Fairy Tales in the Modern Era
When some people think of a fairy tale, they think of the Walt Disney versions. If one was to think of the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, the happy ending is more memorable than the actual ending in which Red dies. When it comes to the modern era, fairy tales are thought to be happy stories children grew up with. If one were to look closely at the original tales and analyze the major elements, the true messages would be shown. There are certain aspects that make a fairy tale a fairy tale. “Hansel & Gretel” is one fairy tale out of the many that the Grimms Brothers that has gained a lot of popularity. Even though every aspect of a fairy tale is used, “Hansel & Gretel” is still a fairy tale because it involves important plot points and character types.
Vladimir Propp states that a fairy tale “ begins with some harm or villainy done to someone or with a desire to have something and develops through the hero’s departure from home and encounters a donor…” (Tatar 62). Propp is saying that a fairy tale can begin with an evil act done directly or indirectly to the protagonist. He’s also saying that the hero leaves his home at some point and this is when the hero encounters a helper. The act of villainy is usually what leads to the main plot of the fairy tale. When some kind of harm is done to the protagonist, the protagonist is lead into a quest to righteousness and the villain is punished in the end.
In “Hansel & Gretel”, the adventure of the siblings begins with the parental villainy. Their stepmother is able to convince the father to abandon the children in the woods. The stepmother wants to do this because the children eat a lot and the family does not have the amount of food that they want. Leaving the children in the woods seems like a good plan to the stepmother because they will no longer be responsible for them. Even though the father does not want to leave his children, he eventually caves in and helps his wife. After being left in the woods, the siblings find their way to the witch’s candy house, where there adventure happens. If the villainy act were not committed, the children would have never found their way to the witch’s house. One of the common character types that occur in fairy tales is the evil stepmother. “Stepmothers stand as an abiding source of evil in countless fairy tales, and it is no accident that they rank among the most memorable villains in those tales” (Tatar 141). Here, Maria Tatar is saying the stepmother is always portrayed as the villain and never a good character. The character of a mother is usually the nurturer and caretaker and when the character is taken away, an evil character fills in the spot. When there is a fairy tale lacking the loving mother figure, the stepmother steps in with false intentions of filling in the motherly role. “Cinderella” and “The Juniper Tree” are two well-known fairy tales in which the stepmother acts against her stepchild. In “Cinderella”, the stepmother belittles Cinderella and puts her own daughters on a pedestal. Cinderella is forbidden to go to the ball but eventually rises to the top when she marries the prince. In various versions, the father is either alive or dead, but the father figure never intercedes to stop the cruelty of the stepmother. In “The Juniper Tree”, the stepmother believes that all of her husband’s fortune will go to his son and not her daughter. She goes out of her way to kill the son and make her daughter believe that it was her fault. The stepmother does whatever is necessary in order to get the results that she wants. Even though the stepmother is shown to be a victor in the beginning of the tale, in the end she loses. Like it was mentioned before, “Hansel & Gretel” does include an evil stepmother. If the text is closely analyzed, the reader will see that the stepmother refers to the children as “your” while the father says “our”. This clearly depicts that the stepmother has no affection towards the children since she does not consider them her own. This is seen frequently because the stepmothers in fairy tales believe that if the children are not her own, they are not worthy of her affection. The witch that Hansel and Gretel encounter can be a metaphor for their stepmother. After defeating the witch and returning home, it is said that the stepmother died of an unknown cause. Readers can interpret this as the siblings defeating their stepmother also. Tatar mentions that eventually the stepmother is punished for the evil deeds that she did and in “Hansel & Gretel”, the stepmother is no longer able to cause the children any harm. A fairy tale must also have motifs. “Hansel & Gretel” express a motif of cleverness. When the witch fattens Hansel up, Hansel lets her feel a bone. After feeling the bone, the witch thinks it’s Hansel’s finger and concludes that he is too thin. The witch is fooled because she is blind and cannot actually see how Hansel looks. Later on, the witch decides to eat Gretel and she asks her to get into the oven. Gretel pretends to not understand so the witch demonstrates for her. Gretel is able to lock the witch in the oven and burn her. With cleverness, the children are able to trick the witch and in result, defeat her. As it was mentioned before, in the modern era fairy tales are portrayed with happily ever after endings. The princess marries the prince and the good prevail. Children are read fairy tales to brighten up their day and to give them a sense of hope that good will always be greater. If someone was to sit down and analyze some of the Grimms’ stories, they will be surprised at the differences with the Disney versions. The Disney movies are what power a person’s thought to generalize a fairy tale as a happy thing. The Disney versions never show the evil prevailing or the gender roles that the Grimms imply. There are fairy tales that are known but have never made it to the Disney definition of a fairy tale. “Cinderella” actually has a companion story called “All Fur”, but it did not meet Disney’s standards. “All Fur” has a similar item that identifies her which leads to her rising to the top. The story touches the idea of incest, which is not a family value that Disney was looking for. The truth is that a lot of fairy tales touch the incest idea, but it is not delivered to children in the modern era. Most people probably have no idea that fairy tales talk about incest, so if they were to read more Grimms’ tales, they would be utterly surprised.
Since a lot of people grew up with the idea of fairy tales being exactly like the Disney movies, the deep messages and hard facts are never taken into account. Disney portrays the princess fairy tales to sent out the message that dreams do come true. When little girls are asked about fairy tales, they go to the princess idea. In a way, the Disney versions sent out a message on how girls should act. The Grimms’ fairy tales also sent out a gender role message too, but it’s a more prejudice form. The tales do not portray a happy ending when the woman is in charge, which makes it believe that only a man can do the job right.
In the modern era, women have become more powerful. One of the essential facts that is thrown out is that woman can be independent and not rely on a man. There are feminists that would probably reject the Grimms’ fairy tales because of there hidden message that woman should stick to a certain role. These fairy tales portray women in a way that makes them dependable on a man. A lot of the fairy tales ends with a wedding for the main heroine, which sends out the message that every woman gets married if they fit the generic role. In the modern era, these messages would not be sent out in such a blunt way because majority believe women are as good as men. In conclusion, when fairy tales were first made, there were certain requirements that were needed. In the modern era, if one were to look at fairy tales closely, they would be utterly surprised at the messages that are given. Works Cited
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, trans. Jack Zipes, Bantam: New York and Toronto, 1992. Third published in hardcover 2003. Print.
Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. Print.
Haase, Donald. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008. Print. Weeks, Linton. "The Fairy Tale Struggles To Live Happily Ever After." Npr.org. N.p., 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 04 Oct. 2013.