Violence: A Way to Teach Morality & Add Depth to Story Characters

Back when public executions were commonplace, such violence in fairy tales only depicted real life scenes. Nowadays, if children were to read the original Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard stories, their innocent minds wouldn’t know what to make of “clotted blood” (145) or the flesh of Little Red Riding Hood’s granny on a pantry shelf (10) . Such depictions of violence were the primary method of instilling fear in children and scare them into behaving well, but for children of the 21st century this violence is just too traumatizing.

For example, if children today read the original Little Red Riding Hood, they may never “stray from the path” (14). Better yet, they may never even insist on leaving their house! Young girls who read Bluebeard would reject the idea of getting married for a very long while. Our generation would be spooked to bits, but just imagine how much violence was needed in fairy tales to instill a fear in children who saw people disemboweled and executed in public on a regular basis?

Violence in these fairytales was needed, partly to show the horrible consequences that followed disobedience. For example, Little Red Riding Hood could have kept her grandmother alive has she not strayed from the path like her mother instructed her. Bluebeard’s wives would have stayed alive had they listened to Bluebeard’s warning. Yet, aside from violence being a delinquent-preventive measure, so it is also used to thicken the tales and build the characters.

Consider the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf is just a wolf until he is actually described killing Little Red’s grandmother. Bluebeard is simply “a sorcerer who would disguise himself as a poor man” (148) until he is shown mercilessly hacking a young girl into pieces (149). The Pig King is only a dirty pig until he strikes his new wife “with his sharp hooves…so that he killed her” (44).Violence incorporates a richness to the sinister nature of the villainous character; there is truly no substitute.

Though violence in fairytales are not generally accepted in the 21st century, it’s ability to transform the characters and establish a dark plot can be interchangeable with nothing. Besides, the majority of our media is filled with as much violence as these tales are. It’s probably safe to say that today’s readers, no matter how distasteful they find these violent tales are for children, won’t resist the urge to turn the page of a Brothers Grimm fairytale to see what happens next.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Violence: A Way to Teach Morality & Add Depth to Story Characters

  1. smboehm

    I agree completely with your statement. Reading past versions of fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood or Bluebeard would give young people a gruesome and extremely exaggerated depiction of violence being commonly seen in scenarios such as marriage or talking to strangers. Although violence does occur, the violence in these tales is so grotesque that in today’s day and age, these tales are probably deemed inappropriate for children of young age; however, when these fairy tales were written, the violent acts were used as an outlet for the plot to unravel. These tales of violence would scare the readers into absorbing the moral and following it exclusively, which was the main goal of the writers. In spite of the grotesque acts of violence in these tales, the overall goal was not to disgust them, but rather to frighten them into learning a lesson.

  2. siegvald

    Agreed! The Bluebeard stories do hold your attention, but unfortunately it’s the grisly details that make it so juicy. Regardless of the “morals” of the story to young women, brides to be, or to whomever, I do not think these fairy tales would be as quite the page turners if the violence factor was eliminated. And not just the violence, but the other dark aspects–take for example the bestiality “incident” in The Pig King. What was that all about? Does the third bride actually have “relations” with the pig?? Perhaps this “unknown,” this taboo, or grotesque abnormality is what more than likely intrigues the reader so much and spurs their curiosity as to what will (could possibly?) happen next?

  3. Samantha Cooke

    I agree, but I would like to add some further points. First, though the children of that era may have seen violence on a daily business, it would have been somewhat impersonal for them – they probably did not know who the person being hanged was. Having a violent character in a story would bring to mind that person, give them a relation to the child, and make the character that much more real. I also would not say that our culture is any less violent. The media loves violence – because we love violence. Hundreds of years later, we still have a fascination for it. Thus companies, knowing violence = profit, constantly push it in our news, our films, our video games, and countless other cultural expressions.

  4. I like how you pointed out that violence is used to help further “push” and teach the moral/lesson in each fairy tale to children of the 21st century. If I personally were to have read Bluebeard during my childhood, it would instill fear in me and keep me from wanting to one day get married, let alone date. Being that the children from the times which these fairy tales were written experienced such gruesome, violence acts on a day-to-day basis, I don’t think they learned the moral/lesson of the tale. Instead, I believe they read it as almost a “non-fiction” story, being that is was closely related to real-life events during the time. I also agree with you, siegvald, in your statement that if the violence and gory scenes were taken from Bluebeard, it would not be an attention grabber or as interesting. Before this class, I knew nothing about this fairy tale, but as Thomas sat in class and gave us a brief summary of what it was about, the violence intrigued me and caught my attention, so I then wanted to read it.

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