The Purpose of Fairy Tales and The Grandmother's Tale

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EXTENSION ENGLISH - The Grandmothers Tale Speech

Fairy Tales are short stories that have been passed through cultures and generations, usually adapting to fit the social restrictions and morals of the time. The Grandmothers Tale, which most of us would recognize as Charles Perrault’s adaptation, Little Red Riding Hood, has been passed through different cultures, countries and many variations of the text are prevalent in different societies around the world.

The Grandmother’s Tale tells of how a young girl, who is nameless, ventures through the woods to visit her sick grandmother. On the way she meets a wolf, and because of her naivety, tells him where she is heading. The wolf beats her there, eats the grandmother and when the girl arrives, the wolf simulates the grandmother’s voice in order to eat the girl too. The girl how-ever escapes and the wolf ends up getting dropped in the river by laundresses and drowns. Because the hero of the story, the young girl is kept nameless throughout various variations of the text, she is then seen as a representative of all children who read the text, making her a role model for those children. By giving her an identity this would no longer apply, lessening the effect that fairy tales are designed to have on children.

The text has undergone a number of transformations, both simple and complex, thus leading to a variety of versions. By analyzing the text and applying reading practices, approaches and other methods of deconstruction, namely those of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s cycle and Vladimir Propp’s deconstruction of folk tales, it is possible to create a complex transformation of the text. Vladimir Propp and Joseph Campbell both theorized the idea that in divulging into a fairytale text analytically, one can establish certain analyzable elements which are present in a majority of folk tales in unvarying order.

Propp studies fairytales by examining their most basic plot components. He devised a list of 31 generic functions, proposing that they covered all of the plot components from which fairy tales were constructed. Joseph Campbell however, discovered one standard plot that has been repeated throughout mythology and fairytale genre.

The invited reading of this text is not dissimilar to Bruno Betlelheim’s theory that “Children know that there are monsters – they need to know that they can be defeated.” The young girl is able to subvert the power relationship between herself and the wolf by using her wits to outsmart him, becoming the heroine of the story and saving herself rather than being passive and becoming a victim.

The ideal reading is to not challenge the status quo, thus agreeing with the ideologies presented in the text. By doing so, the reader would be then deemed by Eco to be what he theorized as the ‘Model reader’. The Model reader responds, comprehends, embraces and respects dominant ideologies and discourses promoted in the text. Though the model reader is not born with that socio-cultural understanding, it is imbedded into varying aspects of their culture, like fairy tales, thus molding them into the “Model reader”.

By using characters such as Ogres, witches and, in the case of the grandmother’s tale, a wolf, to portray evil, children are able to easily distinguish between the good and bad. One reason for this is because of the depiction of such characters in folk tales. Usually the good characters are represented as being beautiful, gold hearted beings while the evil are ugly animalistic creatures that are rarely human.

The purpose of many fairy tales is to support the status quo. By repeating this practice fairy tales are able to convey the idea that society is portrayed how it should and that it should not be challenged or questioned. They are inherently conservative and portray the dominant ideologies of the time and the society of which they support. They are written by those in power in order to position us in favor of the already...
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