73 pages 2 hours read

Eleanor Hodgman


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1913

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Summary and Study Guide


Pollyanna (1913) is the second novel by American author Eleanor H. Porter (1868-1921). The book was so successful that it topped the adult best-seller list, and Porter wrote a sequel titled Pollyanna Grows Up (1915) two years later.

In the years following its publication, Pollyanna provided hope in the turbulent years of World War I, and it continued to capture the national imagination throughout the 20th century. Eleven more “glad books” featuring the heroine were written after Porter’s death, namely by ghost writers Elizabeth Borton and Harriet Lummis Smith. The book was adapted into a movie several times, as different generations reinterpreted Porter’s sunny heroine for themselves. These included a silent movie starring Mary Pickford (1920) and a Disney adaptation (1960), which earned its star Hayley Mills an Oscar. More recent renditions of Pollyanna include a Japanese anime series directed by Kōzō Kusuba (1986), which shows how Pollyanna’s appeal has crossed national boundaries. Some fans were not content to leave Pollyanna’s unfailing optimism to the fictional realm and formed Glad Clubs to practice her outlook on life. One of these was in existence in Denver, Colorado as late as 2008.

Pollyanna has ascended her status as a fictional character to become a recognizable personality type. In 1921, the term “Pollyanna” entered the Merriam Webster dictionary accompanied by the following definition: “a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything” (“Pollyanna”). While Porter’s original heroine balanced looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses with practical good deeds that enhanced the lives of others, over time, the term “Pollyanna” has gained pejorative connotations, as it has come to mean an impractical, passive character who ignores the harsh truth in favor of the reality they would prefer.

This study guide uses the Poetose Kindle version, first published in 2021.

Plot Summary

Following the death of her minister father, 11-year-old orphan Pollyanna Whittier leaves the Western town she grew up in to go East to Beldingsville, Vermont to live with her deceased mother’s sister, Polly Harrington. Miss Polly is 40, single, and miserable, following her older sister’s elopement with Pollyanna’s father and her estrangement from her own anonymous lover. Miss Polly is unenthusiastic about adopting Pollyanna, but she considers it her moral duty.

While Pollyanna arrives in Beldingsville in a state of deep bereavement, she is eager to make the most of her new life. She puts an optimistic spin on inconveniences such as being given a shabby little attic room in a big house and determines to introduce all those around her to the glad game. The glad game is Pollyanna’s father’s legacy and simply consists of finding the best in every situation. The game began when Pollyanna’s father encouraged her to be grateful for receiving crutches from a missionary aid donation bin instead of the doll she wanted, because she did not need crutches. With her unfailingly positive attitude, Pollyanna wins over the most legendary grouches in Beldingsville, including the miserly old Mr. Pendleton and sickly complainer Mrs. Snow. She also manages to incrementally improve her Aunt Polly’s temper, although she cannot play the glad game with her because Aunt Polly refuses to hear anything about Pollyanna’s father.

Pollyanna’s good deeds include trying to find a home for orphan Jimmy Bean and summoning Dr. Chilton when Mr. Pendleton breaks his leg. As she visits Mr. Pendleton in his sickbed, she learns more about him, and he tells her that she is his unique source of happiness. For a while, she suspects him to be the former lover of her Aunt Polly. Pendleton even asks Pollyanna to come and live with him as his adoptee, confessing that it was not Polly that he sought, but her mother, who then rejected him in favor of Mr. Whittier. Pollyanna feels that she cannot go and live with Mr. Pendleton owing to her loyalty to Aunt Polly. Pollyanna also gets to know Dr. Chilton and finds that he is as lonely as Mr. Pendleton. He too has a woman that he is pining over. She finds that Aunt Polly cannot stand to hear about Dr. Chilton and that Dr. Chilton is mysteriously reverential when he sees Aunt Polly looking pretty at the window.

Pollyanna’s optimism is put to the test when a motor car runs her over. When after a period of convalescence Pollyanna still cannot move her legs, Aunt Polly engages a specialist from New York. She will not allow Dr. Chilton to come, although Pollyanna asks her to. Pollyanna overhears the specialist telling Aunt Polly that she will never walk again. The entire town is devastated, and while Pollyanna is grateful for their support and attention, she senses that her joyful days are behind her.

Jimmy Bean, who has been adopted by Mr. Pendleton, overhears the latter in conversation with Dr. Chilton. Dr. Chilton urges Mr. Pendleton to try to get Miss Polly’s permission for him to visit Pollyanna because his college friend has helped patients like her to walk again. Jimmy Bean runs to Miss Polly and persuades her to allow Dr. Chilton to see Pollyanna.

In allowing Dr. Chilton into the house, Miss Polly, who was his former lover, gives him the signal that she will at last marry him. They are reunited as Pollyanna is taken to a specialist infirmary.

There, after months of physical therapy with doctors and nurses, Pollyanna learns to walk again and writes of her happiness to her aunt and new uncle.