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Literary Analysis of “Heidi” by Johanna Spyri


“Heidi” is a children’s book by the Swiss author Johanna Spyri and it was first published in the late nineteenth century. The book’s intended audience is children and it has managed to remain relevant a century after it was published. It is not usual for children’s books to bear heavy literary elements but Spyri’s book has found a position among distinguished works of literature and not just children.

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The book is set in the Alps, and this setting plays a big part in elevating this book’s stature. As a literary classic, “Heidi” has been turned into diverse art forms including television movies, plays, and cartoons. This literary analysis seeks to show that “Heidi” is a classic work of literature and not just a simple children’s book. The analysis focuses on various literary elements including the book’s plot, themes, and other literary devices.


The plot of this story is one of the rich elements in this book. The story revolves around Heidi, the main character, an orphaned girl who moves from her aunt’s home to live with her grandfather in the hillside. Heidi’s grandfather is introduced as a man who leads an eccentric life. The man lived reclusively on the mountainside, a short distance away from the village. After leaving the girl with her grandfather, Heidi’s aunt proceeds to move to Frankfurt due to strained work obligations.

The story insinuates how Heidi’s charming and bubbly nature ends up influencing her grandfather’s cynical nature (Spyri, 2012). A recurring plot theme is Heidi’s grandfather’s protective nature and her interaction with Peter, a local herd boy. Heidi is unable to go to school because her grandfather does not trust the girl’s safety out in the village. The plot’s climax occurs when circumstances change and the main character has to move to Frankfurt to live with Clara. However, the girl finds it hard to thrive in the urban conditions and she ends up moving back to the village.


There is an interesting mix of characters in this story with Heidi being the most interesting one. The author of this book has ensured that the main character cannot be stereotyped or typecast by any preconceived notions. Therefore, Spyri comes up with an innocent but unbound character who thrives under her own accord. The main character is further developed by supporting characters such as Heidi’s grandmother and Clara. From the story, readers learn of the invasion of the old man’s well-guarded space by an innocent girl who refuses to recognize or acknowledge his cynic nature.

Eventually, the grandfather’s character comes to life through Heidi, a theme that is repeated when the main character meets Clara. The author introduces the main character’s most ardent antagonist through the housekeeper at Clara’s household. On the other hand, the housekeeper finds it difficult to understand Heidi’s indifference to conformity. Most of the minor characters in the story serve the purpose of highlighting the main character’s prominent traits. The balance in characters is too delicate to serve just the interests of young readers.


There are various themes in this children’s book but the most prominent one is that of healing and restoration. Most of the characters in this book pursue healing and restoration actively. The grandfather achieves it through his contact with Heidi even though that was the reason he had gone to hide in the mountains in the first place. Eventually, it is Heidi’s needs that prompt the old man to venture into the village after years of resisting. The writer also presents Clara’s physical condition as an establishment of this theme. Heidi also achieves restoration after she finally learns how to read. This theme continues with Heidi’s sleepwalking problem and her healing by going back to the village.

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The Alps offer a medium of restoration to both Heidi and Clara. Other prominent themes in “Heidi” include those of Christianity and morality. This theme is particularly stressed among the children’s characters in the book. These two themes may be included in the book in a bid to appeal to the children readers. For instance, even when Heidi is going through formal education she covers religious, biblical, and morality subjects. These themes have adult appeal as exemplified by the passage where Heidi’s grandfather enjoys listening to her as she reads stories from the Bible (Spyri, 2012). Furthermore, Clara’s grandmother teaches the young crowd the essence of forgiveness when she forgives Peter for pushing Clara’s wheelchair downhill.

Literary devices

The book is well endowed with literary devices, most of which go beyond the purpose of a children’s book appeal. The metaphor of the man who lives up the hill serves the purpose of indicating that Heidi is elevated into a new and advantageous life. From then onwards, Heidi remains on top of every situation in her life. Symbolism is also utilized in this book through the windowless apartments in the city. These windows symbolize the constrained nature of city life and the lack of enlightenment that comes with it.


“Heidi” is a book that has managed to retain its literary significance more than a century after it was written. Consequently, the author’s contributions should be taken seriously. The use of timeless themes, characterization, and literary devices has turned this children’s book into a literary classic. The tranquility brought about by the references of nature in this book is also irresistible for the current generation and possibly the next one.


Spyri, J. (2012). Heidi. Chelmsford, MA: Courier Corporation.

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