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Pinocchio: The Transformation of a Criminal in the Making

A story of change and redemption.

You probably remember from when you were a child the charming story of Pinocchio, the puppet whose nose grew longer each time he lied and who learned finally to tell the truth. On a recent trip to Italy, my congenial and informative guide Guiseppe introduced me to the full story—the hundred-plus page book—that revealed there is a lot more to the story.* It takes no stretch of the imagination to say that Pinocchio was a criminal in the making.

The puppet Pinocchio rejects others who love him and exhort him to be responsible. Pinocchio broke the heart of Gepetto, his adoring father who created him in his workshop and chose his name believing that it would bring good luck. Pinocchio also let down the “good-hearted” blue-haired fairy who appeared in different forms to guide him. And he rejected the counsel of the wise “talking cricket.”

Pinocchio manifests the signs of a child with an oppositional defiant disorder. He makes, then breaks, one promise after another as he hangs out with a bunch of ruffians, seeks adventure, and pursues a life of ease believing that he can be fabulously successful without effort. Repeatedly, Pinocchio pledges to attend school, stay away from bad companions, and to do as he is told by his elders. He voices good intentions, especially when held accountable by others, but then shuts off his very evident knowledge of right and wrong in order to undertake whatever catches his fancy at the spur of the moment. After various disastrous experiences, including imprisonment, being nearly burned, and subjugation into slavery, he promises each time to reform. Once he wriggles out of whatever jam he has created for himself, he “instantly forgets all his good resolutions.”

Pinocchio’s potential for good is apparent. At times, he is overcome by “feelings of his good heart.” But those sentiments are transitory and do not guide him. Furthermore, he believes that what applies to others does not apply to him. He declares to Gepetto, “I’m not like other children. I’m better than all of them.”

The “talking cricket” warns Pinocchio, “Never trust people who promise to make you rich in a day.” Failing to heed that advice, “Instantly forgetting…all his good relations,” Pinocchio takes up with a cat and a fox, two scoundrels, who promise to help him turn five gold pieces into two thousand. Surrendering his coins to these unsavory characters, he is fleeced. Pinocchio gets himself into another dilemma as he fails to listen to others who have his best interest at heart. He ends up shackled, forced to work as a watchdog guarding a peasant’s chicken coop. The puppet laments, “If only I had been a good boy, I would not be here now.” He dislikes the consequences of his actions, but he does not appear to learn much.

Pinocchio dreams that the good fairy visited him and said, “Be good in the future, and you will be happy.” She promises, “In return for your good heart, I forgive you all your past misdeeds.” Pinocchio is a story about transformation and redemption. After brushes with death, emotionally shattering his father who had abandoned hope, disappointing the good fairy, and forsaking the talking cricket, Pinocchio finally resolves to change and he does. Among his good deeds is rescuing his aged and forlorn father Gepetto who has been swallowed by an enormous shark.

At the conclusion, “the old wooden Pinocchio” looks in the mirror and sees reflected the “intelligent face of a good-looking boy…who looked contented and full of joy.” The Pinocchio story affirms the possibility of making far-reaching changes by transforming the way one thinks and redeeming oneself through good deeds. Just after reading the full story of Pinocchio, I received a letter from an offender whom I interviewed in prison nearly 20 years ago. After relating significant changes he had made, he wrote, “I’ve continued to improve myself and hopefully helped some others along the way.” This echoes the theme of Pinocchio but his account is not a fairy tale.


*Collodi, Carlo. Pinocchio. Collier Classic Edition (paperback), 2012.