: learn to be a good boy.” (Collodi 115-117)
Learning to be a good boy proves a trying task for the brash and imprudent, though strangely still lovable, eponymous puppet of Carlo Collodi’s classic fairy tale, Pinocchio. Time and again, the wooden rascal boldly sets out to be worthy of boyhood only to get sidetracked by the glittering promise of easy money (Field of Miracles), endless fun (Playland), and a life devoted “to eat, drink, sleep, and amuse myself, and to lead a vagabond life from morning to night” (Collodi 23). These hollow enchantments fail to satisfy Pinocchio and lead him into various snares of self-imposed slavery (long nose, prison, donkey form) or external conflicts (burning, stabbing, hanging, drowning, eaten) that threaten his very existence. As a result, Pinocchio’s journey to boyhood moves in fits and starts and is nearly derailed at several junctures were it not for a serendipitous turn of events, a chorus of symbolic consciences scattered throughout his path (most notably the talking cricket), and the ever-forgiving and ever-loving Geppetto and blue fairy.
Collodi’s Pinocchio reminds us that boyhood, and all human life for that matter, shine forth as an undeserved gift that must be earned by the sweat of our brow in our work (school for the boys), by the charity in our heart toward our fellow man (a willingness to put others before ourselves), and by a grateful reception and hearty thanks for the many offerings of grace that God extends to us along the road of life (a resounding YES to God, our parents, and teachers). The story also reminds parents to be patient with their children, for their boy may appear to be a wooden puppet without ears to hear them—or with donkey ears!—pulled by the invisible strings of whim or the siren song of sin or just the impatience of immaturity and ignorance that comes naturally for a young life without experience. Deep inside every son is a child yearning to deserve boyhood, a child longing to be a worthy son, a child that can and willingly does “A very easy thing: learn to be a good boy.” Let us love our little Pinocchios and give them the tender love and care (and occasional stern admonishment) they need to merit their boyhood, as Geppetto and the blue fairy so beautifully teach us to do.