The Role of the Adopted Child in Pop Culture


The role of orphans, adoptees, and foundlings in pop culture is remarkable. Literature, film, television, and music have long been fascinated with fostered, adopted and orphaned children, from Moses to Cinderella to Oliver Twist to Harry Potter. However, the role pop culture plays in shaping how we see the world around us is critical.

Being adopted myself, I am very cognizant of the child outside of family. Growing up I saw storylines where the adopted kid disrupted the nuclear family in films like the Omen. Because the family does not know the origin’s of the child, it posed a threat. However, for every Damien Thorn there was a Punky Brewster.

There are 1.5M adopted children in the United States or 2% of all U.S. children. However, according to television, films, and music there seems to be two roles for these children once we grow up: the superhero or the villain.

“Orphan characters in folktales and literature symbolize our isolation from one another and from society. They do not belong to even the most basic of groups, the family unit, and in some cultures this is enough to cut them off from society at large. In other cultures, orphans are regarded as special people who must be protected and cared for at all costs. In either case, orphans are clearly marked as being different from the rest of society. They are the eternal Other.” – From Folktales to Fiction: Orphan Characters in Children’s Literature by Melanie Kimball, 1999

That is the role of the adopted child in pop culture.