Grimms Fairy Tales
The Changes Different Societies and Time Periods Make on “Cinderella”
Fairy tales serve as important tools in history by allowing countries and societies throughout time to share their cultural beliefs and values. As fairy tales circulate around the world, cultures adopt and adapt the basic story lines that may stem from the oral tradition to represent their societal standards. Europe is a popular location to find the origin of many fairy tales. “Cinderella” is a common fairy tale with perhaps the most adaptations from its Chinese origin in the ninth century. The most popular versions come from France, Germany, and the United States. Charles Perrault, a French author who laid the foundation for the creation of fairy tales, wrote one of the earliest versions of the classic fairytale in 1697. He was said to be the best French “poet, critic, and writer of fairy tales” (Charles Perrault). Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, two brothers from Germany who are famous for their collection of fairy tales, wrote another adaptation of this tale in the early nineteenth-century, which includes a multitude of violent acts that directly reflect Germany’s economic condition during the time. They are possibly the most famous authors of fairy tales because “whether working together or independently, the Grimm brothers made unparalleled contributions to the disciplines of folklore and linguistics, inventing both fields of study and methodologies appropriate to those fields” (Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm). Published in the United States in the late twentieth-century, Walt Disney’s version of “Cinderella” is one of the most well-known today in Western cultures. Disney is a popular company known for its child-friendly movies, books, and theme parks. The lessons in “Cinderella” remain important today since countries all over the world continue to adapts its basic core values of friendship, violence and gore, and forgiveness.
An important yet common theme found in the classic fairy tale “Cinderella” is friendship. Perrault uses the relationship between Cinderella and her fairy godmother to convey the importance and value of friendship and how friends will always be there for each other in times of need. Cinderella’s family treat her as a slave and make her to clean the house for endless hours, make her sleep in a straw bed, and supply her with rags as clothing. She can’t call any of her stepsisters’ friends as a result of the terrible treatment they make her endure. Cinderella sits in the chimney with the cinders and ashes because it is the only place she can go to keep warm and be away from her terrible family, so she is made fun of and is “called Cinderwench” (Perrault 1). Cinderella is ecstatic when her fairy godmother comes into her life because she sees her appearance as an opportunity to have a better life and to get away from her wretched family. When Cinderella wishes to attend a grand ball at the royal castle, the fairy godmother volunteers to magically transform rodents into majestic horses to take Cinderella to the castle, and “[she] gave each mouse, as it went out, a little tap with her wand, and the mouse was that moment turned into a fine horse, which altogether made a very fine set of six horses of a beautiful mouse colored dapple gray” (Perrault 2). Her actions show that she is kindly looking after Cinderella, her close friend, whom is always tirelessly slaving away in the house. The fairy godmother appears in Cinderella’s life as not only an authority figure but also as a friend who will continually be there when she is needed. True friends are similar in the sense that they will always be there for each other, no matter the situation or current circumstance. The concept of friendship in “Cinderella” is characterized by French society during the seventeenth century, and as a result of devastating conditions during the time, such as disease and famine, people valued friendship and family life. The modern, twentieth century interpretation of “Cinderella” centers greatly around the concept of friendship although it has been slightly altered in order to adapt to today’s society. In Disney’s version of “Cinderella” she also has a fairy godmother who grants her wish to attend a grand ball, but the concept of friendship focuses more on the relationships between people and animals. Her friends, a handful of kind rodents, continually provide her joy throughout the tale as well as save her when her wicked stepmother locks Cinderella in an attic in attempt to keep her from meeting Prince Charming. Cinderella’s rodent friends save her by “stealing the key to [her] door from [the stepmother’s] pocket and carrying it away” (Disney 26). This American adaptation of “Cinderella” contains less violence and more pleasant concepts (like friendship) because it came about toward the end of the Great Depression, and Disney strove to create a story and a mood that would lighten people’s outlooks on society and life at the time. The basic core value of friendship remains strong in most versions of “Cinderella” although different societies alter the classifications of a friendship. Another concept that changes based on societal standards is forgiveness. The adaptation of “Cinderella” that the Grimm Brothers created in seventeenth century Germany centers on violence, gore, and unsettling imagery because this was the cultural normality for Germany at the time. In this version, Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off portions of their feet in an attempt to fit into the shoe that truly belongs to Cinderella, but each is sent home when “[Prince Charming] [looks] down, and [sees] that the slipper [is] indeed full of blood” (Grimm 166). By filling the slipper with blood, the Grimm Brothers create a dark tone that depicts how violence was a cultural normality in literature, oral stories, and everyday life in Germany. If they had not added that extra detail, the gloomy atmosphere of this scene would not be fulfilled and it would no longer be an accurate representation of their society. Eventually, parents hid these gruesome fairy tales and other gorey pieces of literature from their children because disturbing imagery laced German culture, and they feared the possibility of their children growing up with thoughts of violence in their minds. Although parents gave their best attempt at keeping their children away from violence, it spread through Germany during a time of reform and “many years constituted a continuous tug of war between many forces” (Herwig). Although the Grimm Brothers entice the readers with a dark and somber twist on “Cinderella”, the modern-day Disney version of “Cinderella” adapted and significantly decreased the amount of violence and gore found in the tale in attempt to help rebuild a happier, less destructive environment after the Great Depression crashed through the United States. The stepsisters cut off portions of their feet in the previous adaptation, but they simply cannot fit their feet into the shoe in Disney’s twist of the tale; this removes the majority of the gore found in the Grimm Brother’s version. Cinderella is cast aside and distracted by her stepmother while “first Anastasia and then Drizella [try] to squeeze a large foot into the tiny slipper, without success” (Disney 26). She then appears with the other slipper and, after a series of failed attempts from the stepmother to get Cinderella to leave, then seamlessly slips her foot into the shoe. The appearance of gore and violence in “Cinderella” is typically the result of a society’s economic condition and societal standards, so it will not always be present in the tale; similarly is the concept of friendship.
Forgiveness is a particularly concrete value that emerges in “Cinderella” on numerous occasions. Perrault includes the concept of forgiveness in his adaptation of “Cinderella” by allowing Cinderella to forgive her step sisters after all of their wrongdoings, such as forcing her to clean, cook, and wash dishes for them. When she marries Prince Charming at long last, her stepsisters “[throw] themselves at [Cinderella’s] feet to beg for pardon for all the ill treatment they made her undergo” (Perrault 5). Cinderella offers them forgiveness without hesitation and reveals that she “wanted them always to love her” (Perrault 5). Cinderella’s forgiveness of her stepsisters is a representation of France and how family bonds became stronger during the seventeenth century as a result of economic turmoil and unease. The modern, Disney version of this tale portrays Cinderella as a forgiving character with a caring heart. Although her stepsisters continuously torment her and force her to work as their maid, Cinderella remains the better person and does not allow their terrible behavior impact her actions towards them because she simply wants to be loved. In a rush attempt to return home before midnight, Cinderella lost her glass slipper when she left the grand ball at the royal castle. When Prince Charming comes to their house to ask all the women to try on the glass slipper that Cinderella accidentally lost while leaving, neither of Cinderella’s stepsisters can fit their feet in the shoe. She attempts to go try it on, but “the wicked stepmother [has] one more trick left. She [trips] [Prince Charming’s] servant, who [carries] the glass slipper, and it [falls] to the floor, where it [shatters] into hundreds of pieces” (Disney 27). Although she may not be happy with how her family treats her, Cinderella chooses to exemplify a positive attitude and constantly holds forgiveness in her heart. Her stepmother breaks the glass slipper, which is a deplorable situation, but Cinderella still takes the high road and continues to forgive her family for their poor actions. Forgiveness characterizes this modern rendition of “Cinderella” because the people living in America at the time had little money or possessions as a result of the Great Depression and the government; citizens needed to forgive the government for putting them in such a terrible situation. This core value is typically present in fairy tales in one form or another, although its use may be altered from society to society. As seen in the separate versions of “Cinderella”, the concept of forgiveness is not always the same from year to year or from country to country, but it is usually a key value that characterizes a fairy tale.
Different societies and countries adapt “Cinderella” to mirror common core values found in their culture, such as blood and gore, friendship, and forgiveness. The Grimm brothers are well known for their version of “Cinderella”, which is an ideal representation of how common violence became and how families attempted to shelter their children from the prevailing gore in seventeenth century Germany. Charles Perrault’s adaptation of the same fairy tale focuses less on violence and more on the concept of friendship. This core value relates to society during the time Perrault’s “Cinderella” appeared because disease and famine spread throughout France, killing many people, so others valued family and friendship. In similarity to Perrault’s version of this fairy tale, Disney’s adaptation contains friendship and lacks the same violence and gore that the Grimm Brother’s put in their story; Instead of violence and gore, Disney’s “Cinderella” focuses more on forgiveness. This core value relates to the condition American society shortly after the great depression. Cultures from different time periods change basic values in their fairy tales to fit the standards of their society and blend in. Without the desire to adopt and adapt literature from oral stories to classic novels, today’s society would be extraordinarily different than it is today. We wouldn’t have stories about mice magically transforming into horses, fairy godmothers, and princesses if one person had not started adapting these tales. Without the adaptation of stories, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
Disney, Walt. “Cinderella.” Walt Disney’s Treasury of Children’s Classics. New York: Disney Press, 1997. 12-30. Print.
“Charles Perrault.” Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Biography in Context. Gale. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. “Cinderella.” Grimms’ Fairy Tales. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1945. 156-167. Print
Herwig, Holger H. “Germany.” Europe 1789-1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire. Ed. John Merriman. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 957-970. World History in Context. Gale. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
“Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm & Wilhelm Karl Grimm.” Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Biography in Context. Gale. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Perrault, Charles. “The Little Glass Slipper.” The Blue Fairy Book. London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1889. 64-71. University of Pittsburgh. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
Portrayals of Curiosity in Grimm’s “The White Snake” & “Little Snow-White”
The Grimm brothers’ widely-known collection of fairy tales includes two especially significant stories: “Little Snow-White” and the lesser-known “The White Snake.” The main characters of each tale are, respectively, Snow White, a beautiful young princess, and an unnamed, lowly, but handsome servant boy. Though each tale has a similarly happy ending–the protagonists marry amicably and into (or back into, in the case of Snow White) royalty–Snow White and the servant arrive at their conclusions in exceedingly different ways. Both characters strongly display the trait of curiosity, but one is rewarded for it, while the other is punished. The underlying reason behind this difference is, of course, their respective genders. It seems that, in fairy tales, women are constantly punished for their curiosity, whereas men always reap the rewards.
Most people are highly familiar with the tale of Snow White, in which a jealous stepmother tries in vain to have her young step daughter killed because of her immense beauty. While Snow White’s defining characteristic is certainly her beauty; in the Grimm’s tale, she displays a distinct sense of curiosity as well. The twelve dwarves with whom she resides after her escape command her to “be sure to let no one come in” the home, but she repeatedly does so despite this prohibition (Grimm 252). The first two times she lets her disguised stepmother in, she does so because of her desire to see the “pretty things” that the woman pretends to be selling (253). This sense of curiosity seems distinctly feminine; one would assume that a man would not be as inclined to show interest in objects that are characterized as “pretty,” and especially not in hair combs or laces for a corset, as the merchandise turns out to be. In this way, Snow White’s sense of curiosity is made to seem unimportant and silly, a girlish pursuit rather than an intellectual or honorable one.
Despite this trivialization, Snow White is still harshly punished for her trespasses. The first two times she falls victim to her stepmother’s cunning, she merely falls to the ground and lies there “as if dead,” only to be awakened later by the dwarves (253, 254). But the final time, when she takes a bite of the poisonous apple, Snow White receives what perhaps most would consider the ultimate punishment–death.
In “The White Snake,” the servant is tasked with bringing the king his mysterious secret meal each night, covered so that no one can see what it is. One day, he is “overcome with such curiosity” that he looks underneath the cover and sees the eponymous white snake (Grimm 98). It is important to note the similarity of this description with the passage in “Little Snow-White” in which Snow White ultimately meets her demise by eating a slice of her stepmother’s poisonous apple. It is stated that she eats the apple because “she could resist no longer” (255). So, both Snow White and the servant are portrayed as having such strong senses of curiosity that they lose control over personal impulses. And yet, despite this similarity, the two characters face highly contrasting consequences for their actions.
Even after discovering exactly what the dish contains, the servant’s curiosity is still not satisfied–so he eats a bite of the snake, as well. Thus, he can be seen as being even more curious than Snow White. After all, he gives into his curiosity twice and possibly at the expense of others. By eating a bite of the snake, however small, he is taking that morsel away from the king. Snow White’s trespasses do not threaten to harm anyone but herself, yet still she reaps far worse results than the servant. Once he eats the snake, he is granted to ability to converse with animals, a skill that helps him time and time again. Eventually, he is able to rise from the rank of a lowly servant to that of a prince. The animals he helps along the way repeatedly declare that “one good deserves another,” so one would think that the reverse was also true (99, 100). However, the servant receives no form of punishment for viewing and eating the forbidden dish. True, he is accused of stealing a ring, but he is ultimately acquitted of this crime and receives no punishment for it; in fact, he is rewarded yet again by being allowed to ask a favor from the king.
Why is there such a disparity between the treatments of these two characters? The two stories reside, after all, in the same collection and arguably in the same tradition. As mentioned earlier, the protagonists’ genders are the key components into how they are treated. One should not assume that fairy tales were merely crafted for entertainment; they were used as instructional guides for both the children they were read to and the women (both mothers and servants) who read them aloud. It was in the interest of men who wanted to maintain their hegemony to repress girls’ and women’s curiosity, while simultaneously encouraging this trait in young boys. A perfect way to do so was to disguise this sexist rhetoric within fairy tales, which were and still are exceedingly popular among children and adults alike.
Luckily, in contemporary times, we are seeing an emergence of more empowering tales, in which curious girls are heralded rather than punished. Disney’s 2012 film Brave is one prominent example. Authors like Barbara Walker have even taken on classic tales like that of Snow White and re-written them with feminist inflections. Yet, the influence of tales like the Grimm’s “Little Snow-White” and “The White Snake” still remains.
Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm, Padraic Colum, and Josef Scharl. The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. New York: Pantheon, 1972. Print.
Characteristics of Fairy Tales
Fairy tales were handed down orally until the 18th century when the Romantics began to collect them together and write them down. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, are the best-known recorders of European tales. In the classic fairy tale laws of nature are suspended, there is little description of space or time, reality and the supernatural exist close together, language is magical, and a theme or motif exists. The first component of the standard fairy tale, a suspended law of nature, refers to the magical world in which the story takes place. All of the stories of the Brothers Grimm incorporate some version of this feature. In “Hansel and Gretel,” the children are captured by a witch who lives in a house made of sweets and keeps Hansel locked in a cage so that she can fatten him up and eat him. In “Snow White”, Snow White is living with seven dwarfs and other mystical creatures, and is given a poison apple by her evil stepmother who has taken a potion to change her appearance. In “The Water of Life”, two older sons seek magical water to save their father, but on the way they are rude to a dwarf and get trapped in a ravine. There is also a dwarf in “The Seven Ravens” who tells the daughter that her brothers will return. Another important feature of the typical fairy tale is that they all seem to be timeless, and the environment is unimportant unless otherwise noted. A character could “sleep” for a hundred years and wake up the same age and appearance she fell asleep with; the characters could be lost in a forest that never ends. For example, Snow White is put into a deep enchanted stupor by a poison apple and cannot be awoken until kissed by the Prince. Hansel and Gretel are lost in an enchanted forest, but we know nothing about that forest. The characters’ age and emotional development are unimportant. The characters are influenced and evolved by external impulses, not through a reflection of emotion. The father in the “Seven Ravens” does not turn his sons into ravens because he hates them; he does it because he thinks they disobeyed him instead. The older sons in “The Water of Life” tell the father that the younger son poisoned him so that they will not be embarrassed for failing to get his medicine, not because they dislike their younger brother. The evil queen in “Snow White” only wants to have Snow White killed because Snow White is fairer than she, not because she truly despises her. Another feature of fairy tales is that reality and the supernatural exist side by side. A dragon could be living alongside a common mouse, a sorcerer living among peasants, or a magical road set next to a normal one, without dissonance. Forces that would shock or awe normal people, like fire-breathing dragons or benevolent fairies, seem commonplace in these characters’ lives. No one finds it surprising that everything happens exactly when it’s supposed to. For example, a strange dwarf gives the youngest son in “The Water of Life” a magic wand to open the castle gate and loaves of bread to feed the lions so that he could get the magical water for his father. Any normal person might see these events as peculiar, but he seems to regard the events as a perfectly normal occurrence. In “Snow White,” she seems perfectly content to live in a house with and do the chores for seven dwarfs, never feeling for a second that she is out of place. And the prince who comes to kiss her is seemingly unsurprised that his kiss was able to wake Snow White from her lengthy, magical stupor. Magical words and phrases are a standard feature of fairy tales that have transcended to common knowledge, such as “Abracadabra” for casting spells and “Open Sesame,” for opening locked doors. In “Snow White,” the evil queen asks the famous phrase, “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” This phrase allows her to speak to an enchanted talking mirror. In “The Seven Ravens,” the father says the magic words, “I wish,” followed by “those boys would all turn into ravens,” and his sons all turned into ravens. The respect for language and numbers in fairy tales is a unique aspect of these stories.The final common theme between fairy tales is the central theme or motif. This is because the stories were originally intended to teach lessons as well as entertain. The theme of “The Water of Life” is to be polite, as the polite youngest son got the information he needed whereas the older sons were rude and cast into the ravine. Also, lying is dissuaded because when the father finds out that the older sons lied about the younger son trying to poison him he wishes to punish them. The theme of “Snow White” is to be good, the good Snow White becomes queen while the former, evil queen dies. In “The Seven Ravens,” the boys return to human form according to the typical motif of the casting of spell being undone. The unique fairy tale genre brought the joy of fantasy to children and adults alike. While whimsical, they all teach valuable lessons and can be enjoyed by people of any social class. They are an art form that embodies the imaginative power of the mind. Each tale transcends the real world and allows the reader to escape to a world where poverty and evil do not exist, and justice is always done.
The Evolution of Little Red Riding Hood
In the popular fairytale Little Red Riding Hood, the road to grandmother’s house is no walk in the park – it is dark, ominous, dangerous. It also offers choices, but Little Red Cap tends to make those that lead to trouble. The innocent heroine’s decisions always involve a seductive stranger, usually a wolf. In the Brothers Grimm version of the fairy tale Little Red Cap’s naivety and poor decision-making get her into a lot of trouble, and though she eventually escapes, she cuts it quite close. In Angela Carter’s modern interpretation of the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood is forced to sacrifice her dignity and virginity in order to keep her life; this is the result of yet another credulous decision made on the way to grandmother’s house. While the general storyline of an innocent girl encountering a flesh-eating wolf on her way to grandmother’s remains largely congruent in both of these adaptations of the classic fable, the differences in moral and theme suggest an evolution of women from dependent and naïve to self-empowered and aware of the influence of sexuality. In the classic Brothers Grimm account of Little Red Riding Hood the prevailing moral seems to be, as Little Red Cap puts it at the end of the story, “Never again will you stray from the path and go into the woods, when your mother has forbidden it (Brothers Grimm 16.)” Though simple, this conclusion entails that girls were not to think for themselves, as it would surely get them into trouble; this is a lesson that Little Red Cap nearly learns the hard way. This sugarcoated version of the fable is not as bold or risqué as other interpretations where the young protagonist is ravished by the wolf or is even killed in some cases, as the authors allow both the guiltless heroine and her grandmother to survive and live happily ever after. Instead of an empowering statement about the advancement of women, this account serves to illustrate more than anything the helplessness of females, and their reliance on men to bail them out. It is not until Little Red Cap is caged within the ribs of the satisfied and snoring wolf, (and assumed dead as the result of her own unadvised gullibility,) that she is saved by a brave and attentive neighboring huntsman, who cuts the wolf open and redeems her from the pits of her captor’s stomach. In his analysis on “The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales,” Bruno Bettelheim concludes that the caesarean operation and liberation of Little Red Cap by the huntsman symbolizes rebirth, by stating that the central theme “is that of a rebirth to a higher plane (Bettelheim 179.)” Just as Jonah’s stay in the belly of a whale was God’s way of teaching him a lesson and enlightening him, Red Cap emerges a more careful and knowing being after she is released from the stomach of the wolf. This marks the transformation of Red Cap from naïve and dangerously curious to circumspect and submissive. The Grimm Brothers’ adaptation shows that women at the time were not to be independent, as it was a certain means to an end. The theme of rebirth suggests that although it may take a harsh lesson, women will ultimately come to the understanding that they are dependent on others, generally men. This rendering of the children’s fable serves as more of a cautionary tale for women than anything else. After all, the huntsmen will not always be around to save the day.“The Company of Wolves” has an entirely different intention than its predecessors, expressly the Brothers Grimm account. Whereas in the Grimms’ version Little Red Cap is saved by a huntsman, hence sugarcoating the dangerous reality that sexual predators pose, Carter’s tale is brutal, as the heroine is forced to use her female sexuality in order to evade death. The world Carter creates is real. There is no huntsman and no noble gentleman to pull Red Riding Hood out of the mess she is in. It is now up to her to spare herself, use her wit, and ultimately sacrifice her dignity and become one of the “wolves.” In her modern interpretation of the fairy tale, Carter reassesses women’s self-understanding. Nowadays women are aware of the power of eroticism; rather than crying out for assistance, Little Red Riding Hood is her own savior. In fact, Carter’s heroine, who starts off the story as a pure and seemingly untouchable virgin of a child, knows how to use her sexual allure to her advantage better than most. As she watches the wolf’s “jaw begin to slaver” and “the room fill with the clamour of the forest’s Liebestod”, she laughs in the face of death and bravely thinks “I am nobody’s meat (Carter 118.)” Carter’s ending leaves no question that a woman’s awareness of the influence of seductiveness is an empowering understanding, as it enables Little Red Riding Hood to rescue herself. However, it also offers a sad reality. Sometimes women are forced to reduce themselves in order to elevate in society and a partial loss of dignity must be sacrificed. Carter acknowledges this female power and the great deal of responsibility that accompanies it. The main difference between modern Carter’s version of Little Red Riding Hood and the earlier Brothers Grimm version is that nowadays women are not feeble and guarded, rather they have developed an understanding of the weakness that their libido precipitates in most men, particularly in rapists and sexual predators. This realization has allowed some women to elevate themselves and avoid trouble, as is the theme of “The Company of Wolves.” It is impossible for the werewolf, who symbolizes sexual predators, to turn down consensual relations with a girl who “stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity…an unbroken egg…a sealed vessel…[who] has inside of her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane.” This is why the heroine laughs at the prospect of death; she is fully aware that she serves a more useful purpose to the wolf alive and willing to meet his sexual demands than if she is raped and eaten. Unlike her helpless grandmother whose “old bones set up a terrible clattering under the bed (Carter 118,)” because she offered no potential sexual pleasure to the wolf, the red-cowled vestal maiden is spared by the carnivorous beast. In the end Little Red Riding Hood’s fearlessness proves valid as she sleeps “between the paws of the tender wolf,” who like many rapists, makes her life less unpleasant for choosing consent over struggle. The moral of Carter’s interpretation, then, is that woman’s sexuality is one of their most powerful tools, and if used wisely can help to level the societal playing field between men and women, or get them out of dire straits. Yet, women must hold onto this unique influence carefully and use it wisely because it is so closely tied to their self-worth and self-respect.As times have changed the Little Red Riding Hood saga has evolved. Although in both the Carter and Grimm accounts the young girl does not change in terms of curiosity – as she lets her guard down when she encounters the wolf on her way to grandmothers house – the true change is revealed when she meets the wolf for the second time. Where in the Brothers Grimm account Little Red Cap is feeble and yielding she is now cunning and seductive. This change is borne of a new understanding of the power of sexuality, and the irresistibility that accompanies it. By altering the moral and theme of the classic fairy tale Carter is commenting on the advancement of women and the principle that they can now care for themselves.Bibliography:“Little Red Cap” by Brothers Grimm pg. 16, from The Classic Fairy Tales, Ed. Maria Tatar. NY: Norton, 1999“The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter pg. 118, from The Bloody Chamber, NY: Penguin, 1979Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, New York: Vintage, 1977.
The Evolving Concept of Home: An Analysis of Visual Imagery as Related to the Psychological Themes of “Growing Up” in the Grimms’ Hansel and Gretel
As a child coming of age in the mass-consumerist, technologically innovative, and media-influenced climate of the twentieth century, one’s exposure to fairy tales will have likely been informed by recurrent viewings of Disney film adaptations. Reared on such a diet of animated full-length features, as well as the lucrative merchandising campaigns accompanying each new release, the modern-day child’s concept of the fairy story is strongly linked with catchy musical numbers, comic foils in the form of smart-alecky critters, heroic princes mounted atop white horses, and the healing power of the phrase, “happily ever after.” However as Jack Zipes has observed, as the great villain of the fairy tale tradition, Disney in fact “violated the literary genre of the fairy tale,” effacing its most gripping qualities for the need to create marketable, easily accessible cinematic versions. A powerhouse of visual imagery, compelling stories, poignant metaphor and universal human themes, fairy tales are more than simply charming narratives of magical donors, anthropomorphized objects and true love fulfilled. Able to excite the imagination, harness a child’s fascination with the power of magic and wishes, fairy stories are in fact the literary equivalent of the day dream, a psychological tool by which children can project and, through vicarious association with main characters, allow themselves to live out the fantasies they secretly harbor. Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychologist, firmly believed that the fairy tale served a profound role in the development of children. Bettelheim felt that, above all else, children need help negotiating or finding meaning in their lives, to attain a better understanding of themselves as individuals. In order to do this, to “transcend the confines of a self-centered existence and believe that one will make a significant contribution to life,” children need assistance coming to terms or comprehending the chaotic, messy emotions they experience as a reaction to the chaos and messiness of their surrounding reality. Such an understanding of challenging, unfamiliar concepts or feelings, an organizing of the questions marks in life that emerge as children grow, is achieved not through sheer experience alone, but from channeling the pressures of growing up through customized, comforting, even pleasurable daydreams that attend to their particular conflicts. According to Bettelheim: “It is here that fairy tales have unequaled value, because they offer new dimension to the child’s imagination which would be impossible for him to discover as truly on his own. Even more important, the form and structure of fairy tales suggest images to the child by which he can structure his daydreams and with them give better direction to his life.” Therefore, the psychoanalytic framework provides for a fascinating, unique reading of the fairy tale, where the manifest content of the story is interpreted as the product of a child’s imagination. The idea that the events occurring in any given tale are in fact completely “made up” within the minds of the protagonists allows for these actions to function as metaphors for the struggles informing the child “auteur,” and confer upon the tale a significance, a complexity and depth that extend far beyond the boundaries of the individual narrative itself. As already mentioned, the literary fairy tale derives much of its resonance, its evocative power, its ability to move and inspire readers, from the visual tapestry it so masterfully threads together. In fact, one of the major contributions of psychoanalysis to literary criticism in the 20th century, such as a Bettelheimian interpretation of the fairy story, has been its emphasis on the significance of the verbal as well as visual elements of the text. As Bettelheim suggests, “the fairy tale is the primer from which the child learn to read his mind in the language of images, the only language which permits understanding before intellectual maturity has been achieved.” Visuals are concrete entities that symbolize the nameless, rather intangible and confusing emotional and psychological struggles raging within the nascent psyche of a child. They are the building blocks by which children piece together the puzzle of their psychological development, the vehicle through which the “unconscious content” of growing up is superimposed onto the “conscious fantasies” manifested in a given fairy tale. Often times, these compelling images serve as the anchor for the complex themes within a fairy tale, paradigmatically illustrating these concepts, as well as introducing new material to encourage a reader to reexamine or widen his scope of interpretation. For example, the image of the gingerbread house in the Brothers Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel” is a prime example of such a potent visual. Within the classic tale, this striking image functions as an important symbol on a dual allegorical level. The gingerbread house is, on one hand, a representation of the child’s naïve idea of “home,” of comfort, of safety and protection. However, the house also serves as a warning against the complacency, the paralysis, the stunted growth that might result from a steadfast refusal to challenge and move beyond this childhood familiarity, thus embodying the struggles of growing up inherent to the thematic schema of the story. To understand how the gingerbread house achieves this complex level of signification, one must read “Hansel and Gretel” not as the literal tale of two small children abandoned in the woods, but as a metaphor for the fears associated with growing up, and thus the projected fantasy of a child attempting to reconcile this conflict within himself. In his controversial work, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bettelheim offers an interesting interpretation of “Hansel and Gretel” within this decidedly psychoanalytic framework. Because he asserts that “the fairy tale expresses in words and actions the things which go on in children’s minds,” Bettelheim suggests that the desertion of the children in the forest was a completely imagined event. Rather, this incidence is a realization of the anxiety stemming from a genuine fear of starvation. In fact, Hansel and Gretel felt abandoned and alone the moment they soberly understood that their parents would no longer be able to sufficiently care for them in this capacity, as providers of nourishment, perhaps after awakening from sleep with intense hunger one night. Bettelheim expounds upon this idea: “The mother represents the source of all food to the children, so it is she who now is experienced as abandoning them, as if in a wilderness. It is the child’s anxiety and deep disappointment when Mother is no longer willing to meet all his oral demands, which leads him to believe that suddenly Mother has become unloving, selfish, rejecting. Since the children know they need their parents desperately, they attempt to return home after long being deserted.” Of course, “home” is a term that can be defined in several ways. It is often identified with a “house,” or some form of literal, physical setting. On a more conceptual level, home is a metaphor for that which comforts and soothes us, that which is familiar and reassuring. A nurturing presence or source is sometimes considered a type of “home,” as is a basic notion of stability or sense of belonging. What is the home to which Hansel and Gretel, characters who collectively represent the any-child struggling against the pressures of development, wish to return? If they feel displaced, floundering on their own without the constants by which they have forever been anchored (such as the guarantee of a secure, happy livelihood under the care of infallible parents), where now should they turn? On whom or what can the growing child depend on while traversing the course towards burgeoning independence? Unsure of how to answer these questions, and lost in the wilderness of psychological conflict, of a realization that nothing in life is a given, that the outside world is subject to change and thus cannot be invested with any measure of permanence, Hansel and Gretel make every attempt to return to the home that, while deficient, is at least familiar. Hansel first thinks to lay pebbles to mark the path he and his sister followed upon entering the woods, thus creating a trail by which to trace their steps homewards. However, after the second occurrence of deception and “abandonment” at the hands of their desperate but nonetheless scheming parents (the mother being particularly portrayed as the more criminal character), the children are less successful in their attempts to construct a return route: Hansel mistakenly chooses to mark a path using bread crumbs. Why would he not consider the very real possibility that birds, or really any living creature existing in the recesses of the forest, would eat these crumbs, thereby effacing the trail back home? This foolish, shortsighted, symbolic act is a testament to the any-child’s increasing sense of panic and hopelessness, for so powerful is his fear that the feelings of anxiety begin to occlude his capacity for logical, rational thinking. Bettelheim builds upon this point, commenting that, “having engaged in denial and regression—the return (to a false) home—Hansel has lost much of his initiative and ability to think clearly. Starvation anxiety has driven him back, so now he can think only of food as offering a solution to the problem of finding his way out of a serious predicament.” Soon, however, food, man’s proverbial “life line,” appears like an oasis in this vast desert of the frightened unconscious, embodied in the glorious visual of the gingerbread house. Ostensibly the unequivocal solution to their emotional dilemma, the gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel” is a hyperbole, an eroticized image of that which the children feel the most without, what they most crave. After all, what reader, young or old, would not be captivated and stunned by the description of an entire house made of candy, existing as a refreshing little slice of fun, colorful fancy against the stark backdrop of the austere woods? Described in vivid detail within the text of the tale, with “a roof made of cake and transparent windows of sugar,” the image of the house ignites temptation and appeal at a base level, or what Bruno Bettelheim identifies as “the most primitive satisfactions…[a child’s] oral regression. Bruno Bettelheim discusses at length the significance of the children’s manic eating away of the house as a manifestation of their “oral greediness and how attractive it is to give into. I agree that the house represents a form of gluttony, of careless abandon and disregard for mature notions of restraint, respect for others’ property, and adherence to the boundaries of proper decorum. However, I believe the image of the gingerbread house symbolizes, above all else, a mother’s womb, or the “home” the children feel they have lost and want so desperately to find again. In their voracious consumption, Hansel and Gretel, and thus the child in general, are acting out a fantasy of returning to a more infantile state characterized by complete dependence upon a nurturing mother figure. Therefore, the careless manner in which Hansel and Gretel devour the witch’s gingerbread home not only demonstrates the growing child’s desire to regress to a stage of oral fixation, but is literally an assumption of the role and behaviors of the needy infant. Sublimating his individualism in this way, the child reveals his fears about confronting the challenges of adulthood, and would prefer instead to rush to the side of the idyllic “good mother” for eternal protection from the dangers of real life. According to Bettelheim: “A house, as the place at which we dwell, can symbolize the body, usually the mother’s…Thus, the house at which Hansel and Gretel are eating away so blissfully and without a care stands in the unconscious for the good mother, who offers her body as a source of nourishment. It is the original all-giving mother whom ever child hopes to find again later somewhere…when his own mother begins to make demands and to impose restrictions.”Their eating of the house also signifies the children wanting to imbibe notions of security and stability. In their desperation and confusion, upon encountering the gingerbread house, Hansel and Gretel want to be certain that this happy, safe home does not vanish to the ether of psychological development, and instead becomes a part of who they are. By imagining the siblings as performing an act of literal ingestion, the child projects his hope that the concept of home might become part of who he is–inextricably tied to his identity, to his inner soul. However, in order to learn how to cope with challenges inherent to life, no child should remain psychologically mired within the vacuum of a metaphorical womb, sacrificing the liberating power of self-reliance for the familiar, comforting but ultimately paralyzing effects of a nurturing, co-dependent relationship, The dangers of clinging to the trappings of an earlier stage of development for fear of embracing the unknown changes and obstacles of maturity, are illustrated by a second compelling representation of a mother’s womb: the oven inside the witch’s kitchen. An unsettling, vivid image in and of itself, the oven that serves as the backdrop for the climax of “Hansel and Gretel” is, in effect, a revisionist interpretation of the gingerbread house and exposes the risky deficiencies inherent to any infantile concept of home. Allured by the oral temptation ignited by the candy house, and relieved at the thought of having finally returned to a type of “all giving mother” for which they have been desperately searching, Hansel and Gretel are fooled into rather willingly entering a perilous, life-and-death situation. They are captured by the witch, who at first conceals her true nefarious designs, again playing on the children’s wish to suspend their development and revert to a simpler time of complete dependency. Allowing their id-like desires to dull their instincts, to occupy the administrative, decision-making functions that should instead be fulfilled by logical thinking, Hansel and Gretel seem fated to fall prey to the witch as victims of their fears of “growing up.” Bettelheim suggests that, at this point faced with a very real threat, the child recognizes that he needs to develop reliance within himself and his faculties for survival in order to achieve stability and happiness in life. The child must fully purge himself of any silly, ineffectual romantic longings for the “home” of their infancy, for the healing balm of the nurturing mother. Bettelheim confirms this point: “The witch’s evil designs finally force the children to recognize the dangers of unrestrained oral greed and dependence. To survive, they must develop initiative and realize that their only recourse lies in intelligent planning and acting. They must exchange subservience to the pressures of the id for acting in accordance with the ego. Goal-directed behavior based on intelligent assessment of the situation in which they find themselves must take the place of which fulfilling fantasies.”Unlike Bettelheim, however, I am less concerned with the child admitting the consequences of unbridled desire, of his “oral greed,” of his (temporary) disregard for proper conduct or self-control, for I do not think it is shame that motivates a child to cull from the resources of his immediate environment (i.e. his peers, himself) to overcome the challenges of real life. As manifested by the image of the oven, I believe the child is more profoundly impacted by the sobering realization that the notion of the comforting, infantile “home” is in fact corrupt, dangerous, beguiling, and ultimately not the solution for addressing the difficulties of psychological development. For the witch to burn to her death in the oven is a striking inversion of the conceptual association with the “womb” as being the source of creation, for, in this instance, the figure of the womb both terminates the life of the witch, as well as the life of Hansel and Gretel’s empty, ineffectual, child-like longing. At the same time, however, the witch’s demise signifies a new beginning for Hansel and Gretel within the confines of the narrative, and for the any-child within the context of his emotional growth. Rid now of the desire for the anesthetizing comforts of infancy, the child experiences a sort of rebirth through the personas of Hansel and Gretel, assuming the roles of fully functioning, developed, independent “adult” individuals ready to conquer the problems of growing up. The tale of Hansel and Gretel concludes with a return to the home setting that opened the story. However, the children have been forever changed by their experiences, and they are thus not coming back to the same home from which they departed. Bringing back from the gingerbread home the witch’s vast supply of treasure and wealth, Hansel and Gretel are now able to provide for and support their family unit, and no longer need to suffer under the mercy of their parents’ care. The children may finally attain a level of happiness within the physical home that at first seemed deficient or lacking in some way, for they have developed within their psyches the capacity to provide for themselves that which their immediate environment lacks, and are encouraged to constantly pursue “growth toward a higher plane of psychological and intellectual existence.” Psychological development and emotional growth are not processes that occur independent of the child. Children are proactive participants in the socialization to their outside world, and they are not blind or dumb to the frightening realities of life. Complex, difficult concepts such as death, change, loss, destruction and the human capacity for evil do not escape the child’s observant eye. It is the denial on the part of parents or other caretakers that these elements do in fact occur in life that further perplexes the child, instilling in him a paranoia that he is perhaps alone in experiencing challenging emotions or harboring secret fantasies. However, in order to evolve as adults capable of adapting to the difficulties and inconsistencies of grown-up life, children must be allowed an open, safe forum by which to perform investigation into, and reconciliations of, uncomfortable feelings. If unable to rely upon the familiar caretaking-figures to supply the answers to these challenging questions, or the psychological avenues by which these answers can be ascertained, where can mystified children turn to for support? The compelling visually imagery of the fairy tale provides the most effective, satisfying outlet for the channeling of early fears and attainment of adult-like coping skills the developing child has available to him. Referring once again to the words of Bruno Bettelheim, they fairy story expresses “thoughts through impressive images, which lead the child to use his own imagination to derive deeper understanding.” The visual dichotomy of the gingerbread house and witch’s oven as signifiers of two elements of the same basic concept offers the child the opportunity to achieve such a level of comprehension. In this dual image, he recognizes both the alluring quality of the infantile “home,” as well as the danger steadfastly desiring what is essentially a false, insubstantial, and decaying manifestation of home has of “burning” the fibers of psychological development. The imagination is a vast, nay, eternal play-space in which the child can perform the “figuring-out” work of his emotional maturity, and images are the currency through which these transactions, the negotiations for meaning to life’s greatest puzzles, ultimately occur.
The Themes and Evolution of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Fairytale
The tale of “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the best-loved and most persistent fairy tales in modern culture. Its universal appeal is due to its endearing message of ‘true love’ and the idea that ‘beauty is found within’. However the concept of the animal bridegroom has been used in children’s literature for centuries and, much like the modern interpretation of the tale itself the idiom ‘looks can be deceiving’ holds true when it comes to tales like “The Pig King” and “The Frog King”.
“The Frog King” written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1812) is the tale of a young and naive princess who encounters a frog while playing in the garden (Ashliman, 2005). The princess makes a deal with the frog, promising that she will let him live with her but then leaves the frog admitting she never had any intention of fulfilling her promise. Later the frog returns and the girl’s father scolds her and instructs her: “When you make a promise, you must keep it” (Tatar, 1999, 49). The girl does as she is told until the frog tries to enter her bed, disgusted, she throws him against the wall and he is transformed into a prince with “beautiful, beaming eyes” and they fall in love (Tatar, 1999, 50).
Alternatively, Giovanni Francesco Straparola’s “The Pig King” features a more obliging bride who is willing to accept her deformed husband. The tale begins with a queen who is desperate for a son and due to an enchantment gives birth to a boy with the body of a pig. The king and queen raise the pig who one day demands that his parents find him a wife as he has fallen for a beautiful but poor maiden from the city. The maiden is unwilling to marry the pig and is coerced by her mother into accepting the offer but is so disgusted by her husband she decides to kill him, however, the pig discovers her plot and kills her first. The pig then demands to be married to the maiden’s younger sister, and the second marriage ends the same as the first. Finally the pig is married to the youngest sister who humbly accepts the pig as her husband. Later the pig sheds his skin and becomes a beautiful young man and the two live happily ever after (Tatar, 1999, 42-47).
Finally, Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s telling of “The Beauty and the Beast” (1757) requires the least introduction as it is one of the worlds best known fairy tales. The story follows a young beautiful girl who sacrifices herself to save her father from being devoured by an aristocratic beast. Slowly the girl begins to grow fond of the beast and eventually is able to see past his hideousness and agrees to marry him. The Beast then transforms into a beautiful prince and Beauty is rewarded for her virtue while her cruel sisters are punished. (Tatar, 1999, 32-42)
While these stories appear vastly different and contain varying messages they are all categorized under the subset of the animal bridegroom fairy tale and all touch on similar themes (Heiner, 2007). However, it is the way in which each tale approaches these themes that alter the overall meaning of the story. For instance each tale contains a different variation of an arranged marriage, the consequences and motivations of such are examined in varying depths and result in varied outcomes. Moreover, the recurring motif of the animal bridegroom and the fair maiden highlight the roles and expectations of gender and class at the time each tale was written, some of the tales are empowering while others are merely reflections of the repressive society of the age. Finally the theme of sex and attraction is present and, in fact and in each instance, drives the plot and delivers the meaning of the tales.
SEXUAL MATURATION, GENDER AND ATTRACTION
Attraction is a pivotal theme in each telling of this tale and is exaggerated by the men in each story literally being portrayed as animals. Notably while the women in these tales are infallibly beautiful, the men are judged in other areas and are only attractive when their real virtue is uncovered indicating that a man’s true value is in his character. Beauty from “Beauty and the Beast” and the maiden from “The Pig King” share many idealized feminine traits such as obedience and kindness. However, the protagonist of “The Frog Prince” is indicative of a different feminine ideal, she is beautiful and innocent like her counterparts but less submissive and more self-interested and proves herself capable of finding her own happiness through action as opposed to passivity.
The women in each tale are at first repulsed by the ‘beastly’ men who symbolise the primal and sexual aspects of human nature, the women must see past the men’s exterior to experience and accept the joy of a sexual relationship and reach sexual maturity themselves. In each tale the form that the man takes affects the meaning of the tale. The most profound of these is present in “The Frog King”, the phallic nature of the frog and the princess’ refusal to allow him in her bed has led literary critics to believe that it’s meaning is sexually symbolic. The frog transforming to a prince is symbolic of the transformation of a virgin’s perception of sex from something disgusting to something she accepts (Heuscher, 1974). The symbolism of the golden ball that the princess plays with further supports this interpretation, as the golden ball is symbolic of the princess’ virginity and naivety, and foreshadows her violent rejection of him later in the story (Talairach-Vielmas, 2012, 288). The meaning of her rejection symbolizes the fear and disgust that women feel at their first sexual encounter, and warns that men shouldn’t force women to share their beds until they’re willing to accept them. It is only after the frog transforms into a prince that the couple find wedded bliss.
This meaning is markedly different to the meaning of “The Pig King” as the heroine of the story is the woman who accepts her partners bestial nature and her unwilling sisters are victims of the beast. The sisters’ violent reaction to their disgusting bridegroom and unwillingness to consummate their marriage is punished whereas the youngest sister’s obliging nature and acceptance of the pig results in a happy marriage. It is only after the maiden gives herself to the pig that he transforms into a prince. Therefore the meaning that the text suggests is that women need to be willing to endure their partners sexual advances in order to find happiness.
Finally, “Beauty and the Beast” is the most tender tale when it comes to sexuality. While the beast is symbolically the most physically aggressive suitor of these tales, in reality he is the most patient of the animal bridegrooms and least willing to force himself on his partner. The physical form of the beast is symbolic of the ‘violence of male sexuality’ that women must learn to accept in order to live harmoniously with their partners (Talairach-Vielmas, 2012, 275). Furthermore, the appearance of the beast is the strongest sexual metaphor and his transformation represents Beauty’s own sexual maturation, instead of seeing a monster in her partner she sees something beautiful (Talairach-Vielmas, 2012, 272). The meaning the text suggests that marital happiness is achieved through patience on the part of the man and a willingness to wait for their partner to accept their sexual nature, the beast understands how he appears to Beauty and rather than force himself on her he is chivalrous and waits for her to accept him instead. This suggests that women are happiest in a tender marriage and that the strongest unions are those in which the woman chooses to take the man.
LOVE, MARRIAGE AND CLASS
Each tale involves an arranged marriage that results in the happiness of the participants. In each tale the arranged marriage doesn’t succeed until the characters accept each other, reinforcing the idea that marriage is dependent on love and that without love a marriage will not last (Tatar, 1999, 28). In this respect class is also an important driving force in these stories, the class of the participants affects the dynamic of their relationships and the overall meaning the tale presents.
The reasons for marriage in “The Pig King” affect the outcome of the marriage each time, the older sisters married the pig for money and status rather than love which, despite being common for the time, the marriages failed as a result. The maiden who married the pig sincerely was ultimately the successful bride suggesting that money and status are poor reasons to marry. The class of the maiden was also important in determining her marital success, the three maidens were marrying up a class and needed to act accordingly, the youngest maiden who acted humbly and who graciously accepted her blessing at being chosen survived her arranged marriage.
The opposite is the case in “The Frog King” which presents a princess born from aristocracy who acts immorally without retribution. Where the sisters in “The Pig King” acted violently to a member of a higher class and were punished, the princess in “The Frog King” is rewarded for her violent actions towards a ‘lower’ creature. The meaning here seems to suggest that it is essential to act according to one’s class and that marriage alone cannot alter the class in which someone is born. It is only after the frog becomes a ‘prince’ and compliments the princess’ social position that the marriage begins to operate effectively and they become equals.
Class is ever-present in “Beauty and the Beast” and it is Beauty’s acceptance of her class position that ensures her happiness. While her sisters act with snobbery despite their tenuous class position and refuse to marry anyone below them, Beauty acts virtuously and is the epitome of a fine gentlewoman of the age. In fact in each story the sisters are presented as the antithesis of the main character, while their poorly behaved sisters are punished the girls are cherished and rewarded for their sincerity (Carter, 1991, 128). Beauty is rewarded because of her class awareness and adaptability in agreeing to an arranged marriage when she is poor for the good of her family. The willingness of the women in these stories to adhere to their parents wishes and agree to an arranged marriage mirrors the social practises of the age but the meaning of each text seems to suggest that marriages between classes will not function without mutual love and the conformity of the lower class participant (Tatar, 1999, 27).
HONESTY, PATIENCE AND COMPROMISE
Outside of these factors each tale has it’s own unique overarching meaning which is transformed by each retelling, despite many similarities between the texts the nuances in each tale set it apart from the pack of animal bridegroom tales. The message or meaning of each text relates to the factors that result in a happy marriage and the happiness of the characters.
“The Frog King”’s meaning is related to honesty and the importance of keeping promises and the happiness that comes from commitment. This is reflected in the attitudes of the princess’ father who encourages honesty and in the prince’s servant Heinrich who finds his happiness from his commitment to his master. The couple’s dishonesty keeps them from having a successful relationship, the princess made a false promise and was unhappy fulfilling it while Frog’s false form only causes the princess discomfort. It is only after the couple return to their honest selves that they are able to accept each other.
While being seemingly similar the meaning of “The Pig King” is different to this, even though it would seem as though it was the dishonesty of the sisters that caused their deaths it was, in fact, their inability to compromise that caused their ends. It is only after the maiden compromises and marries the grotesque pig that the pig is able to compromise and become a man to meet her halfway. The tale suggests that a dual compromise is the best path to mutual happiness in matrimony.
Finally, the meaning of “Beauty and the Beast” and perhaps what ensures it has the most enduring message is that of patience and tenderness. By waiting for Beauty’s feelings to change the beast ensured that she loved him of her own volition rather than forcing her. The tender way in which the characters interact creates a lasting bond based on mutual respect rather than passion or necessity. However, the meaning that these tales are unified by is ‘the transformative power of love’, and this is what ultimately sets the sub genre of the animal bridegroom apart from other fairy tales (Tatar, 1999, 27).
Ashliman, D. L. (2005, November 30). The Frog King or Iron Heinrich by the Brothers Grimm a comparison of the versions of 1812 and 1857. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/frogking.html
Carter, A. (1991). About the Stories,” in Sleeping Beauty and Other Favourite Fairy Tales. Boston, United States of America: Otter Books.
Danielson, J. (2002, April). Annotations. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://blaine.org/jules/annotations.html
Heiner, H. A. (2007, June 25). History of Beauty and the Beast. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/beautybeast/history.html
Heuscher, J. (1974). A Psychiatric Study of Myths and Fairy Tales: Their Origin, Meaning, and Usefulness (2nd ed.). Springfield, United States of America: Charles C. Thomas
Talairach-Vielmas, L. (2012). Beautiful Maidens, Hideous Suitors: Victorian Fairy Tales and the Process of Civilization. Marvels & Tales, 24(2), 272-296.
Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales (1st ed.). New York, United States of America: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
White as Snow: Internal and External Beauty
The Grimm Brothers’ tale of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves uses the duality of hatred and good to deliver the idea that being a person of good morals and mind triumphs over being a person of hatred and the desire to hurt the lives of others. Characterizing the Protagonist of the story with the name of Snow White, already shows to the reader that this central character will be one of pure heart and good intentions for others. The use of symbols such as the name of Snow White is seen throughout this piece as a method for delivering the message that those who choose to turn to hatred rather than a morality that allows for the well being of others, will ensure the experience of a plight of some sort. Prevalent symbols throughout the story include the use of the color white as a means for characterizing all things clean, pure, and good, the symbol of darkness and all that surround it as having to do with fear, hatred, and plight, as well as the symbols of the animals that watch over Snow White’s coffin standing for both what she is lacking, and what she is made up of. Grimms’ extensive use of symbolism as a tool for delivering the messages of the story shows the audience that nothing was placed in the story without a purpose, that every color, animal, and move that Snow White makes has some level of significance to the story itself.
The title and protagonist of the story being named Snow White is an immediate use of symbolism as a mode of delivering a message of purity before even having to read the story itself. The story is prefaced with the reasoning behind the name of Snow White. Her mother stating “Oh that you had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the embroidery frame!” (KHM 53), prior to the birth of her child, shows that her name will be a symbol for the things her mother encountered in her life prior to her arrival. As all good thing do come to an end eventually, the queen’s death being short after the birth of her baby, born “…with a skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony, and she was named Snow-white” (KHM 53), just like the the way she thought her child would be born. Her mother’s death and being replaced with the entry of the new, vain, beauty obsessed stepmother symbolizes the quick ability of a situation of good and purity to turn into a situation filled with hatred, and causing plight. Throughout the story, the stepmother queen constantly having to turn to her mirror for validation shows how she covers her self hatred with a constant desire for having an outside source tell her how beautiful she is, to disguise her from the destruction that the hatred is causing inside of her. Instead of seeing Snow White as the kind hearted, joyful, wanting good and respect for everyone girl that she is, the stepmother Queen sees her as miserable and someone who deserves to die due to her extreme jealousy of the princess. Comparing the “fair-ness” of the princess and the stepmother queen also relates to her name being Snow White, due to the word “fair” also relating to a fair, almost white pigmentation of the skin, only furthering that Snow White’s skin being so pale is a symbol for her innocence in purity of the heart being a symbol of her inner beauty, as well as outer beauty that the queen envies so much. Another instance in the story where Snow White’s beauty and fair exterior show that she is a person of fair interior as well is when the dwarves immediately assumed that she was not in intruder nor a person of bad intentions when they found her in their home and allowed her tostay, purely based on their initial assessment of her, which revolved around admiring her beauty. The great shock that the Queen suffers when the mirror tells her “But Snow-white fairer is than you” (KMH 53), uses the word fair in context to outer beauty, which coincides with Snow White’s inner beauty and down to earth personality. The immediate turn of her skin to a shade of yellow/green shows how skin color throughout this story is yet another symbol for good and bad.
The symbol of the skin of the stepmother Queen turning into a yellow/green color when she finds out Snow White is more “fair” in terms of beauty (value in the eyes of the Queen) shows the physical transformation that that the Queen goes through when she begins to resemble a person of hatred rather than good. Immediately, this symbol of darkness, the green color of the Queen, rather than the white of the Princess, jumps out to the reader of the story as a symbol of jealousy. The fact that the huntsman was unable to kill Snow White and ended up leaving her to fend for herself in the woods instead, shows how her good heart, fair beauty, and care for others ended up saving her life instead of aiding in plight. Another symbol of darkness standing for objects of fear, hatred and plight are the woods themselves. Snow White’s experience in the woods after the huntsman abandoned her (post deciding not to kill her per the Queen’s wish) was defined by, “Now, when the poor child found herself quite alone in the wild woods, she felt full of terror, even of the very leaves on the trees, and she did not know what to do for fright” (KHM 53). Snow White being a victim of the unknown, lead to her experiencing unnecessary fear, that could have been avoided if the Queen was not a person filled with jealousy and through that, desire to cause plight in Snow White. The fact that Snow White was able to come upon the house of the Seven Dwarves and seek refuge in a place that seemed like a safe haven (compared to theterror she encountered in the woods), shows that Snow White was able to avoid death and impending plight in the woods due to her being a person of good rather than a person of hatred. Although Snow White endured three situations in which the Queen tried to poison her to death, with the help of the dwarves, and then the prince, she was able to come out as successful (by successful, alive, well, and married to a prince that appreciates her internal beauty and good heart as well as her external beauty), she had to overcome situations of possible plight, which were all characterized with features of darkness as well as frightful elements due to the unknown.
The animals that are mentioned as coming down to watch over Snow White’s clear coffin after she supposedly died after the Queen’s third attempt at poisoning are symbolic of the features and characteristics that the character of Snow White is made up of, as well as of those that she is lacking. The owl, raven and dove are all bird of red, black and white color, which could be linked to symbolizing the red lips and blood, white/fair complexion and black hair of the protagonist herself. Owls, being birds of wisdom, symbolize the lack of wisdom that Snow White has in her constant plight in trusting the characters that the evil Queen is portraying in her attempts to kill Snow White. Although Snow White tells the evil Queen characters of the old peasant woman and different dressed up versions of an old woman that “I dare not let anybody in; the seven dwarfs told me not to.” (KHM 53), her lack of wisdom is seen in her getting easily manipulated by the Queen and letting her take advantage of Snow White and giving her whatever the poisonous solution was (in either case, of the apple or the comb). The initial attempt at the Queen’s destruction of Snow White could have put trust and good intentions of Snow White to blame, however the other two times that Snow White almost falls to her death can be called her own fault since she could have trusted the words of the dwarves and avoided poisoning. Ravens, just like owls, are birds of intelligence and wisdom, which symbolize the black color of Snow White’s hair, and also symbolize her lack of intelligence in her trust and easy manipulation by the Queen. Although she was warned more than once, she still fell into temptation and was lured in by the Queen, and this is seen as a situation where if she was a character with intelligence rather than simply trusting that all people have good intentions, this case of plight could have been avoided. The white color of the dove as well as the traditional symbol of a dove as an object of innocence and purity is seen in the character of Snow White throughout the duration of the story. Her constant falls are due to her ability to see the good in people and expect them all to be characters of good morals and individual kindness, which are qualities that resemble people of pure hearts and innocence. Her fair appearance and pale skin is symbolic in connection to the white feathers of a dove, which just like the two other birds, looked over her deathbed, enforcing why she fell to this plight (where her good heart seemed to have allowed her to trust too many people, linked to her lack of intelligence).
The Queen’s constant need of affirmation from the mirror telling her that she is the fairest in all of the land stands for her insecurities regarding her appearance and therefore, her character. Throughout the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, there is a constant theme of connection between external beauty standing for internal beauty. This is confirmed in the evil Queen turning a different color when she started to hate Snow White for the sole fact that her mirror called her more fair than the Queen herself. This jealousy (internal unattractiveness) caused external unattractiveness. Snow White is called fair in beauty due to her internal beauty in the fact that all of her intentions are for the well being of others, without seeking plight in anyone. At the end of the story, when Snow White ends up happily married and the Queen ends up dead, the moral of the story becomes even more clear to the reader; that being fair in beauty is heavily linked to being fair in heart. Although Snow White fell into many situations that put her life at risk, her constant ability to bounce back into life due to the help of others, showed that being a person of good heart will take one farther than the people full of hatred, misery and jealousy. The constant use of symbolism as a tool for delivering the message of being selfless and avoiding plight through avoiding hatred allows the story of Snow White to be one of moral good winning over jealousy.
Little Lustful Riding Hood
The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” contains many aspects that surprised me upon reading the tale again as adult. In fact, taking a look at most of the classic fairy tales that are told to children at a later time in life often reveals different meanings that were not suspected when the stories were initially heard as a child. Many instances make you wonder if the stories are appropriate for children. The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” is no exception. The components and morals of this fairy tale vary by version, time period, and author, but they all contain subliminal meanings that allude to inappropriate messages. The versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” as told by Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault differ significantly in meaning and have two very different purposes in children’s literature.
Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood” is intended to be entertainment for children. Zohar Shavit expresses in his essay that the “amusement perception served as a basis for Perrault’s version” (Shavit 322). With entertainment being the main focus, Perrault left out many of the more grotesque descriptions from the original tale in order to reach a younger audience. Though the story lacks these direct descriptions, I agree with Shavit and his belief that Perrault’s account contains many hints to these suggestive elements. These depictions reference her beauty and the color red being her symbol.
The many references about Little Red’s beauty were aspects of “Little Red Riding Hood” that caught my attention after reading the story again as an adult. The very first line reads, “Once upon a time there was a village girl, the prettiest you can imagine” (Tatar 11). Again, in his moral conclusion of the story, Perrault states that “pretty, well-bred, and genteel girls” are wrong to listen to strangers (Tatar 13). His emphasis on Little Red’s physical beauty and how he referenced it many times stood out to me as I felt like he was condemning her for what occurred just because of her appearance.
The other aspect that caught my attention when reading the story as an adult was the choice of the color red to represent Little Red. The color red indicates promiscuity, love, and lust. As a child, I obviously never viewed Little Red as a promiscuous character, nor did I even realize the fact that the color red actually had importance. Perrault’s version states that the red hood made by the grandmother “suited the child so much that everywhere she went she was known by the name Little Red Riding Hood” (Tatar 11). After reading the story again and knowing what the color red represents, that line made me think that Little Red was possibly was the town harlot. It was a deliberate choice of the authors to choose the color red rather than a different one. The color red is just one of the aspects of these stories that victimizes an innocent girl.
These aspects that caught my attention by victimizing Little Red contribute to the overall genre because of how common it is to see women oppressed in these classic fairy tales. Putting the focus on Little Red’s beauty rather than her cunning nature to get out of a dangerous situation limits her character as a whole and is a commonality among many fairy tales. For example, it is repeated that Snow White is the fairest in the land rather than noticing her hard work ethic. It is obvious that part of the genre of this story is the victimization of Little Red in her inability to sense an unsafe situation.
The moral is directly given in the end of Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood”. It states that young girls are wrong to trust people and it isn’t uncommon for them to end up in danger if they do. A big point to be made about Perrault’s moral is that no matter what, it is ultimately the girl in question’s fault for what happens to her. Whether it be her appearance or her too trusting nature
In contrast to Perrault’s version being intended for entertainment, Brothers Grimm’s version “Little Red Cap” was originally written for adults, not children (Shavit 327). This version has many direct and explicit details, which proves that it was originally intended for adults. Even with these references, Brothers Grimm’s account is considered the “educational” version out of all the “Little Red Riding Hood” tales, which is why the story transformed into more of a children appropriate telling (Shavit 322). One reason why Brothers Grimm’s version is more suited for children is because it ends with a happy ending; ultimately, the lives of Little Red Cap and her grandmother are saved. I agree with Shavit in that another reason why Brother Grimm’s is better suited for children is because that version emphasizes the process of reward and punishment. It is stressed that by the end of the story, Little Red Cap would have learned a lesson (Shavit 329). This idea of a lesson being learned is a more appropriate message for children compared to the victimization of Little Red in Perrault’s version.
The overall genre is proved by another aspect of Brothers Grimm’s version that caught my attention. It is how the story ends. The tale comes to a close with Little Red Cap directly stating to herself, “Never again will you stray form the path and go into the woods, when your mother has forbidden it” (Tatar 16). This caught my attention because it is rare for a character in a fairy tale to directly state a lesson that he/she learned; usually, it is a lesson that the reader understands but the character may not. But it is this aspect that contributes to the overall genre of the fairy tale because it proves that it was educational.
The larger message in Brothers Grimm’s version is exactly what Little Red Cap states in the end: one should obey their parents and follow their directions/orders precisely. Little Red Cap’s mother gives her specific directions: “…when you’re out in the woods walk properly and don’t stray from the path… And when you enter her room, don’t forget to say good morning…” (Tatar 14). Little Red Cap promises to her mother that she will do just as she says. But, she doesn’t listen. She faces dangerous situations that could have been avoided if she listened to or obeyed her mother.
Shavit’s points support my idea that though both versions are useful for children, they’re useful for very different reasons and vary significantly in meaning. Perrault’s purpose of his version is merely entertainment compared to Brothers Grimm’s version whose purpose is to educate. Though they differ greatly, Brothers Grimm’s version and Perrault’s version share a common theme that Little Red is responsible for the violence she received. Both versions of this classic tale contain aspects that surprised me revisiting these stories as an adult.
Tatar, Maria Ed. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York.: W.W. Norton., 1999. Print.
Theory and Meaning. How Literary Theory Can Influence the Perception of a Text
A same story can be perceived differently depending on who reads it. Indeed, depending on our cultural background and the historical period in which we live a story can take on different meanings. Similarly, our perception of a story may change over the years, since each time we read it we have a different perspective and knowledge of the world. However, the interpretation of a story may also vary according to the literary theory one uses to analyze the text. Indeed, thanks to literary theory we can analyze the connection that occurs between writer and text as well as the hidden references to class, gender, and race. In this paper, I will analyze the Grimm’s story “Hansel and Gretel” from different points of view to highlight how different theoretical approach can change our perception of the story.
In order to analyze Hansel and Gretel from a structuralist point of view one needs to consider the story in relation to its literary genre, the folktales, and has to underline systematic patterns of structure. Once these patterns have been identified, it is necessary to analyze them and find in what they differ from the main structure of fairytales. In particular, it is essential to use Propp’s thirty-one functions to outline which are the similarities within stories and sequences of action, that, not matter how much the setting, the characters and the plot of the story may vary, will always remain the same. For instance, in “Hansel and Gretel” we can find three of the seven elements that are recurrent in the introduction of most folktales.
As a matter of fact, immediately after having introduced Hansel and Gretel, their father and their stepmother (the father and the stepmother in this paper will be defined as parents), the Grimm brothers reveal to the reader who the villain is and what the villain is seeking: the villain is represented by the stepmother who wants to get rid of her husband’s children. Then, the stepmother attempts to deceive Hansel and Gretel by making up an excuse to lead them into the woods and leave them there. However, the stepmother tries to deceive the children twice, since the first time they had been able to find their way back home. Nevertheless, the second time Hansel and Gretel have been carried into the woods, they have unintentionally helped their stepmother get rid of them, since “they did not find their way out of the woods […] but managed only to go deeper and deeper into the woods” (Grimm). In the introduction of the story, the Grimm brothers have used the fourth, the sixth and the seventh of the thirty-one functions theorized by Propp. However, it is possible to identify these sequences of action as part of the introduction and not as part of the body of the story only because the villain in Hansel and Gretel are two. Indeed, in the body of the story there is the identification of the lack of the villain too, that in this case is represented by the scene in which the witch admits that “When he is fat I am going to eat [Hansel]” (Grimm).
To analyze the story from a psychoanalytic point of view, it is necessary to read “Hansel and Gretel” as if it was a dream to try to distinguish between the overt and the covert content of the story. In particular, I want to focus on the introduction when Hansel and Gretel are deceived and led into the woods. Indeed, the first time the two children are led into the woods, Hansel cleverly uses some little stones to trace the path that will lead them back home. Even though the children knew that their parents have intentionally left them into the woods, they erect a defense mechanism that makes them deny the fact that their parents have intentionally abandoned them and makes them hope to get back home. The second time, however, Hansel unconsciously realizes that their parents no longer want them in their life, and, therefore, he decides to use bread crumbs instead of pebbles to indicate the traveled path. It is Hansel’s id that makes the two children get lost in the woods.
Another scene that can be interpreted under a psychoanalytic point of view is the scene when Hansel and Gretel arrive at the witch’s house, which is made of food, and start eating it. The children, who are experiencing hunger and tiredness, allow their unconscious, their IDs, to manifest, and so to eat the house. The voice of the witch who questions “Who’s nibbling my house?” (Grimm) represents Hansel and Gretel superegos that is trying to control their instinctive drives, yet they need to satisfy their desire, so they continue eating.
The meaning of the story changes again if we interpret it from a Marxist point of view. To analyze a story from a Marxist point of view, we have first to accept the fact that in every society there is a class conflict and that every society is divided into two. On the one hand, there is the upper-middle-class society, which in “Hansel and Gretel” is represented by the character of the witch; on the other hand, there is the proletariat, which in the story is represented by Hansel and Gretel. Usually the upper-middle class, who has a surplus of income, exploit the proletariat, who is extremely poor, to get richer. Similarly, the witch is the one who has a surplus of livelihood, so that even her house is made of food, but who, at the same time, is not satisfied with what she has. Consequently, she wants to exploit Hansel and Gretel turning them into a nourishment. Marxist theory also asserts that the proletariat fights against the upper-middle class to placate their hunger and to satisfy their other primary needs. Similarly, in this story, Gretel fights against the witch and murder her by “cooking” her in the oven in order to save her life and the life of her brother. The murder of the witch represents the loathing and rage of the proletariat towards the upper-middle class. This anger is what gives life to the class conflict and to the historical changes that occur through the opposition of different social classes.
To analyze the story from a feminist point of view, I will focus on the character of Gretel and on how she is depicted at the beginning of the story. Gretel is presented as a weak character: she is a girl who is not able to make decisions, who constantly needs to be reassured and guided in choices. For instance, when the children hear the stepmother saying that she wants to get rid of them, “Gretel cried bitter tears” (Grimm) while Hansel comforts her and thinks of a way to solve the situation. Similarly, once in the wood is Hansel the one who guides Gretel home while she is completely dependent on him. From a feminist point of view, this scene suggests that women need men to get out of difficult situation. Another scene that may be interpreted from a feminist point of view is when Hansel and Gretel are imprisoned by the witch. The witch decides that she will eat Hansel and so he will be the one who will be fed with “the best things to eat every day, [while] Gretel received nothing but crayfish shells” (Grimm). The fact that the witch chooses Hansel instead of Gretel as her own meal suggests that she thinks that Hansel is better that Gretel, and that Gretel is not even worthy of being used as food, but that she can only be used for housework. This disparity in treatment suggests that women are designated to take care of the house, while men have more “valuable” tasks.
In order to analyze “Hansel and Gretel” from a New Historicist point of view, it is necessary to delineate the historical background of the time in which the story has been produced. The story has been first published by the Grimm brothers in 1812 (Zipes 319), a time in which in Germany, according to Patrick Webb, food supplies were running low (2092). This scarcity of food will then result in the famine of 1817 that will cause thousands of deaths (2092). Considering the historical events that were happening when the Grimm brothers published “Hansel and Gretel,” one can see how the insecurities of the population are unconsciously reflected in the story. Indeed, the father is forced to abandon his children in the forest because, due to the famine, he was no longer able to provide for their livelihood. Similarly, we can take into consideration the rising of the German nationalism at the beginning of the 19th century (Snyder 216) to observe how these new nationalistic feelings are also reflected into the text. In particular, the father, Hansel and Gretel can be seen as the local who are being ruled by an oppressive figure who is represented by the stepmother. Indeed, the stepmother succeeds in getting rid of the children; however, by the end of the story, when the children come back home the stepmother has died and they, together with their father are free to live their life without being ruled by an external power. Last but not least, “Hansel and Gretel” may be analyzed also under a post-colonial point of view.
To analyze the story from a post-colonial point of view is first necessary to establish the relationship among the character to define who represents the “self” and who represents the “other.” In this story, Hansel and Gretel may be defined as the self while the witch may be defined as the other. In particular, we can focus on the exoticism of the witch. Indeed, Hansel and Gretel “[think] they were in heaven” when the witch “served them a good meal: milk and pancakes with sugar, apples, and nuts” (Grimm). Clearly, the two children were not used to eat so many delicacies, as they were used to eat only a piece of bread, and, as a consequence, they perceive the witch’s practice as stimulating and exciting. However, the father, Hansel, and Gretel could also be seen as the other, while the stepmother could be representative of the self. In that sense, the stepmother is exerting her hegemony over her husband, since she convinces him that her decision of getting rid of the children is not only in her interest but in the interest of both. Moreover, the stepmother can be seen as the self since she “colonize” the family imposing her rules over them.
On the whole, the different analyzes of “Hansel and Gretel” show how the meaning of a story changes according to the type of theory with which it is analyzed. Each theory emphasizes a particular aspect of the story that would not be evident by reading the same story for pure pleasure. The gender, race and power dynamics, as well as the recurrent patterns of the text may be revealed through a in-depth literary analysis of the story.
Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. “Hansel and Gretel.” Edited by Dee L. Ashliman, Hansel and Gretel, and Other Folktales about Abandoned Children www.pitt.edu/~dash/type 0327.html#grimm.
Snyder, Louis L. Roots of German Nationalism. Barnes & Noble Books, 1996.
Webb, Patrick. “Emergency Relief during Europe’s Famine of 1817 Anticipated Crisis-Response Mechanisms of Today | The Journal of Nutrition | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 July 2002, academic.oup.com/jn/article/132/7/2092S/4687313
Zipes, Jack, editor. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Second edition. ed., Oxford University Press, 2015.