Fairy Tales 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I was a little biased towards liking the Bettelheim article because of my interest in psychology, but I definitely found some things problematic with the article. I am glad that Bettelheim mentioned that "nothing is more important than the impact of parents and others who take care of the child" in regards to whether the children end up becoming 'severely disturbed'. The second most important factor in preventing this is apparently the child's cultural heritage. While most of his article relates more to how fairy tales teach children about their cultural heritage, I was glad to see that he prefaced it by recognizing that the primary factor in regards to a child's mental state is how they are raised.
I agree with Bettelheim when he states "the child needs...to be given the chance to understand himself in this complex world with whcih he must learn to cope." It certainly does sound useful for a child to be read a fairy tale such as Hansel and Gretel and be able to try and think of what he or she would do in that situation. It is definitely beneficial for children to be made aware of possible dangerous situations so that they can figure out the best course of action before they ever are put into one. We must be wary, however, in the content within the fairy tales we tell them because there is a line between telling the children a story to help them figure out who they are and mentally scarring them.
I am a little confused on what he means by making the distinction that severely disturbed children are clearly lacking a sense of meaning in their lives. He obviously deduced that this was the one thing all of his patients lacked, but the article never quite made it clear to me how reading fairy tales helped to give children this meaning they lacked. Overall this was an interesting article, there are just a few points I wished Bettelheim had explained a little better.
If you are asking yourself still why this piece is titled "Fishing" then wait until morning, and perhaps the bright sun will bring it to light.
Hans My Hedgehog: The Line by Line to Understanding the Hidden Morals and Subtext of the Brothers Grimm
A translation for those of you who, like Yakko, have no idea what he's saying:
Once upon a time: you should probably jump ship now because it's likely to be all down hill from here.
a farmer: men are the breadwinners and strong members of the family; they do the work and have the cultural value; men are more important than women.
who had plenty of money and property: these are two very important maxims that must be strived for; money and property are two ways to judge a man.
had no children: but more important than those other really important values is reproduction; a man without children has much less intrinsic worth.
with his wife: if he had any with a mistress or some other person it doesn't count.
made fun of him and asked why he had no children: the imperative to procreate works on an a priori level; this is a socially enforced means of assessing status.
even if it is a hedgehog: humans have greater intrinsic value than hedgehogs but even the disgrace of having a hedgehog as a child would not outweigh the shame of being childless.
upper half was hedgehog and upper half human: it was not normal—it was an abomination, a crime against God and man.
nothing we can do about it now: it's bad to kill a human baby, no matter what it looks like, and disposing of it some other way some other way is likewise disallowed.
must be christened: religious practices and customs are non-optional social practices; Christianity is the one true religion and thusly must be followed and recognized; a name is an important feature of a person.
never find a godfather: no one would ever willingly choose to associate with anything so hideous; hideous things are not to be associated with except out of necessity.
only one name I can think of for him: a name must befit the one it belongs to; it is a way of identifying a subject and therefore must appropriately describe the subject.
Hans: a no one/ nothing name; generic; unremarkable; unimportant; it is a variant of "John" which represents the same; literal meaning "God's Grace", but who cares about that.
My: a burden that belongs to me.
Hedgehog: a hideous and horrible beast with sharp quills; unlovable and unworthy.
won't be able to sleep in a regular bed because of his quills: those who destroy what is given to them are ungrateful brats and deserve nothing; soft things are fragile; those that have regular beds have more intrinsic value and are better—this links to the importance of money but not solely.
some straw, spread it on the floor: a bed fit for an animal—as livestock in a barn; the floor is lower and thus less desirable.
behind the stove: where it is warm but hidden from view.
father got tired of him: it is alright to get bored with people or things after a given period of time; only interesting things are worth while; hideous things are not interesting enough to be considered worth while.
wished he might die: this is unspeakable but justified given the extreme circumstances.
did not die: Relatives rarely die when you want them to.
just kept lying there: Laziness is a sin; sloth is unforgiveable and makes one into a burden for others; get off your ass.
fair in town: fairs are not and everyday occurrence—this makes them special; rare things are special and important.
meat and a few rolls: food—necessary.
slippers and stockings: clothing—functional and pragmatic.
bagpipes: music—fun, but utterly frivolous and not valuable from a practical perspective.
shoe my rooster: take the first step to show that you really don't want me; give me the means by which to leave.
never come back: people do not change, and therefore, one who is undesirable now will be the same tomorrow and the next day and the next day, all the way until the day of his death.
happy at the idea: it is okay to rejoice in getting rid of someone you don't like.
taking some donkeys and pigs: a father must give to a son a livelihood, especially if he wants to get rid of him; when you want to get rid of someone, sometimes it becomes necessary to bribe them or meet their demands.
wanted to tend: finally decided to get off his ass and be productive for a change, but it was still by his own whim that he chose to do so.
into a tall tree: it is best to survey a large area from great height because it lets you see farther.
sat there for many years: did nothing.
herd was very large: herds will grow on their own, assuming that you do not slaughter them.
played his bagpipes and made beautiful music: the two are completely separate acts—not really… it was a joke… lighten up.
a king: royalty has more intrinsic value than other people do; they are just better.
a rooster with a hedgehog sitting on top of it playing music: an utterly absurd sight.
would show him the way: it is good to help people when you have the ability to do so.
if the king would promise: it is fine to ask for a reward for services rendered; if you have something that someone needs, then you can make demands.
in writing: written contracts are more concrete than spoken ones and therefor more valuable.
No danger in that: when one is willing to go back on one's word, there is nothing to keep one from promising the world.
can't understand writing: it is common that peasants are not literate, so there is nothing wrong with being illiterate.
I can write whatever I want: if there is no way to verify that you are doing as you said, then there is no way to prove that you did not do as you said; literacy is important because it keeps people from pulling a fast one on you.
saw him coming from afar: it is necessary for children to wait and watch continually for the return of their fathers from long trips.
overcome with joy that she ran out to meet him and kiss him: this is the appropriate greeting that a father should receive from a daughter upon returning home from a long trip.
explained to her what had happened: you must inform people when you make promises concerning them and their futures, and do so with some expediency.
playing beautiful music: kings are tone-deaf because they think bagpipes make beautiful music; or I guess it's possible that bagpipe music was considered beautifully as long as it was played well.
she would never have gone away with him anyway: to be married to something hideous would be a crime against life and unbearable.
always cheerful: happiness is a virtue and one who is happy is good.
forest was so large: only a dolt would get lost in a small forest.
music from afar: music that is beautiful is quite attractive and lures people to it; music is a sign of human proximity.
asked him what he was doing: it is alright to be inquisitive and question others as to their activities without prompting or cause.
what can I do for you: hospitality towards friends, neighbors, and strangers is important.
only daughter: an only child is much more valuable than a child with siblings because an only child cannot be replaced; a sibling can easily take another sibling's place.
was very beautiful: beauty was her best quality and is an important quality.
was very sorry that it happened to be her: giving away a daughter is harder than giving away a servant.
out of love for her old father: love constitutes duty; duty constitutes obedience.
distressed for he had believed Hans My Hedgehog had long been dead: you would be distressed too if you thought your son was dead and then all of a sudden he showed up again alive, or at least you should be; people don't just come back to life; it is alright to assume someone is dead if you have not seen or heard from them in a long time.
flew over the gate: when presented with an obstacle, it is best to bypass it.
otherwise he would take his life: threats are one means by which to receive what you want.
her father gave her: it is the fathers duty to give to his daughter much of his worldly possessions when he marries her off and gives her away, especially if he plans never to see her again.
stuck her with quills: this would be a painful experience; ouch.
This is what you get for being deceitful: if you break a social moral code, then you deserve to get punished; vengeance is a valid form of retribution and justice.
don't want you: don't wed a lying, cheating, self-centered bitch.
lived in disgrace: disfigurement and deformity are evidence of wrongs a person has done and should be recognized as such; not being pretty is bad, disgraceful, and depressing.
was startled and frightened because he looked so strange: you don't want to marry someone that is ugly.
nothing she could do: she's not very imaginative…
promised her father: an oath or vow or promise is binding and unbreakable.
quite afraid of his quills: having sex with someone covered in sharp spikes is a very difficult task and should be attempted only with great care; you don't want to get into a messy situation like that.
just like a human being: but not quite.
but he was pitch black: black people are hideous creatures too, just a little less than a hedgehog human hybrid would be an abomination and hideous.
became white and turned into a handsome young man: light skin is an important part of and prerequisite to beauty.
was very happy: it's always better to be married to someone when he is handsome.
got up in a joyful mood: sexual tension is a bitch—relieving it makes you happy.
marriage was performed again properly: marriage to something hideous is a false marriage and really should not count and cannot be celebrated.
bequeathed his kingdom: you can only give away your kingdom when you give it to someone who is handsome enough to be worthy; handsomeness precedes worthiness.
drove to visit his father: family is important, even if they disown you; it is important to strive for parental approval.
old man rejoiced: when something is no longer a horrible situation but clearly was before, this is a happy occasion.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
However, that is not to say that either interpretation is perfect. Bettelheim’s interpretations focus on specific versions of certain tales, interpreting psychologically the “symbolic” meaning of the tale and its impact on child development. This specificity of selection of version is especially problematic in a genre that is originally oral and therefore has no “real” or “right” version. However, Bettelheim is not concerned with the intent of the “authors,” but rather how the tales are received and understood by children. If a specific version of a tale better exemplifies what Bettelheim views as important to child development, than the existence of other versions of the tale is immaterial – his purpose is simply to educate children in manner in which he views as healthy to development.
Similarly, Darnton’s insistence on fairy tales’ importance to understanding the lives and morals of peasants is problematic for the simple reason that the tales we have recorded were not recorded by peasants at all. The “true” tales, the tales told by the peasants around fires or at dinner tables, are lost to time. All that remains are the bourgeois and aristocratic retellings, retellings that inevitably contain alterations and “corrections” made by their authors. Nonetheless, the simple fact remains that the versions of these tales that we now possess are possibly as close as history can conceivably take us to the lives of a peasantry that was for the most part illiterate – and therefore did not keep records of themselves. Furthermore they were viewed as insignificant by their “betters,” the individuals who did keep records. History is not an exact science – it is colored by the biases of those who record it. The interpretations of fairy tales are just one method of understanding history. However, when combined with other knowledge and other sources these fairy tales shed light on an aspect of human history that has been obscured.
Darnton's argument takes a more holistic, and in my opinion, more valid approach. Through his criticism of many psychoanalysts, I feel he does justice to the fairy tale tradition. Rather than trying to assign meaning to the nuances of a particular tale, he acknowledges that the oral tradition lends itself to an ever-evolving story. He points out that the versions Bettelheim is claiming to be representative of fairy tales as a whole are just blips in the massive history of storytelling. Acknowledging the differences between stories and looking for explanations within those is a much more effective form of analysis than an in depth application of a single passage.
While Bettelheim reveals no doubts that fairy tales are the ultimate answer to children struggling to find meaning in their own lives, Robert Darnton admits the obstacles and faults of using fairy tales as universal truths.
Bettelheim writes from a solely psychological perspective, one that views the mother as the villain and the disturbed child as a being simply lacking meaning. These obscure beliefs are vast assumptions that make the piece more juvenile than Darnton’s. Bettelheim is very sure of himself, declaring “more can be learned from [fairy tales] about the inner problems of human beings, and of the right solutions to their predicaments in any society, than from any other type of story within a child’s comprehension” (270). Rather than strengthening his argument, this confidence reads as naivety. He makes great generalizations to prove what he thinks is true, rather than using examples that we can believe.
Darnton understands that even if we cannot be certain of details or the origin of a particular fairy tale, we can nevertheless discover some cultural clues from the story. While these stories are not recorded from the illiterate peasants themselves and are therefore not historical artifacts, they are all that we have of an unenlightened populace lost in an age of enlightenment, and the implied maybes and possibilities of their world are better than nothing.
According to Darnton, what we can learn from the stories are cultural generalizations. Germans infused their stories with horror and fantasy, while the French held a tone of comedy and domesticity. These 18th-century French stories explore realities of rape, incest, cannibalism, and sodomy, choosing to explicitly show the brutal reality of life, rather than masking it with symbols for practiced analyses. We learn, if nothing else, that these peasants did not fear explaining the world as it was.
Darnton discusses the shortcomings of taking a view like Fromm did, one in which the origins and transformations of the text are ignored and often not even known, simply because the interpreter got the story that he needed to make his claim. Darnton even explores Bettelheim’s idea while sarcastically naming him one “of the best known psychoanalysts” (281). He defines Bettelheim’s goal as conveying the ability of folktales to “permit children to confront their unconscious desires and fears and to emerge unscathed, id subdued and ego triumphant” (283). He identifies Bettelheim’s deepest flaws as treating the stories “as if they had no history” and making assumptions based on one particular version because “he knows how the soul works and how it has always worked” (283). However, key to Darnton’s claim is that fairytales are first and foremost historical documents, and that rather than showing the continuity of the universal human mind, they instead relay the differing of mentalités, or changing attitudes, over time. Because of this rebuking of Bettelheim’s ideas, one cannot simultaneously agree with the two articles. While I find Bettelheim’s piece more intriguing because of its content (the search for meaning), Darnton’s is much more convincing because of its modesty. Darnton accepts the impossibilities and admits that any implications are simply implications, yet he still conveys the underlying cultural reality inside the stories.
Robert Darnton, however, focuses on the fairytale as a story. He considers different versions of the same tales and explores the similarites and differences in order to find out how these interpretations reflected peasant culture during the enlightenment. Darnton notes that no one tale can have one set meaning because no one story are alike. As far as comparing Darnton's writing to Bettelheim's, I feel as though because the nature of the texts are so different, this idea would not prove beneficial. Darnton is not concerned with the importace of fairytales or children's grasp of meaning, he is more concerned with the historical and cultural value of such stories.
Personally, I better enjoyed Bettelheim's writing because I agree that children need to learn the realities of life: that most things in life don't come easy. It also though makes me wonder if and how these early fairytale traditions have influenced modern children literature. Nowadays many children's books are good tools to help children gather some meaning of themselves and others. In fact, most employ some effort on the child's part in order to achieve some goal. That's something worth thinking about.
Hans My Hedgehog: An Incoherent Musing on the Staying Power of Certain Themes and What Lets Some Fairy Tales Be Forgotten
Because both have a happy ending, it is here taken for granted, but it is undeniable that the stories most celebrated by our society end in such a disgustingly happy way that the happier and more "complete" the ending the better the chances of surviving the test of time and memory.
1) Princes are better than normal people:
Let us face the facts. The vast majority of fairy tales that have been embraced by our society have princes as the main characters because princes, in our culture, have somehow become synonymous with goodness and desirability on all levels—perhaps as an effect rather than a cause. Because princes are seen as being on a higher level (much more so than princesses) the value of a character that is a prince drastically increases, likewise increasing his chances of being celebrated. The only other type of male character that is typically celebrated is the "everyman" that is witty and uses his cunning to get ahead, which Hans My Hedgehog cannot be on the grounds of his deformation.
2) Fathers love their children and are irreproachable:
The primary moral conflict that is presented between the two is that, in the Frog Prince tales, whether the frog is automatically accepted, accepted through a trick, or accepted through an act of duty, he is only ever rejected in his humbled form by those who hold no ethical obligation. In contrast, the father and mother of Hans My Hedgehog who hold the paramount obligation to him reject and repel him twice. This undermines the important image of the parental figure which is almost always protected in children's literature. This is the very reason that the evil mother is always a stepmother instead of simply being a mean mother.
I am not currently in the mood to expand much further on the topic, so I shall leave it at that. I'm sure you can make the necessary associations remaining in order to finish affirming the claim, or else you can go on living your life eternally unfulfilled and in a perpetual state of anxiety as you struggle to complete the circle.
You can choose to agree, disagree, or whatever… It doesn't matter…
Either way I'm right…
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
In two strongly contrasting, opinionated essays, Bruno Bettelheim and Robert Darnton explore the many interpretations of fairy tales. These interpretations can be categorically described as the ‘scientific’ fairy tale and the ‘historical’ fairy tale. The scientific interpretation of the fairy tale is what would probably be most valued in the world today, because it could produce usable (and sellable) ideas about the mental state of children and their development. However, I think that the historical interpretation is actually far more important because it teaches us about the cultural significance of a segment of the population we know very little about: the illiterate peasant class in 17th, 18th, and 19th century Europe.
In Bettelheim’s essay, he believes that fairy tales should be used to help discover psychoanalytical truths behind child development. What he is missing is the rather large factor that many of these tales were actually composed for adults, not children. Most of the tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm and other chroniclers were simply the adaptation of an oral tradition directed at entertaining the illiterate adult peasant class. This simple fact throws most of his argument, because the target audience is not who he needs to psychoanalyze. Granted, if using the watered down, children specific, modern versions of many tales (aka Disney movies), then his argument is entirely valid because those are actually meant for childhood development.
Bettelheim also neglects to take into account that these tales were compiled from oral traditions hundreds of years old; modern children cannot relate to many aspects of Grimm’s fairy tales: the rural setting, landed aristocracy, strict patriarchal society, and belief in magic, among others. The fact is that society has changed from when these tales were compiled. While they are still fantastic stories, sometimes with good morals still applicable in modern life, using them to reach psychoanalytical goals is simply not going to work.
On the other hand, in taking the tales in context a historian can learn a great deal about the society in which they were prevalent. Darnton explains this in an anthropological application: modern historians can study the tales and thus realize the values which guided these historical cultures. In applying the anthropological lens to the differences between versions of the stories, modern scientists can also see how societies changed over time. As an oral tradition, the fairy tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm had gone through a long process of slow change and revision before they were ever written down. In each retelling, a different part of the story may be emphasized to better relate to the current society. By looking at the same tale evolve over time, one could easily see how the society changes.
Since the peasant class through most of history has been illiterate, there are very few ways in which modern historians can learn about the daily life of the majority of the world’s population. Oral tales are one of these methods, because the peasants were able to hear and interpret them without need for a literate middleman. The tales are constantly changing to reflect a given time; almost every generation or two a new storyteller will come along and create a new interpretation of the old tales. Most recently, this niche has been filled by Walt Disney. Just as studying Disney’s movies could (and does) lead to social commentary on current society, so does studying the Grimm Brother’s tales reflect on the culture of the time.
I'm writing my Senior Honors Thesis in Religious Studies on Muslim American Immigrant women and the specific issues they face regarding sexual abuse and spousal abuse (one day I'll actually conjure a more concise title...). Anyway, so that gives you some idea of one of the issues I'm passionate about. Beyond that... I look forward to blogging with yall!
His explication of the project of Aarne and Thompson was a very worth while and important to the understanding of folk tales as well as the way that they are interpreted from a folklorist's perspective; however, there is great difficulty and subjectivity in the project of comparative analysis in order to find the important or relevant aspects of a given group of people. Problems in this approach arise from a few primary sources, which must be addressed.
First, the use of fairy tales as a medium through which to understand a culture, although it recognizes fairy tales as dynamic, fails to respect the dynamic, incongruous nature of a culture, resulting from the use of an article to help define a culture at a given time even though the artifact is of far more ancient origins. This form of analysis runs the risk of attributing achronistic details to a specific snapshot of a culture at a specific time—assuming that the cultural artifacts are present and correctly interpreted. This undermines the aim of the project and reduces the ability to infer cultural patterns in the motifs and symbols.
Second, the differences in tales' versions, however clear they are, cannot be directly translated into cultural difference. This process is a very subjective process and makes almost impossible any ability to verify the conclusions drawn.
The real productivity of this process is in analyzing the effects of literary tradition on the oral tradition of the fairy tale genre and vice versa. By analyzing tales that were not directly influenced by the literary fairy tale, the intent and purpose of the author of the literary fairy tale, as well as his/her society's biases or projects, become clear. Of course, it must be taken still with a grain of salt, since the author of a tale is not always indicative of the society as a whole, and quite frequently is the counterculture's response to the mainstream. These distinctions are important to note, though hard to decipher without a very clear a priori context being established.
*See "Psychoanalysis: What Everyone Knows and Has Heard Repeatedly"
Monday, January 18, 2010
Now that I have said what everyone already knew, I will move on to a more interesting and informative topic: "The Struggle for Meaning".
Bettelheim starts rightly by presenting his background, biases, and project, but that is about the extent to which his article is praiseworthy. His extremely unique experience, similar to that of Freud, in working with "severely disturbed children", to at least a slight extent, negates his ability to prescribe to the general case because "severely disturbed children" would clearly be an exceptional case, from which the common case could not be extracted. This is another important systemic problem of psychoanalysis in general: although there is some small group of applicable cases the attempt to generalize those cases in order to apply them to the average or common case. This distorts the system by analyzing the extraordinary as ordinary and deteriorating the application as a comprehensive project.
His primary flaw in argumentation, however, is that he evokes two primary and contradictory ends as the internal motivation for children to read: immediate and future gain, both of which, he inaccurately assesses. For immediate gain, he posits that the experience of reading is only enjoyable in a situation such that the material is both interesting and entertaining, an assertion that is far less than likely on account of two major factors: that parents, teachers, and other mentors to children offer direct positive reinforcement of the behaviors in means of attention and praise and that children create for themselves a form of intrinsic motivation that trumps—both positively and negatively—the perceived gain of entertainment. Here it should be noted that much of the content of children's literature has changed since the writing of his essay and that integral to the genre at that time were works as those that were meant to didactically instruct on the proper exercise of hygiene or deportment, making the need for his argument much less in the modern context anyhow. But still, his argument is rather weak on point, or else children would never have learned to read or literacy rates would have been so significantly waning that teaching children to read in such a setting would seem a futile and impossible effort. Let it not be mistaken, however, that I here support and defend the use of tedious texts or meaningless dribble as children's reading materials. I, above all, am an avid proponent of presenting children with meaning and purpose as well as imaginative exercises, even to the extent that I endorse the creation of literature for children that is equally worth-while for adults and nourishes the mind through an analysis of philosophy or thoughtful deconstruction of social values. These maxims are, however, in no way necessary—a conclusion reached with great relief, for they are quite rare in nature (and allow me to clearly state that fairy tales rarely meet the standards I have just outlined unless they tend from the recent movements that satirize, reassess, and recreate them in hopes of presenting some important aspect of society in a new light and deconstructing the form of fairy tales—a much more difficult genre to adapt to "child-appropriate" themes).
Fairy tales, in their attempt to moralize the world and stories, are also, far less than helpful to children. As he correctly asserts, the children will start to assume the moral code presented by the tales, but at what cost? The morality presented by the Grimm's tales is so far outdated and backwards as to be appalling—and can unilaterally be blamed for the sexual anxiety in the Modern era that Freud and many others rightly noted though wrongly assessed. The tales demonize women if they are not beautiful, which tends to be the highest value they are judged by and the source of all good qualities in women of the tales. It also sets marriage (subjugation) as the highest and most sacred obligation and achievement a woman can attain. These along with other values presented in the Grimm's tales reduce the self worth and esteem of children who, in finding the disparity between the good presented in fairy tales and themselves can only justify the discontinuity by blaming themselves. Herein lies the source of modern self esteem issues that are only fed further by the industries of media that overload youths with the images of "beauty" that are linked to a rare body type that few can possess, no matter how hard they strive to attain it (short of surgical procedures), but these magazines and movies cannot hold the sole blame because the destructive value had to be put in place prior to the essentialization of the form of beauty endorsed by the society.
The only point on content where he has hit the mark is that parents need to refrain from sugar-coating the world and presenting only happy ending stories. There is great value in children learning to comprehend tragedy and imperfection—that the good guy sometimes loses and sometimes no one wins. In this insipid world, there is no right or wrong, no hero or villain, no joy or pain, and children need to be allowed to see the truth once in a while…
I know that you are all so glad to have such a long-winded dissertation on the topic… No need to thank me?
I'm Lindsay Ratterman and am a senior Engineering Science and Sociology major. I am from Denver, Colorado and am very excited to get back to snow and blue skies at the end of the semester. I've always liked fairy tales, especially the way they are presented in Disney movies. I hope this class doesn't ruin any of those for me...
Talk to you all soon!