Tag Archives: fairy tales

Violence and Gender in Fairy Tales

Almost everyone has a favorite bedtime story or fairy tale from childhood. These were the stories that we begged to hear over and over again. In some cases, these stories were also movies that, in my case, were watched at home so often that the VHS tape was completely worn down. Fairy tales aren’t take literally by children; even little ones don’t actually believe that pumpkins can turn into carriages. Nonetheless, the stories are still major parts of our lives in the ways we played make-believe as children and in the ways we understood stories to flow.

Children’s and young adult literature is a particular interest of mine because I think it can be just as powerful or subtle as “adult” literature. Some wording may be simplified, but children’s literature, such as fairy tales, still includes as many subtleties and difficult questions as adult literature. Nevertheless, children’s minds are still being influenced by these stories.  It is from fairy tales that girls get the idea that they are best as pampered princesses waiting to be rescued, not ones that make proactive decisions. Boys likewise learn that it is their job to take care of the girls. And don’t forget that for old women, the ultimate drive toward violence is jealousy and want of beauty. I want to uncover the different ways that violence is used by both men and women in fairy tales to influence these gender roles mentioned above in the specific stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Bluebeard.

 

Some questions I would like to explore in my paper are:

1) Is violence ever portrayed as a good thing when committed by women? Is it ever a bad thing when committed by the “hero” (typically male) of the story?

2) In what ways are acts of violence romanticized? Are some better than others?

3) Some of these fairy tales have evolved over  the years from their original forms, most especially Cinderella. Do the more “modern” versions have the same impact without as much violence? Is emotional abuse as bad as physical abuse?

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Cinderella for the 20th Century: Gendering in Ever After

I have always been in love with fairy tales, not simply the ones given to us by Disney, but the traditional ones as well. The Classic Fairy Tales was my favorite text to read. I loved the juxtaposition of the different versions of the stories. It made me think of adaptations I had seen in movies – Cinderella especially. One adaptation that has always stuck with me is Ever After, a movie made in 1998. It is so memorable to me because the characters are far more vibrant than the traditional ones (though they are by no means highly complex characters). One of the key differences in the movie is that there is no fairy godmother, no sort of fantastical outside assistance at all. The Cinderella character – Danielle de Barbarac, is in control of her own fate. She is also a very different girl than the Cinderellas of the Perrault or the Grimm tales: she is highly intelligent, stubborn, and though she is subservient to her stepfamily for the most part, she has spirited outbursts in which she rails against their domination. I would like to explore the nature of the characters in relation to the time the movie was made, comparing them with those of the traditional tale and examining in particular their gendering. Some questions I would like to consider are:

 

1. How does the removal of magic in the story change Cinderella’s character and the story itself?

2. Does Danielle display the traits of a classic hero rather than simply being the protagonist?

3. Danielle identifies very closely with her father, and creates a noble persona for herself using her mother’s name. Is there an Electra complex being carried out?

 

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Science Fiction and Fairy Tales

I think it is quite difficult to place The Island of Dr. Moreau into one specific genre.  H.G. Wells wrote this book at a time before science fiction was really considered a genre of literature.  With this being so, I do believe the genre that most fits this book is science fiction.  I also believe that some aspects of fairy tales are present in this book.

I think this book does fit into the genre of science fiction for a few reasons.  First of all, the subject of this story involves scientists!  Vivisection, the main subject of this book is very much a science fiction idea.  The fact that some of the characters in the book were vivisecting animals to make them into humans is absolutely absurd, and quite horrifying.  Especially with European scientists having a big debate about the ethics involved with animal vivisection at the time this book was written; makes the book and its subject even more scary.

One way The Island of Dr. Moreau connects to other things, (specifically fairy tales) that we have read so far, happens near the beginning of the book.  An old man, who we later find out is Dr. Moreau tells Prendick, “Our little establishment here contains a secret or so, is a kind of Bluebeard’s Chamber, in fact” (Wells 21).  I was so shocked when I read this in the book!  This is a blatant connection to fairy tales, for “Bluebeard’s Chamber” contained the bodies of the past wives he had.  If anyone reading this book knew anything about Bluebeard, they would know if a secret “kind of like Bluebeard’s Chamber” was on that island, it would have to be a huge and horrifying secret.

The fairy tale of Bluebeard served as a lesson (when it was told orally and especially once it had been written down) to be learned and a forewarning to wives about how terrible marriage can be.  I believe The Island of Dr. Moreau teaches the same kind of lesson; being that advances in science and attempting to control nature will not work.  Nature will most always run its course.

 

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Graphic and Realistic Violence Used to Traumatize and Warn the Audience

The use of violence in fairy tales has morphed into a way to warn children against bad behavior by creating a “disciplinary regime”.  The violence stops being slapstick humor once the stories start adding morals along with a level of narrative that enforces imagery.  The imagery emphasizes the graphic violence and its consequences, most evident in the Bluebeard tales.  The Bluebeard tales, ranging from the Perrault to the Grimm version, contain graphic imagery that startles and unsettles the reader causing them to remember the “bodies of several dead women hung up on the walls” (145) and “bloody basin filled with dead people” (149).  The graphic nature of these scenes because more disturbing when compared to the other fairy tales where such violence is brought about by whimsical fantasy creatures who do not exist in the real world which makes their threat inconsequential.  The Bluebeard tales have the husband, a relatively ordinary man, as the antagonist which insinuates that such a man could exist thus making him a legitimate threat.  The fact that the existence of such a man is possible, though not as probable, makes the violence in the story a way to make sure that the audience, specifically the children, remember the message and threat presented.  The violence traumatizes the characters in order to represent how important and consequential the events were, as evidenced by the Perrault version where the final sentence is there to explain how the female protagonist can possibly live on after what she had been through.  The graphic and realistic violence in Bluebeard is there to convey the gravity of the problem to the child audience so they understand and remember the warning, even if they must remember it in their nightmares.

 

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Violence central to fairy tales?

Violence as a form of entertainment is not a new concept. People think that violent video games or movies or entertainment in general is new phenomena, but in reality violence has captured the people’s attention for generations. In the beginning stages of most fairy tales, they were told for their entertainment value and to pass the time (Tartar 3), and therefore violence is important in these texts because that’s what made the stories serve their purpose for the listeners or readers.

Throughout the development of the purpose of fairy tales, violence began to be used much less and as a scare tactic instead of entertainment. For the reader of this new type of fairy tale, violence was used to teach a lesson or moral. In the case of Bluebeard, however, violence is used to challenge “the myth of romantic love encapsulated in happily ever after of fairy tales” (Tartar 139) and challenges social norms.

For most readers of fairy tales, violence helps in the reading of the text. Realistically, it makes the stories more interesting and therefore grabs the attention of the reader more. It’s the same concept of not being able to look away from something violent or disturbing even if you one wants to; this is human nature.

For the characters in the texts, however, violence is not as unilaterally beneficial. The heroine, Little Red Riding Hood, or her equivalent is eaten in many versions of the tale, and sometimes even more violent action, such as cutting open the wolf’s stomach, occurs. The violence in Bluebeard is even more extreme, and includes corpses hanging from hooks and dismembered bodies. While we never actually see violence occur in this text, the fear from knowing what had been done in the past is still as effective as actually seeing the violence.

When we think of fairy tales nowadays, violence is nowhere near the first thing to cross our minds. However, violence is crucial to these stories because that is how they entertained and taught the morals, and therefore violence embodies the purpose of these tales.

 

 

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Instructions for Blog Post #2

During these few classes on fairy tales, we’ve seen three major types: Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Bluebeard.  For Blog Post #2, I want to you to answer 1 of the following 3 prompts.  The choices are in no order of importance.

  1. Cultural “texts” can refer to both written and non-written creations.  Movies or television shows, like books, short stories, and poetry, are “texts.”  Nearly anything that conveys meaning can be considered a text.  Your body, the clothes you wear, the tattoo you have, the jewelry you buy–all of this tells others something about you; in short, the body becomes a “text.”  Or your dorm room or your apartment with the types of posters/pictures on the wall, the blanket you have on your couch, the way you’ve designed your living area also tells visitors about you–another “text.”  Thus, most things in the world can be read as texts.  So, Tatar tells us that fairy tales often inspire current “texts,” i.e., movies, books, and television shows.  After reading the Tatar text, you’ve now seen three major types of fairy tales in their historical forms, in their original context, in different cultures and eras, and in re-tellings of the stories.  Can you think of any movies, television shows/episodes, books, short stories, poems, video games, or any popular culture format that utilizes Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, or Bluebeard?  For this option (#1), choose a popular culture “text” that utilizes one of the three fairy tales we’ve read and write about how it makes use of the fairy tale. Be sure to use specific examples from the Tatar text and the popular text of your choice in order to demonstrate the similarities or relevance of the fairy tale to the popular text. You may NOT choose any movie that the Tatar book mentioned, nor can you choose a text that actually has the title of a fairy tale in it.  For example, you cannot actually choose to write about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, even if Tatar hadn’t mentioned it.
  2. Tatar suggests that Bluebeard and Beauty and the Beast are opposite.  Do you agree or diasgree?  Post an answer to the demonstrating why you agree or disagree. How is Bluebeard the opposite of Beauty and the Beast?  What specifically in the texts proves that Beauty and the Beast is the opposite of Bluebeard?  If you disagree entirely with Tatar’s reading of them as opposites, demonstrate why you believe they are actually similar.  Since there is more than one fairy tale in each section, be sure to tell us which fairy tale you’re talking about.
  3. Why is violence so important in the texts we’ve read thus far?  Focusing primarily on fairy tales (but you can draw on The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe), explain why violence is important in these texts. What does violence do for people, readers and characters alike?  How does it help or hinder reading a text?  How does violence help or hinder the characters in the text?

As usual, your posts should follow these requirements:

  • Give your post a good title.
  • Add tags (keywords) to the post.
  • Posts must be at least 250 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quotation from Tatar’s book.
  • Stay focused on answering one of the prompt questions above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.  Remember to clarify the importance of your post.  Don’t just tell us that something is “important”; rather explain why it is important.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text.
  • Use specific moments from Tatar’s text (or other texts if applicable) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotations.

This response is due before class on Tuesday, January 25th. Blog comments (at least 2) are due before class on Thursday, January 27th.

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