Chapter

Wild Children

in The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2002 | ISBN: 9780226160559
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226160573 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226160573.003.0002
Wild Children

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Accounts of wild children exemplify the great variety of conceptual devices that eighteenth-century Europe had for talking about savagery and civilization. These devices range from pseudoscientific inquiries into humanity's original nature and institutional schemes for improving society through control of undesirables to sensational tales of “surprising savages” and anthropomorphic apes. Children found in the wild posed wrenching questions about mankind's potential—both physical and moral. This chapter focuses on theories of human nature and perfectibility as applied to the experience of three children found in the wild. Discourse on the wild children also shows how each got caught up in the widespread fascination with defining and improving on mankind, though with very different results. These ideas of inherent limited intellect and physical decline raised humbling questions about mankind's supposed nobility of soul and superiority over animals and undermined the notion that language is innate to humans.

Keywords: wild children; society; apes; nature; mankind

Chapter.  22407 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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