Analytical Literary Response to Hansel and Gretel

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Dana Lancaster
English 215-007
Professor Otero-Piersante
Critical response
10-28-09
Hansel & Gretel

In the fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel” by the Brothers Grimm, the protagonists Serve as heroes who must overcome the circumstances of their birth in order to reach maturity and enlightenment. This hero quest takes place in three stages. The first is the separation, in which the parents cast the children away from their home. In this stage, the children are for the most part controlled by their surroundings. The second stage of their journey is the transformation, when the children “battle a monster,” or, in this case, defeat an evil witch. In this stage, the children rely upon their own increasing intelligence to control their future. In the final stage, the return, the children reunite with their father. By this point they have completed their journey and can enjoy the treasures (literally and figuratively) of their newly found enlightenment.

When the stepmother decides that the children should be thrown out of the house (and subsequently forces the husband to agree with her), the first stage of the hero journey has, quite unwillingly, already begun for Hansel and Gretel. They are not able to control what is happening to them, and in fact can only gather pebbles in an attempt to prepare to return home. While the children know that their father is initially on their side, no attempt by the Father is made to save them. He is an ineffective figure throughout the story, and pales in Comparison to the all-important Mother, in both her positive and negative aspects. It is Ironic then that by the end of the story, the children triumphantly return to him and Embrace him as though he was long trying to protect them. Heroes, however, must make Their returns to their families, and Hansel and Gretel are not exceptions.

Although the children lack the distinguished parents that generally define a hero, they would appear to have a suitable replacement. The forest near which the family lives traditionally would represent a feminine figure, a giver of life and sustenance. In this case, however, the family is going hungry, and that mother figure is failing. This represents the second (and surely not the last) time that the children would be disappointed by women.

One of the women who disappoint the children, the stepmother, may appear at first to be a purely negative figure. It is her destructive intentions, however, that actually spark Hansel and Gretel to begin their hero quest, which is certainly a positive development. Perhaps the most recognizable symbols that is present throughout the development of the heroes are birds, which represent the aspirations that the children hold and the love and freedom that they long for. Additionally, the white dove that Hansel claimed to be looking at as he left his home symbolizes a superior power. This makes sense because, while at the times the birds are detrimental to the journey (such as when they eat the breadcrumbs and ultimately force the confrontation with the witch by leading the children to the gingerbread house), they are instrumental in it, particularly in the last two stages of the story.

Felines are another symbol used in the story. As he is being taken away from his house a second time, Gretel says that he is looking back at his white kitten. The cat here represents a female figure, and in fact could be his biological mother, or something that each hero, by definition, longs to discover.

Colors also play a key role in the archetypal development of the story. Besides fire and the red of the witch’s eyes, white is the only color mentioned throughout the tale: “white pebbles,” the “white kitten,” a “snow-white bird,” the witch’s “white beds,” a “white duck,” and a “white back.” The white represents the innocence of the young heroes, even after they have killed the witch. Contrasting with that white is the red-hot fire that the father makes for his children before he deserts...
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