Selfish Giants and Child Redeemers: Refiguring Environmental Hope in Oscar Wilde’s and Clio Barnard’s <em>The Selfish Giant</em>
In this paper, I explore how stories of lost and broken worlds have been tied to hopes about the redemptive possibilities of a new generation. I historicize and complicate the idea of children as environmental stewards of an imagined planetary future. I investigate the issue further by examining the particular figure of the child redeemer and our “investment in the image of the child as a sign of the future, as defence against loss of significance in the world” (Lebeau 179). Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and Clio Barnard’s recent film adaptation of Wilde’s book will be the objects of my discussion. Barnard’s film, set in the post-industrial landscape of Bradford, England, offers child protagonists who unsettle the familiar fantasy of redemption and invite us to think past sentimental and nostalgic arguments for ecological preservation (premised on preserving an unjust world as it is). While it is important not to topple the myth of childhood innocence only to resurrect another myth of childhood agency, I am interested in these moments of refusal and how they point to the limits of a sentimental ecology.