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By ncrowley11 May 07, 2013 1715 Words
‘A fairytale is a narrative form which expresses a society’s collective concern about some aspect of growing up and expresses these concerns at the level of magical thought’ (Crago, 2003, 8). When the word fairytale comes to mind, many people automatically think about falling in love, big castles and houses made of sweets, happily ever after endings, magic, enchantments and wish-fulfillment. I was one of those people. I was shocked when I studied fairytales more in depth, realising that many fairytales have a darker side to them when looked at more closely, yet these darker aspects of fairytales are lost or given less importance in order to make the read or the film more child friendly. Their association with wish-fulfillment has over powered the tales darker aspects, such as human fears and anxieties. Evil witches and cruel stepmothers are some of the main, most dominant characters in fairy tales that add fear and anxiety to these fairytales. Physical appearance plays a very important role in fairytales today. Characters like Snow White and Cinderella are beautiful women. “The tale’s popularity says a lot about what our culture values,” says Baker-Sperry. “[These fairy tales] reinforce the message to children that physical attractiveness is an important asset women should aim to achieve and maintain.” these characters are often feared by the older characters in the tale due to jealousy. The idea of stepmothers being cruel, vindictive and malicious people is highlighted throughout many fairytales; this stereotype of stepmothers in fairytales brings with it fear and anxiety felt by the other characters, especially the young. This idea of stepmothers also gives a child a pre-convinced idea that all stepmother’s are like this. In the ‘Brothers Grimm’ version of ‘Snow White’ the stepmother is portrayed as a jealous, envious, cruel woman that will go to any lengths to kill her stepdaughter. It’s evident that Snow White has a great fear of her stepmother, unable to feel at ease in her own home, knowing her stepmother is constantly plotting and planning ideas to kill her so she can be “the fairest of all.” (pg.83) Firstly she makes her huntsman bring her into the woods and kill her, but he is unable and lets her go free thinking the wild animals will kill her. Next she tricked her by disguising herself as an old woman selling lace “The old woman laced her up so quickly that Snow White’s breath was cut off, and she fell down as if dead.”(pg.86). When this didn’t work she sold her a poisoned comb “and no sooner had the comb touched her hair when the poison took effect, and the girl fell senseless to the ground.”(pg.87). Finally, she used a poison apple to kill Snow White and the seven dwarfs were unable to bring her back to life.

The fairytale ‘Cinderella’ is often associated with Cinderella’s wish fulfillment; the character of Cinderella is the embodiment of the wish-fulfillment: virtue and goodness are rewarded; things turn out “as they should.” (Glenna Davis Sloan, The Child As Critic, pg.88) Tatar comments on the portrayal of the stepmother in versions of the Cinderella tale: In tales depicting the social persecution of a girl by her stepmother, the central focus comes to rest on the unbearable family situation produced by a father’s remarriage. But while the father’s responsibility for creating turmoil by choosing a monstrous marriage partner recedes into the background or is suppressed (even as the father himself is virtually eliminated as a character), the foul deeds of his wife come to occupy centre stage. (1999, 102-103) Studying this fairytale, it’s evident that fear and anxiety are touched upon. Like in ‘Snow White’, in the ‘Brothers Grimm’ version of ‘Cinderella’ the stepmother is also portrayed as an evil character and it’s evident Cinderella feels anxiety towards her , worried how she will react when she asks her for permission to go to the ball. When Cinderella pleads to go to the ball her stepmother mocks her by “dumping a bowlful of lentils into the ashes” (pg.118) and making her pick them out in two hours and if she gets it done, she may go to the ball. When Cinderella obeys and gets the job done, she asks her stepmother’s permission again but to her dismay she mocks her once again by telling her “if you can pick out two bowlfuls of lentils from the ashes in the next hour, then you can go” (pg118) Cinderella obeyed again and when finished asked her stepmother’s permission once more, but she replies “You can’t come along since you have nothing to wear and don’t know how to dance. We would be so embarrassed.”(pg119) In John Jacobs’s version “Catskin” the cook, like the stepmother, is also portrayed in a dark way. When the girl asks to go to the ball, the cook refers to her as a “dirty impudent slut” (pg123) and throws a basin of water at Catskin’s face, when she asks to go to the second ball, she “up with her ladle and broke it across Catskin back.”(pg.123)When she asked the third time she broke the skimmer across her head. Another example of a wicked stepmother is in the ‘Brothers Grimm’ version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ The stepmother persuades the father that they have to get rid of the children to have enough food for themselves and so brings them into the woods and leaves them there to be eaten by the beasts. “The fairy tale expresses in words and actions the things which go on in children's minds. In terms of the child's dominant anxiety, Hansel and Gretel believe that their parents are talking about a plot to desert them.” (Tatar, The Classic Fairytales, 1999 pg.274) Anxiety is a dominant feature of this fairytale; however the children overcome it and succeed in rescuing each other. From reading these fairytales it’s clear that the role of the stepmother and her relationship with her stepchild is portrayed in a bad way and thus adds to the dark side of fairy tales, reflecting upon human fears and anxieties. Therefore children will think having a stepmother is a bad thing, that will only bring them pain and sadness. The younger characters in the fairytales I’ve discussed have felt negative emotions towards their stepmother, including fear and anxiety. Another key character that plays a huge role in instilling fear and anxiety in children is ‘witches’. In the ‘Brothers Grimm’ version of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ the wicked witch tricks the children into thinking she’s a nice lady and wants to help them. She lures them into her home and they soon realise her plan to fatten them up to eat them. However she doesn’t succeed and Gretel kills her, the two children return home to find out that their stepmother is dead. Their wish has been fulfilled to live happily, alone with their father. From my discussion of fairytales, we see how the impact of characters can create fear and anxiety in the younger characters; however the physical appearance of these young characters can instill fear and anxiety into the other characters in the fairytales because a woman’s beauty is regarded as being very important to have a happy and peaceful life in many fairytales. In the ‘Brothers Grimm’ version and the ‘Anne Sexton’s’ version of ‘Snow White’ the stepmother’s rage and anger comes from not being the prettiest in the land. She is so fearful of Snow White being “the fairest of all” that she goes to great lengths to try and kill her so she can regain her title. This shows that in order for a person to be fully happy, they have to be the prettiest. In the ‘Brothers Grimm’ version of Cinderella, only beautiful women received invitations to the festival which was held so that the prince could pick his bride. In the ‘Brothers Grimm’ version of ‘Cinderella’ it is apparent appearance was important to the stepmother, “You can’t come along since you have nothing to wear and don’t know how to dance. We would be so embarrassed.”(pg119). Vile and disgusting imagery is used when the stepmother gets one of her daughter’s to cut off her toe and the other to cut off her heel to fit into the shoe, the determination of the stepmother to fit into the shoe shows how important being chosen as his bride was to her, fearing there was someone better than her. In the ‘Joseph Jacobs’ version of ‘Cinderella’ the young lord’s mother would not let her son marry ‘Catskin’ because of the way she looked, but when ‘Catskin’ put on her “coat of beaten gold and went to the lady,” she was “soon glad to wed her son to so beautiful a maid.”(pg124) From these fairytales it is clear that the older characters are jealous and fearful of the young characters because of their beauty. They also feel anxiety that they are no longer the most beautiful. These fairytales are giving the message to young girls that appearance is important in society. Grauerholz, associate professor of sociology at Purdue says that fairytales give the idea that “You can be many other things, but you’re very much expected to be beautiful and to spend the time that is necessary to achieve that.” To conclude, it’s clear that fairytales are not just stories to tell to children; on a closer view and reflection of different fairytales it has become apparent that they contain a much deeper meaning that we can learn a lot from. By studying these tales in more detail it’s evident that they aren’t just stories of wish fulfilment but reflect emotions such as fear and anxiety, emotions that are still very common in society today. According to J.L. Fischer “if a fairy tale consisted purely of wish fulfilllment, there would be no conflict and no development, and it would end as soon as it began” (The Sociopsychological Analysis of Folktales, pg. 239) Without these wishes there are no stories however other elements such as fear and anxiety are added to make the story magical. Bibliography:

Tatar, Maria. (1999) The Classic Fairy Tales. New York. Norton.

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