Fairy tales have been present in many generations, portraying a fantasy world for people of all ages. This fantasy that is portrayed by the stories show that good always wins, and evil always suffers. But, what is the hidden message behind the characters of princesses and princes?
In all of the original, Grimm Brother’s fairytales, there are many subtle messages that have one way or another shaped today’s generation, not so much in a positive way. Originally, these stories were meant to be read by adults, not children. “The stories the Brothers Grimm first collected are brusque, comical, and tragic, and are not, strictly speaking, “fairy tales.”
In fact, the Grimm’s never intended the tales to be read by children.” (Zipes). These fairy tale stories, did not really have much of a fairy tale feel to them. In fact, they often times included dark themes such as violence, or sex. Although these stories contained dark themes, they became popular amongst all generations.
Stories such as “Cinderella,” which has a strong theme of sexism and gender roles, “Little Snow-White,” which places a negative connotation on stepmothers, and teaches that beauty is power, and last but not least, “Hansel and Gretel” in which the theme of gender roles is the main focus, are just a few examples of the Grimm’s brothers most well-known influential stories.
To begin with, the story of “Cinderella” as it is told today, is very different from the original Grimm Brother’s version. The original version is much more dark, violent, and sends many negative messages to people of all ages.
At first, one would think that these so-called fairy tales, are harmless and innocent, and give out a positive message. Although when taking another look at it from a different point of view, one can realize that the theme of “Cinderella” is not a theme of hope or finding true happiness, on the contrary, it is based strongly on sexism.
According to critics, in “Cinderella” girls got the message that “In order for them to succeed, they needed to fit into the narrow view of what was beautiful, as well as being kind, generous, self-sacrificing, the epitome of patience and forgiveness” (The Artifice).
In “Cinderella,” one can compare the male character to the female character and instantly notice how Grimm Brother’s idea of a good woman is always portrayed as beautiful, weak, innocent, and submissive.
Whereas the male character is always the one to save the damsel in distress, ultimately being portrayed as strong, sure of himself, and the hero of the story. This female character gives the image that women should be weak, and not fend for themselves.
The character of “Cinderella” is a bad example for women as she does not fight against the cruel situation she is in, rather, most of the time she is submissive and does not take matters into her own hands and runs away; instead, she just waits for the day her prince will find her and rescue her.
This story has influenced the image of men and women in society, and how they should play their roles. Women’s role is one of weakness, and men always having to take control of the situation.
Next, the story of “Little Snow-White”, also contains dark themes. Although there are many themes in this story that have influenced today’s generation, there is one characteristic of the story that stands out the most, and that is, stepmothers.
“Little Snow-White” transforms stepmothers into a negative, wicked character. In many of the Grimm Brothers’ stories, there is an evil mother, or stepmother. Although the character of the stepmother in “Little Snow-White” is not necessarily known for being the fairest of them all, on the contrary, this character is known as the most sinister of them all.
This transformation on stepmothers influenced many generations into thinking that all stepmothers came with an evil gene in them. According to researchers, “…asked both American and international friends about their thoughts and feelings on the word stepmother and 5 found the cruel stereotype deeply embedded in their psyches, and widespread across cultural lines.” (Silver).
This makes one think that indeed the Grimm Brothers’ “Little Snow-White” had a major influence on the way people all around the world think when they hear the word stepmother, instantly associating it with a mean, evil character.
Furthermore, another subject that stands out in “Little Snow-White” is that beauty is power. The character of Snow White has a long-lasting battle with her evil stepmother, all based on the fact that Snow White is the most beautiful girl in all the land, and this makes the narcissistic stepmother want to destroy her, as she believes she should be the only beautiful woman in all the land.
Even though this might seem like an innocent theme, it has influenced generations into thinking that being physically beautiful is one of the most important characteristics of a human being. When taking a look at the relationship between the stepmother and Snow White, one can realize that the stepmother does not hate Snow White because of how she is as a person, she hates her because she symbolizes beauty and youth.
“By looking at beauty as a commodity through which power can be gained, this action can be interpreted as a means for the Queen to preserve her power through beauty” (bright kite). The stepmother believes that her beauty is what makes her powerful, and if there is someone else more beautiful than her, they might take away that power.
The way the Grimm Brothers depict beauty in “Little Snow-White” has influenced many girls of this generation into making them have an unrealistic, narcissistic point of view when it comes to physical beauty.
Moreover, the story of “Hansel and Gretel”, does not have a prince, or a damsel in distress. Despite the characters and the setting being different, there are still many themes that are notable in all of the Grimm Brothers’ tales. In this particular story, one can notice the theme of sexism and gender role is very much present.
One example is seen in the father figure of this story. The man is the head of the household, “The woodcutter, the ultimate patriarch, provides practical wood to his country so that it may prosper economically, and he provides food and shelter for his family so that they may go on surviving.” (Wallace).
Just like in a typical Grimm Brother’s story, the man is portrayed as a powerful and strong figure. Another example of gender role in this story can be observed when taking a look at the relationship between the siblings in “Hansel and Gretel.” Hansel, being the male character, leads the situation by oftentimes telling Gretel to calm down, because he will find a way to fix the problem.
In this relationship, one can see the contrast between the male and the woman character in the story. The male always being the decision-maker, and sadly, the woman doing what he wants to do. In today’s society, even though it is far less than it was centuries ago, there still exists this gender gap.
All in all, Grimm Brother’s stories have been known for centuries, because of this, these tales are many people’s representation of their childhood, and they are being passed through generations.
Even though these stories represent so much culture and folklore, one must take a different point of view and really see what message these stories are giving to future generations.
Sadly, many of these messages might seem harmless, but in reality, they are harmful in the long-run. These stories teach people that stepmothers are sinister, that beauty is the key to success, and that men and women have fixed roles in society.
This should not be the case, because stepmothers are not as evil as they are portrayed, intelligence should rise above good looks, and women can be as strong and equal as men, not the typical damsel in distress.
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The Artifice. the artifice. Vers. web. n.p n.p n.p. 13 september 2018. <https://the-artifice.com/fairytales-feminism/>.
Wallace, Samantha. icstoa. Vers. web. n.p n.p n.p. 14 september 2018. <https://icstoa.wordpress.com/fall-2012-volume-i/the-didactic-intentions-of-storytelling-gender-role-reinforcement-in-hansel-and-gretel-by-samantha-wallace/>.
Zipes, Jack. National Endowment For the Humanities. Vers. web. march 2015. <https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2015/marchapril/feature/how-the-grimm-brothers-saved-the-fairy-tale>.