by Colleen Glenney Boggs

About Colleen Glenney Boggs

Colleen Glenney Boggs is Professor of English at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Transnationalism and American Literature: Literary Translation, 1773-1892 (2007), Animalia Americana: Animal Representations and Biopolitical Subjectivity (2013), and Patriotism by Proxy: The Civil War Draft and the Cultural Formation of Citizen-Soldiers, 1863-1865 (2020) and the editor of MLA Options for Teaching the Literatures of the American Civil War (2016). She is the recipient of fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


The chief ambassador for the magic kingdom of childhood is an oversized mouse. One of a few cultural figures recognized by his first name alone, Mickey is such an icon that his ubiquitous smile and welcoming gloved hands have erased much of the strangeness and the history by which a cheerful rodent became a symbol for dreams beyond the Freudian variety of wolf-man nightmares. Insistently invoking imagination as the antidote to reality, the mouse subsumes culturally distinct renditions of animals and children under a generic rubric, the Disney fairy tale, which has all but erased its diverse cultural traces and origins. But the mouse inadvertently tells us something about the history of children and animals—namely, that they are fungible as categories and in their relation to one another. If Mickey defines childhood, he also reminds us of the fact that children and animals define one another as creatures similarly exempt from adult subjectivity, as pairs that contrast “the human” and “the animal,” as companions or as adversaries. For that matter, the further we enter into the Magic Kingdom’s invention of an animal kingdom, the more this strangeness becomes evident: If Mickey is a mouse, and Donald is a duck, and Goofy is a dog, then how can they have Pluto the pet? And for that matter, why do the mouse, the duck, and the dog wear white gloves, leaving only Pluto with paws? Animal is an unstable term, one that simultaneously differs from children and defines them. At the core of that contestation is the key question of how, whether, and when beings enter into the forms of subjectivity generally reserved for adulthood and what rights and responsibilities they carry at that threshold.