What is the ultimate purpose of a fairytale? According to Bruno Bettelheim its purpose is to show children "that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence-but that if [they do] not shy away, but steadfastly [meet] unexpected and often unjust hardships, [they master] all obstacles and at the end [emerge] victorious"(8). Disney's The Little Mermaid fulfills this purpose; children see Ariel's struggles and because they identify with her they feel as if they struggle and triumph with her (Bettelheim, 9). Ariel is a very likable character, she's witty, beautiful, and children can relate to her. Some of the obstacles and struggles Ariel faces are things children face in their own lives, for example Ariel's desire to be independent and establish herself. Although The Little Mermaid conforms to Bruno's formula, it also teaches children other life lessons that may not be healthy or appropriate in the long run. In this case the messages sent to children concerning romance and love provide children images and behaviors that teach them true love is spontaneous, passionate, for attractive people only, and is "happily ever after". What is a real life definition of love? Love is a complex and profound concept that cannot be easily defined. Robert Sternberg explains love by breaking it into three different concepts known as the Triangular Theory of Love (as cited by Miller, 246-50): intimacy, passion and commitment. The Triangular Theory of Love defines intimacy as "feelings of warmth, understanding, communication, support, and sharing that often characterize loving relationships"(as cited by Miller, 247). Passion is "physical arousal and desire…often [taking] the form of sexual longing, but [can be] any strong emotional need that is satisfied by ones partner" (as cited by Miller, 247). And last but not least commitment is defined as "the decisions to devote oneself to a relationship and work to maintain it"(as cited by Miller, 247). When these three concepts are put together in different combinations you get different types of love, eight to be specific (Miller, 249). The type of love that is shown in The Little Mermaid is infatuation, which is passion with no commitment and no intimacy. Ariel falls in love with Eric the very moment she lays eyes on him, she knows nothing about him but believes she loves him. This example of love at first sight teaches children if you are strongly attracted to someone the first time you see them that this simple attraction, often times physical attraction signifies love. But what is it about Eric that attracts Ariel to him? Is it his dark hair, perfect smile, his dimples, his body and the fact that he is dancing? Possibly, but what also needs to be taken into account is who he is being compared to. The other men on the ship are either old, fat, scrawny, bald, boyish looking, have teeth missing or are dressed badly. Eric is the complete opposite of them. Another aspect to look at this from is what Miller, Perlman, and Brehm refer to as the misattribution of arousal, which is in basic form misplacing or exaggerating our attraction to others (251). They explain that we can be aroused by something positive or negative, not knowing we are aroused by it and then attribute another event or person as the reason for our arousal (251-252). Which is what happens in the movie, just minutes before seeing Eric, Ariel has an argument with her father. The argument is about her missing the concert and swimming up to the surface. The argument seems one sided because Triton does all the talking and doesn't let Ariel explain herself. She swims off to where she keeps her collection of human things that she finds on her adventures with Flounder, her animal sidekick. She begins to sing about wanting to be human so she can experience lying on the beach, walking on two feet and feeling the warmth from a fire. Afterwards she sees a ship passing over and swims to the...
Cited: Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1976.8-11, 44-53, and 62-65.
Cantor, Jillian, and Leta McGaffy Sharp. "Rereading Romance." Writing as Revision. 2nd ed. Beth Alvarado, Barbara Cully, and Michael Robinson, ed. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2003. 327-329.
Lieberman, Marcia R. "Someday My Prince Will Come." College English, Vol.34, No.3, (Dec.,1972). 383-395.
Miller, Perlman, and Brehm, ed. "Love." Intimate Relationships. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. 244-275.
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