Anne Sexton’s Twisted Version of Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty’s Sexual Scars in Anne Sexton’s “Briar Rose”
Parents often use fairytales as bedtime stories for their children. Anne Sexton takes these often light-hearted and whimsical tales and spins them into a creation of her own. According to Diana Hume George in “An Overview of Sexton’s Canon,” Sexton, “updated their contexts and language to point out their applications to and parallels with modern life, and she exposed the dark psychic core of each tale in ways that inverted or even reversed their normative meanings.” The poem “Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty),” begins with a girl in a hypnotic state, sitting on her father’s lap. The stanza is ominous and uncomfortable to read, setting the tone for the rest of the poem. In the following stanzas, the traditional fairytale plays out but as it continues, Briar Rose’s happy ending is nowhere to be seen. Sexton focuses on pivotal events in the story and twists them in a way that recreates the original fairytale and exposes its darker undertones that are otherwise overlooked in the original story.
Sexton begins the first stanza in third person and describes a girl in a hypnotic trance in order to establish the unsettling tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker states that, “She is stuck in the time machine, / suddenly two years old sucking her thumb” (l. 7-8). The girl regresses to a younger age, making her more childlike and vulnerable. The speaker goes on to state that the girl struggles to find her mother but instead, her father is the one to hold her. Whilst on his lap, he tells her, “Come be my snooky / and I will give you a root” (l. 21-22). Snooky is slang for ones romantic partner and a root is phallic in shape. For the father to tell his daughter this immediately signals the incestual undertones that will be present later on.
Over the course of the poem, Briar Rose’s life is marked by unfortunate events. The first one occurs when she is only a baby. Her father held a christening for her but he only owned twelve gold plates and therefore only invited twelve fairies. The thirteenth fairy, feeling spurned, prophesizes that
“The princess shall prick herself
on a spinning wheel in her fifteenth year
and then fall down dead.
Kaputt!” (l. 37-40).
The use of a silly phrase such as “Kaputt!” contrasts greatly to the grave tone of the situation. It highlights the intended lethalness of the curse, which is otherwise glossed over in the watered-down, bedtime version of the fairytale.
In response to the curse, the king becomes overbearing in his need to protect his daughter. He orders every spindle in the kingdom to be destroyed. This makes sense in regards to the prophecy but the king’s orders eventually become more extreme. The speaker states that, “He forced every male in the court / to scour his tongue with Bab-o / lest they poison the air she dwelt in” (l. 60-62) By having the men clean themselves with a modern-day product containing bleach, it is as if the king wants the men to purify themselves so that they will not corrupt his daughter. The curse said nothing of specifically men doing harm to Briar Rose though, so the king’s need to protect her becomes obsession-like. The king’s obsession over his own daughter’s purity is the beginning of the incestual undertones that subverts the original tale’s message of sefless love.
Try as he might, the king’s precautions to keep Briar Rose safe from both men and the curse are thwarted, resulting in the second pivotal moment within the story. Inevitably, Briar rose pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, sending both her and the inhabitants of the kingdom into a deep slumber. The speaker describes the sleeping inhabitants in terms of modern-day parallels, such as comparing the frogs to zombies and the trees to metal. By doing so, the slumbering kingdom’s fate becomes more sinister, as if the inhabitants are petrified instead of simply sleeping. Over the years, many princes try to break the curse but they, “had not scoured their tongues / so they were held by the thorns / and thus were crucified” (l. 86-88). The princes dying show the king’s control over Briar Rose, even while she sleeps. Ultimately, they cannot rescue her because they had not scoured their tongues as the men of the court had done and thus were deemed unfit in the father’s eyes.
A hundred years pass and a prince finally breaks the curse, although everything is not what it seems. In the third pivotal event, when the prince kisses Briar Rose awake, she cries, “Daddy! Daddy!” (l. 96). After being awakened after such a frightful occurrence, it would only make sense for a girl to cry out for her father, but Briar Rose was specifically awakened by a kiss. This implicates that the father has kissed Briar Rose as well, giving the reader a glimpse of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
At this point, the original fairytale ends with Briar Rose living happily ever after with her prince. In Sexton’s version of the story, Briar Rose awakening marks the beginning of her downward spiral. Although Briar Rose marries the prince, she becomes an insomniac, still haunted by the memories of her father’s sexual abuse. She becomes dependent on drugs and cannot sleep, “without the court chemist / mixing her some knock-out drops / and never in the prince’s presence” (l. 106-108). Briar Rose becomes more and more disturbed by the memories her father’s sexual abuse but refuses to let her spouse know. Briar Rose’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father results in the overall deterioration of both her mental and physical health.
Briar Rose’s health steadily worsens until she descends into a state of delirium. The speaker switches from that of third person to first and says, “I must not sleep / for while asleep I’m ninety / and think I’m dying” (l. 120-122). Briar Rose goes back and forth between different points of her life, from when she was a small child at the hands of her father to when she was in the hundred-year slumber. Because of this, Briar Rose becomes even more dependent on drugs, similarly to how real-life victims of sexual abuse can fall victim to drug usage in order to cope with their past.
In the following stanza, it becomes evident that the girl in the beginning of the poem is the modern-day parallel to Sexton’s recreated version of Sleeping Beauty. In the first stanza, the little girl is just “learning to talk again” (l. 10). She lost her will to talk after being sexually abused but slowly starts to come forth with what happened, just as Briar Rose begins to do. The speaker says, “I was forced backward. / I was forced forward” (l. 145-146). The movements mimic the sexual positions that her father forced her into when she was younger. Although older and now married, Briar Rose still feels like a prisoner to her father. This directly subverts the wholesome image of the king in the original tale. In Anne Sexton’s version of Sleeping Beauty’s, the king is the true villain of the story because of what he did to his daughter. By raping her as a child, he ensures a lifetime of unhappiness to follow.
In the traditional fairytale, a prince eventually thwarts the thirteenth fairy’s curse and awakens the princess with true love’s kiss. It embodies a wholesome message of good conquering evil. Sexton twisted the fairytale and utilized specific themes within it – such as a father’s love – in order to give voice to victims of incest and sexual abuse. In reality, many victims do not lead a happy life because of the memories of abuse that stay with them, long after it ends. By doing the same to Briar Rose, Sexton shows that not everyone can live a happily ever after.
Female Characters in the Novel Briar Rose by Jane Yolen, and in Grimm’s Tale
The princess in the Grimm’s tale is portrayed as an acquiescent main character and a passive heroine. In the tale, her fate is determined before she is old enough to speak her first words. Throughout the tale, she continues to lack the gumption to alter her destiny, supporting the notion that her character does not have an aim. The king and queen host a celebration to which they invite the wise women in the kingdom so that they would be kindly disposed towards the princess. However, there were only twelve golden plates and thirteen wise women. The Grimm’s place emphasis on dinnerware as an arbitrary determiner of fate. The thirteenth wise woman goes to the celebration to curse the princess. “She [the thirteenth wise woman] wanted to avenge herself for not having been invited… she cried out with a loud voice, ‘In the princess’s fifteenth year she shall prick herself with a spindle and fall over dead.’” The princess’s fate is controlled by external factors. Through the Grimm’s use of indirect characterization, the readers perceive the princess as a character with no true aim. One of the single actions the princess makes in the story is to touch a spindle, the one action she was not supposed to make, which causes her to fall into a 100-year long deep sleep. Her character then lies there and waits for her prince to come to save her.
The princess is placed in a traditional sexist role. In more modern times the notion that it is important to portray women in different roles than the typical “traditional” ones in order to teach young readers they have equal opportunities is prevalent. In Yolen’s novel, the main female character, Becca, works as a reporter which could be an attempt by the author to display her as strong and resilient since the pioneering women of journalism faced consequential discrimination within the profession. In the early 1900s, it was said that journalism was a “man’s job” since people thought it would be too risky for women.
Yolen gives Becca a clear aim in the novel. After her grandmother’s death, Becca begins to believe there is a hidden meaning behind the fairytale Briar Rose which her grandmother always told at bedtime. As a devoted young journalist, she decides to write a story uncovering the truth about her grandmother. Yolen makes it evident that this story is important to Becca’s character as she is emotionally attached. Stan, observes, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be happy until you find out who your grandmother was, Becca.’ Through the following example of direct characterization Yolen depicts to the audience that Becca is not passive like the princess in the Grimm’s tale. “….She always had such physical reactions: able to function in the immediate emergency, falling apart afterwards.” Yolen portrays Becca as driven and the readers perceive her as the character the author uses to push the action forward in the novel.
In addition, Yolen uses indirect characterization to depict Becca as a woke character which makes female readers in particular respect her as it is relatable to them. For example, when Becca asked a man from a different newspaper if he could send copies of some articles he responded “Sure thing, honey. Just give me your name and address.” Yolen then writes “She let the honey go by and told him what he needed to know.” The author portrays Becca as someone with a strong sense of right and wrong, who chooses her battles, as opposed to the princess’s portrayal as a passive victim.
Other female characters in Yolen’s novel are also portrayed with a clear aim, for example Gemma. Yolen places Becca and Gemma at odds since Gemma kept a huge secret from Becca all her life. This makes the audience see Gemma as the antagonist. In the flashback parts of the novel, it is clear that Yolen’s goal for Gemma’s character is to survive. The reader learns in a flashback that a partisan group, which included Joseph, found Gemma and saved her from death. Gemma’s goal thereafter was to stay alive. She had no memories, except for the remnants of the tale of Briar Rose. Later she discovers she is pregnant and the goal of her character shifts. Yolen then places emphasis on the need for Gemma’s character to look after her baby. “I am with child…and I will not let it die,” she says. Yolen portrays the main female character with an aim, giving them purpose and meaning for the audience.
The theme of family is evident in Yolen’s novel and contributes to the audience perceiving Becca in a positive light. Becca’s family is very important to her character. She is very well loved by her parents and has a special bond with her grandmother. “It was why she came to the nursing home every afternoon after work at the newspaper and stayed with Gemma three and four hours each weekend…” Becca is also the youngest of three sisters. Her older sisters, Shana and Silvia, are both married with children and live far away. The reader receives a bit of a snobby impression of them. However, they are also described as “strong, competent women.” Even though they all care for each other very much, Becca does not always get along with her older sisters. “‘This was a promise to Gemma,’ said Becca, hanging up and feeling — as she usually did after arguing with one of her sisters — morally oppressed.” Yolen portrays Becca in opposition to her sisters with the reader on her side, which contributes to the readers seeing Becca positively. The older sisters have always excluded Becca as she is the youngest. ‘She was not part of their magic circle and never had been.’ The way Yolen characterizes Becca in this scenario has an effect on the reader as they sympathize with Becca.
In the Grimm’s tale, the king and queen long for a child and are very happy when a frog creeps out of the water while the queen is bathing to tell her that “your wish shall be fulfilled, and before a year passes you will bring a daughter into the world.” When the child is introduced, the authors use direct characterization to point out the child’s beauty. “The queen gave birth to a girl who was so beautiful that the king could not contain himself for joy.” Already from the start, the way the princess is characterized is through her beauty. For instance, words like “healthy” or “happy” could have been chosen instead of beautiful. Although, it does seem like the king and queen love their daughter very much since they host a huge celebration in her honor. The king also attempts to save the princess from her curse which shows the readers that he cares for his child. “The king, wanting to rescue his dear child, issued an order that all spindles in the entire kingdom should be burned.”
As previously mentioned, the princess is described as beautiful and throughout the tale, she is almost solely characterized in terms of her beauty. The twelve wise women who gave the princess “gifts” before the thirteenth wise woman put a curse on her wasted it on characteristics like virtue, beauty, and wealth. “The feast was celebrated with great splendor, and at its conclusion the wise women presented the child with their magic gifts. The one gave her virtue, the second one beauty, the third one wealth, and so on with everything that one could wish for on earth.” These are all very passive traits that depict the princess solely as an object of desire.
Different Interpretations of Briar Rose
From Grimm Brothers’ Tale to Disney Animation: The Evolution of Briar Rose
Children’s Stories and Household Tales better known as Grimms’ Fairy Tales was originally published in 1812 as a compilation of stories collected by two German brothers. Included in these tales was the story of “Briar Rose” known more commonly as “Sleeping Beauty.” Initially these stories were not published for children and contained adult themes like sex and violence however they mellowed with the years, as they were adapted for children. With these republications came new illustrations. George Cruikshank drew the first fully illustrated book and a series of artists followed him including Marc Davis and Eyvind Earle, Walt Disney Pictures animators. Throughout the years artists have used many of the Grimm Brothers’ stories for inspiration however, a few in particular are widely popular. “Briar Rose” is one of them. As the plotline of “Briar Rose” evolved with the target audience and intentions of the publishers, the illustrations that were paired with the story mutated as well. Both the story of “Briar Rose” as well as the illustrations changed to relate to the desires of an expanding audience and to utilize new mediums of storytelling.
The earliest version of “Briar Rose” can be traced back to the fourteenth century and similar stories were recorded in 1636 and 1697 (Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm 239). The Grimms’ collected tales from peasants, colleagues, acquaintances, and middle-class people with the mission to “preserve storytelling traditions threatened by industrialization and urbanization (Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm xxxviii).” Although their goal was allegedly to preserve German tradition, critics often question this. The brothers published seven editions of the book from 1812 to 1857 and with each edition came copious changes.
The Grimms’ final edition telling of “Briar Rose” is somewhat familiar to many. A king and queen dream of having a child and their wish is fulfilled within the year. The king invites twelve of the thirteen “Wise Women” of the kingdom to a feast for his future child. He cannot invite them all because he only has twelve golden plates in total. The “Wise Women” bestow magical presents upon the girl, however just before the last gift is given the women who had not been invited appears. She curses the king’s daughter to death on her fifteenth birthday when she pricks her finger on a spindle. One last “Wise Women” steps forward and although unable to undo the curse lightens it to one hundred years of sleep instead of death. The king has all the spindles in the kingdom burned, but on the princess’s fifteenth birthday she happens upon one in an isolated room and pricks her finger. The princess and the castle all fall into a deep sleep. Briars grow thick and tall around the castle. Princes valiantly tired to penetrate the hedge but no one could make it through without dying. Finally, one hundred years later, on the day Briar Rose was set to awaken, a prince marched through a hedge of beautiful flowers. He planted a kiss on her lips then she and the entire palace woke up. The two got married and lived happily ever after (Grimm, The Annotated Brothers Grimm 240-245).
The brothers often took artistic liberty and elaborately added to and embellished stories as they saw appropriate. In the first draft of the story the scene when Briar Rose pricks her finger and falls asleep was only three lines. It expanded to three paragraphs by the time the final manuscript was published (Tatar, The Hard Facts 27). The first draft of “Briar Rose” did not include the morbid details of the deaths of the princes who attempted to save the princess. By publication the brothers added, “the briar bushes clung together as though they had hands so that the young princes were caught in them and died a pitiful death (Tatar, The Hard Facts 6).” This was only the beginning of the modification of these stories.
In 1823 the first English adaption of the Grimm brother’s book came out. Edgar Taylor translated it and George Cruikshank provided the illustrations. While the Grimms’ original audience was not children, the English version aimed to reach primarily this demographic. By translating, adding illustrations, and eliminating academic annotations the tales they became much more accessible to the public. Shortly after a German version of the book was also illustrated (Zipes, 34-35).
George Cruikshank was a famous caricaturist of the time and he drew the illustrations based on Edgar Taylor’s adaptation, which was significantly more lighthearted than the Grimms’ original. “Chuikshank’s illustrations provoke laughter, not reflection and moral education, two goals that the Grimms had sought to achieve, something that the sentimental illustrations of their brother Ludwig were to show later in the German editions (Zipes 35).”
In Cruikshank’s illustration for “Rose-Bud” (the English translation of “Briar Rose”) the piece is etched for the size of a book. The illustration appears right above the story’s title taking up about half the page. The fact that it is before the story means that it is foreshadowing the events to come. It is meant to ignite children’s interest and captivate them as they wait for the scene that is depicted in the etching to be told in the writing. The details are extremely clear despite the small size. The image consists of entirely lines, varying in closeness. The closer the lines the darker that portion of the image thus creating shadows and definition. The image is in black and white so this technique is critical in adding dimension to the piece. The sleeping princess appears as the main focal point and looks larger than life on a bed that seems to be too small for her. Many representations of Briar Rose show the princess sleeping on her back looking unnatural and lifeless. Cruikshank drew her comfortably as if she was just taking a short nap rather than sleeping for one hundred years. She faces the reader making the illustration pull the reader in and especially catch the eye of younger observers. Briar Rose does not even look like a princess at all, just a girl sleeping. The princess has the most white on her out of all the components in the etching. White is generally accepted as the color of innocence and in the picture it looks like light is shining down on the princess. Two ornamental angels appear at the top of the page. Their faces are pointed down towards Sleeping Beauty like they are watching over her as she sleeps. This again suggests her innocence. Several birds, a dog, and a cat are also asleep scatter among the scene. Behind the princess and the bed is a large window with a spider web in the corner and tall briars outside. These images are included to illustrate how much time has passed since the princess and animals fell asleep. Also behind the princess and the bed is a partially hidden spindle. Its importance is downplayed because out of context it is strange to have a spindle in a sparingly furnished bedroom. Off to the left of the illustration and through the doorway there appears to be a woman slightly hunched over but definitely standing not sleeping. She can be assumed to be the fairy that cast the curse on the princess (Cruikshank 25). The evil fairy is heavily shaded alluding to the understanding that darkness is often associated with the sinful.
Cruikshank’s illustration for “Rose-Bud” is not as satirical as many of the other pieces he did for the fairy tales. Nonetheless the English adaptation did still diverge extremely from the Grimm Brothers’ intentions that had little to do with pure entertainment. The brothers set out promote their “cultural heritage” and “national unity” while Germany was facing foreign influence from France (Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm xliv). German pride surrounding these tales continued into the twentieth century when the Third Reich endorsed it as a domestic manual citing Children’s Stories and Household Tales as supporting racial pride, patriotism, and other Nazi ideals (Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm xlv).
Despite the disapproval of the Allies Grimms’ Fairy Tales remained a staple reading after World War II (Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm xlv). By this time in the twentieth century the fairy tales had been printed in dozens of different publications (Zipes 86-87). In the early 1950s the American production company, Walt Disney Pictures adapted the story of “Briar Rose” for its own animated film, “Sleeping Beauty.” Disney is criticized by many academics and fairytale-lovers for completely missing the point and lessons instilled in older versions of the stories (Zipes 68-70). In the case of “Sleeping Beauty” there were countless changes made to the plotline. The number of “Wise Women”/fairies was reduced from thirteen to four (Maleficent is the evil fairy), Sleeping Beauty is sent into the woods to live until her sixteenth birthday, and the prince is captured by Maleficent to name a few (Ness). In summary the story was adapted and modified to allow for a full length animated film to entertain American children.
Eyvind Earle and Marc Davis were the chief animators on the decade long project. Davis was tasked with developing the Princess Aurora herself, a daunting task because “Sleeping Beauty” was the first Disney picture on 70mm film. This film allowed for considerably more detail than animators were used to at the time. Princess Aurora was drawn to be more defined and angular than many of the leading ladies before her as to fit in with Earle’s exceptionally detailed backgrounds (Seastrom). Earle completed the backgrounds of the scenes almost entirely on her own, a very laborious process in the 1950s. This meant the animated characters had to be altered to fit into the scenes. Davis had to work very hard to adapt the characters to look natural with the backgrounds (Ness).
This blending of artwork can be seen in the same scene Cruikshank drew in 1823 to go with the story of “Briar Rose.” In the Disney version when the princess pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep the fairies bring her into a tower to rest her on her bed. In this screen capture from the movie Aurora is on her back sleeping with the three good fairies mourning over her bed. The fairies’ faces are not their usual peach color but instead shaded with a gray tinge. This reflects their sadness that the princess they watched after so closely for sixteen years still managed to fall victim to Maleficent’s curse. All three of them are tilted towards the princess’s head, their heads bowed in deep concern. The repetition of the fairies and their gesture amplifies the emotion in the scene. Aurora has her arms crossing her body with a single rose bud resting between her hands and her chest. This rose can be linked to the princess’s name, Briar Rose. The rose bud is a symbol of innocence and life. Aurora was cursed although she did nothing wrong and knew no evil until the day her finger was pricked by the spindle. The pose the princess is in is reminiscent of how a corpse would be presented in a casket. Surprisingly though she does not look dead. Her peaceful face, hair, and body are illuminated as in Cruikshank’s piece. The young girl is glowing while the rest of the room remains dismal. The characters in the scene stand out because their components are not textured and blocks of color. Each segment of each fairy’s clothing is a single color as is Aurora’s. The background of the image is extremely textured and intricate. Each wall stone is different, detailed with cracks and imperfections. The drapes surrounding the bed are shades of purple and red with interlocking vines smattering them. The blanket covering the bed is blue mottled with green dotted with golden bunches of branches with leafs on them. There is a fair amount of dead space on the sides of the scene; this can be attributed to the advent of the widescreen in film. The contrast of the characters with the background is quite noticeable and eye-catching which makes the dead space irrelevant. The fairies and other characters had to be draw simply in order to replicate them frame after frame. Meanwhile the background could stagnant for an entire scene sometimes. This scene is dramatic and filled with emotion. The fairies do not know what they are going to do and their precious princess is in a deep and possibly permanent sleep. It is a turning point in the movie so Earle and Davis wanted to make sure they captured the emotions of their audience by providing a gripping visual (Sleeping Beauty).
Although the origins of “Briar Rose” are centuries old the salience of the tale has not depreciated. Instead the story has maintained its relevance by developing through multiple mediums and evolving to reach a wide range of demographics. Artwork opened the floodgates for fairy tales. George Cruikshank spearheaded what would become hoards of artists that let their imaginations run free illustrating the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales. Disney solidified some of these stories as quintessential childhood movies that are viewed by millions of people a year by animating them. Art touches people because it transcends language and time. The appeal of fairytales is that as an image-text form an enormous audience can enjoy them: children and adults alike. The tales span generations because they continue to be adapted.
Long-lasting Lattle in Briar Rose
Briar Rose was a very interesting story, I say this because it is one of the only fairytales that could be somewhat realistic. There may have been magic involved, but somehow it seemed like it could actually happen. All texts have a message behind it, I personally feel that it had a nice message in the end, and it made me look at the text differently. The text showed readers that no matter what comes your way you will always prevail through anything, even a spell.
I am not a big fan of fairytales, but some, like Briar Rose made me think that the fight between good vs evil still exists. I believe that good will always out way the bad, and evil will always continue to fail. In the text, Briar rose was loved by many and was still cursed by the evil fairy. “Now, as she had not been asked to the feast she was very angry, and scolded the king and queen very much, and set to work to take her revenge. So she cried out, the king’s daughter shall, in her fifteenth year, be wounded by a spindle, and fall down dead.” Throughout all of that, Ms. Rose still ended up happy and loved.
Reading the text, I learned that people will always try and bring you down, especially when you are happy. Briar only got to experience life for fifteen years, and was put to sleep for one hundred years, because of a fairy not getting a golden dish. “Then the twelfth of the friendly fairies, who had not yet given her gift, came forward, and said that the evil wish must be fulfilled, but that she could soften its mischief; so her gift was, that the king’s daughter, when the spindle wounded her, should not really die, but should only fall asleep for a hundred years.” Even though it was a good story, the plot of it was dumb. How can someone be that mad about not being invited to a dinner? The fairy seemed like she was never good in the end, because she thought of such an evil curse.
Briar Rose also showed me that if you do something good, you will be rewarded. I have always been firm believer when it comes to blessings, but only if you do not expect it. The Queen was only looking to help the fish, and did not expect anything in return. “Then the queen took pity on the little fish, and threw it back again into the river; and before it swam away it lifted its head out of the water and said, ‘I know what your wish is, and it shall be fulfilled, in return for your kindness to me—you will soon have a daughter.” This showed how humble and grateful the queen was. She only did it out of the kindness of her heart and was given a blessing for doing that. This is a good story to teach children and maybe even preteens, because of the message. “The best feeling of happiness is when you are happy because you made someone else happy-unknown.”
Meaning of Briar Rose
The Light In The Darkness
Sometimes for one to find the wisdom or ‘light’ in the endless stream of life, one needs to go through the darkest experience, as it is in Jane Yolen’s novel “Briar Rose”, even if this experience is Holocaust during World War 2. The author gives a reader a feeling of ‘deja-vu’, as she makes her character, Gemma, retell the story of “Briar Rose” by Grimm Brothers’, but from Gemma’s perspective as the one of Holocaust’ survivors. The book’s author writes “Briar Rose” in the genre of fairy tale, to portray a Holocaust event, using allegory. The story purposes to give people a lesson about how important were feelings of hate, jealousy and envy during the World War, and how did it play with their emotions making them accept the wrong side of the truth in the cost of millions of lives. Gemma’s reinterpretation of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale helps her to contextualize her experience during WW2 in terms of darkness and light, and goes from magic to courage, as her granddaughter Becca realizes that the ‘princess’ she always talked about, was simply her grandmother, but not a sleeping beauty (Grimm Brothers’ 1) – but an “unknown refugee” during the Holocaust. Gemma’s character embeds the horrors of the World War 2 into the Briar Rose’ fairy tale, but instead of the ‘prince’ that appears in Grimm Brothers’ tale, Josef, the soldier, breaks into the concentration camp and saves the only survivor, Rebecca’s grandmother.
No one ever had thought from Shana, Sylvia or even Rebecca that the bedtime story could be a part of their grandmother’s life. After Gemma’s death, Becca in her honour, took a word for herself that she will discover what really happened to her as grandmother last words were “the castle is yours, you must find it, the castle is in sleeping woods” (Yolen 34). And even if it was the darkest memory, her granddaughter was ready, as she packed herself on a journey to Poland. Becca always thought that Gemma’s story never ended happily after except princess Briar Rose and her own little girl, as there was always something decidedly odd about whole telling (Yolen 56). Becca struggles to discover the truth and how it is connected to ‘sleeping beauty’, as the only thing she has a left is a box of clippers and photos. As she gets to Poland, she finds a man named Josef who was the one who saved the grandmother. He talks about the Holocaust as about the darkest times one could possible ever go through. One could see a parallelism with the WW2, “when Briar Rose was seventeen, one day and without further warning..a mist covered the entire kingdom” (Grimm Brothers’ 61). Becca got it all figured out, as the fairy tale was actually a tale of horror and sadness, and the man who saved her was the light of her life. “A large hedge of thorn soon grew around the palace”, was the barbed wire which surrounded the concentration camp, where Gemma was the “sleeping beauty” (Grimm Brothers’ 1). In Chelmno, where she was held together with other refugees, Josef saw the only one moving body where he provided her a CPR (Yolen 229). “As he stopped down and gave her a kiss” (Grimm Brothers’ 1), Becca’s grandmother woke up from a terrible ‘dream’ and said “I am alive, you have given me back to world” (Yolen 260). As she was returning with Josef and other back from the concentration camp, Gemma falls in love with Avenger and Josef marries them. But it was not the end, the dark theme still went on throughout the story as between “five thousands corpses” (Yolen 232), grandmother loses her love and returning to America, finds out she is pregnant.” Having a baby girl, even more beautiful” (Yolen 260), was one of the moments where pregnancy enlightens her and revives her, to live Again. “The music still played” (Yolen 252).
Wasn’t it courageous? After all the story being finally told, I can strongly agree that “in life, it is in the darkest zones one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom” (Fairy Tales in Popular Culture 37). In Jane Yolen’ book, Gemma tells her story about Holocaust during WW2 reinterpreting it to “Sleeping Beauty”. She makes it more acceptable to her granddaughters with a hope such as one day, one of them will go on the journey to “find the castle” themselves, and relive all the emotions and feeling their Gemma lived through. The allegory in this fairy tale is that no matter how bad the moment can turn out to be, one has no right to lose the hope but to live it, having a faith that a light is yet to appear and the best life is yet to come.