Featuring everyone from Kit Kittredge to Maryellen Larken, this little blurb is about WW2 in American Girl Dolls.
Forenote: Hi, this is my first post here (though I've been lurking without an account for a fair amount of time at this point), but I've been meaning to make a post or two about this. History and in particular war is something that I find very interesting, and I wanted to take a shot at combining that with my love of American Girl dolls. If there are any inaccuracies, I apologize, this is mainly just a little gush about how World War 2 is represented in American Girls. Kinda short, but oh well.
Now, some might call my obsession with WW2 an issue, others a reason to believe me to be mentally unwell, but I don’t see all that much of it. While it can be odd at times, at others it simply gives me a different outlook on things that other people might not typically notice or focus on nearly as much-for example, the representation of World War 2 in American Girl dolls. While much of these characters’ stories are a bit dulled down for the sake of the children that are the target audience of this brand, the representation of WW2 is still quite diverse, and for that I have to give it to American Girl.
From this, let’s start at the start: Kit Kittredge. As I’m sure the vast majority of you know, Kit Kittredge is an American Girl doll from the Great Depression era of the United States, prior to World War 2. While Kit’s story focuses far more on her own personal experiences within the U.S. rather than the international side of things, as well as growing tensions in Europe and Asia, her story is a good starting point for this little essay, as it was one of the starting points for America’s entry into World War Two.
Alice Nanea Mitchell
Following Kit comes Nanea (the doll that by far I know the most about). Alice Nanea Mitchell finds herself at ground zero in WW2, one of the few places in the United States of America directly attacked during the Second World War, and the only doll to have experienced such a thing. Nanea’s life prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor was already rather carefully intertwined with the military aspect of living on Hawaii, a territory known for the strategic advantage it granted the U.S.
When the Japanese Empire attacked, quite literally everything changed for Nanea and for people across the U.S. (and to an extent, the world as a whole). The remainder of Nanea’s life is shaped by this event, as her Japanese friend Lily Suda is faced with discrimination and prejudice following the attack, despite her family’s longstanding history in Hawai’i and no ill intentions. Nanea’s other friend, Donna Hill, is forced to move back to the mainland with her mother due to the fact that they are considered non-essentials. Nanea is faced with the constant fear of air raids, further attacks, and war that almost no other American Girl Doll had to face (aside from Addy and Caroline, however even then Nanea faced incredibly different circumstances than those two).
While Nanea’s story offers a more optimistic outlook on Hawai’i’s time under martial law than what truly occurred, it still offers a view that many young girls wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, and that in itself is rather important.
Molly McIntire and Emily Bennett
Just three years after that comes Molly McIntire and her companion Emily Bennett. I will admit, Molly is a doll I don’t know all that much about, however she seems like the inverse to Nanea-while Nanea’s story seems more intertwined with the Asian side of the war, her close friend facing rampant discrimination and heightened fear of Japanese people during 1941, Molly’s story is a lot closer to European apsects.
Molly herself is a Scottish-American girl living in Illinois during 1944, closer to the end of WW2. For Molly, the second World War is a distant thing, rather unrelated to her own life and person, and is said to mostly be a distant inconvenience. However, her outlook on this changes when a girl named Emily Bennett is sent to live with Molly’s family during World War 2, due to the London Blitz.
World War 2 hit far, far closer for Emily than it did for Molly, as the United Kingdom entered the war in 1939, 2 years before the U.S. did. Constant raids and attacks upon London alongside tighter rations, further fear, and mass casualties brought a far different experience for Emily than it did for Molly-by the end of the war, the United Kingdom’s total casualties (including that of the Crown Colonies) total 450,900, compared to the American 420,000. While for some this difference may not seem great, civilian casualties in WW2 were around 12,000 for Americans, while civilian casualties in WW2 for the British were over 5 times that, at 67,100.
Emily ended up becoming a major contributor to the reason why Molly’s outlook on the second World War changed, and Molly’s story as a whole is an incredibly different way of looking at a war that encompassed the world as a whole. With both these two characters and the last, there is reason to believe that they would have truly been different people if they hadn’t lived through World War Two and experienced what they did.
Maryellen Larkin and Angela Terlizzi
Finally comes Maryellen Larkin, 13 years after Nanea Mitchell, 10 years after Molly McIntire and Emily Bennet, and 9 years after the true end of World War Two. While Maryellen’s story isn’t all that closely intertwined with the Second World War, Angela Terlizzi’s story is.
If you’ve ever taken a look at Italian first and last names, or read Maryellen’s book once or twice over, then you might have a hint of an idea as to where this is going. Angela Terlizzi is an Italian immigrant hailing from post-WW2 Italy. While shunned by the other students of her class due to her Italian heritage, Maryellen finds herself becoming fast friends with Angela despite others opinions on the girl.
Even years after World War Two ended, Mayellen’s story goes to show just how much remained, the little parts that were still left over from the prejudice of the war. In particular, the Italian side of World War 2 isn’t exactly something commonly discussed-especially not when compared to the Germans. However, American Girl’s (and to be more particular, Valerie Tripp’s) efforts to portray this in their works is something admirable.
A Final Note
While this might have been rather scatterbrained and a bit of an odd post to find here, I wanted to make it anyway. From Kit Kittredge in 1934 to Maryellen 30 years later, American Girl has portrayed the ripples of World War Two throughout American history in a variety of different lights, in a way that mainstream companies don’t often do. The company has brought light to the lives of people living under martial law in Hawai'i, girls in the 1940s with family members abroad or serving in the war, the discrimination faced by people whose home and origin countries were involved with the Axis powers of World War Two, and the lives of people on the front lines of attacks. American Girl has helped younger girls to understand events that they wouldn't have learned about quite the same way otherwise, and that is something rather noteworthy, to say the least.