I’ve read Goodnight Moon to my son over 300 times now. So, I feel I can speak with renewed confidence when telling students about the benefits, joys, and new frustrations than come from re-reading a text.
Goodnight Moon is a simple enough story. My son isn’t yet old enough to begin to play the game that parents have recognized at least since Margaret Wise Brown wrote this book. The game is “delaying bedtime,” and it’s a classic! If the clocks depicted in the images are correct, the bunny in the story is able to successfully delay bedtime from 7:00 to about 8:10 (though the moon’s descent into the night sky provides a shorter time table). That’s not bad, particularly considering he’s being “hushed” by an “old lady” the whole time.
There are a number of oddities throughout the book that the repeat reader will find difficult to ignore. More thorough analyses of the text have explored these in greater detail. Beyond the depiction of a different colored set of curtains on the cover (red and green) than appear throughout the book (yellow and green), however, the room itself is a bit strange by modern standards. For starters, the room is enormous! If you consider the number of objects it holds, combined with the amount of space between them, the room must be gigantic. This is part of what makes this story magical.
It’s a room that, at least by modern standards, few would probably have a young child spend the night. The open hearth might be an obvious reason, but this is only the beginning. What use would a small child have for a telephone in the night? Is the bowl of “mush” for breakfast? Why is it made so far in advance? Who is this “old lady”? Why are the cats uninterested in the mouse dancing all around them throughout the story? Were Brown and Hurdt actually trying to sell The Runaway Bunny with a little product placement on the wall of the room? Is that a real tiger-skin rug?
But back to the room. This story actually takes place in a room that we no longer have in homes – or that we no longer use in precisely the same way even when the room still physically exists in our houses. This story takes place in a “great room.” Great rooms are most easily compared with “living rooms” today or “drawing rooms” a bit further back. They are rooms with multiple purposes. In some ways, great rooms were a response to the staunch segregationist attitude that characterized much of Victorian home architecture. They existed in American homes dating back to the early 1900s and gradually fell out of favor over the course of the next 100 years or so.
This is why the story starts out in the “great green room.” Margaret Wise Brown doesn’t indicate whether this is a green room that is “great!” or a great room that is green. But I think she intended the latter.
This doesn’t have much to do with gender or sexuality. But, it’s an interesting case of historicizing space. Great rooms were more of a throwback to earlier home architecture in which one room was used for virtually everything: cooking, eating, playing, sleeping, studying, and working. This is why the French word for furniture literally translates to “the moveables” (les meubles). Furniture had to be moved around to organize the room differently for different activities throughout the day.
The disappearance of the “great room” is an interesting story. At the same time that we started breaking down walls in our homes, literally removing the physical boundaries that separate individuals and activities in our households, we might have simultaneously resurrected the Victorian notion that all activities have their proper place within the home. The removal of physical boundaries alongside an increased reliance on symbolic and social boundaries? I’m not sure. But the legacy of the long lost room and transformations in the shape, use, and meaning of domestic space is an interesting story.