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Psychoanalysis of Fairytales

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Psychoanalysis of Fairytales

Examine one or more fairytales from a psychoanalytic perspective. How valid, in your view, is such an approach when applied to fairytales in general?

The psychoanalysts' view of the fairy tale varies greatly between individuals. Tales are, to the general public audience, a mode of entertainment. To the person interested in the hidden meanings and interpretation of the human condition, they are vehicles for the distribution of latent content. This content can generally be seen to embody both phallic and moralistic features. The tales of Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose) and Little Red Riding Hood (Little Red Cap) both illustrate sexual maturity and moral instruction. As with all areas of psychology, there is room for variance in the interpretation of images and actions. There does seem, however, to have a general consistency in the interpretation of symbols and signs, allowing for the stating of perhaps taboo topics in an illustrative manner.

Tales are said to contain more than meets the eye. Initially, there is the surface, or manifest content; presented and taken, generally, at face value. As with Freudian theories regarding dream interpretation, this is what is 'seen' as opposed to the 'hidden' latent content. It is this constituent that lies open to interpretation, depicting what the tale is 'actually' about, through symbolic representation.

Symbols, as used in the interpretative sense, are objects, colours, people or scenes that represent the inner moods or occurrences around us or needing to be addressed. The argument that is presented regarding the interpretation of these symbols is: what are the standards and who sets them? Over time there have come to be certain accepted symbols for major themes such as sexuality and fear. Erich Fromm writes in his The Forgotten Language that, "If one fails to grasp the true meaning of the myth, one finds oneself confronted with this alternative: either the myth is...a naive picture of the world and of history and at best a product...of imagination or...the manifest story is true...a correct report of events which actually happen in 'reality'". Thus, his argument being: the tales are too naive and fantastical to be believable so therefore there must be underlying meaning in order to justify their creation. There are a great number of critics and sceptics to this view. In analysis, however, the pattern and commonality of a number of symbols is perhaps too frequent to be coincidental.

Little Red Riding Hood can be said to be one of the most widely known fairy-stories. On the surface it is a tale of deception ending in the destruction of the 'evil' and deceptive source. The story does, at the same time, lend itself to Freudian interpretation regarding the male/female relationship and conflict. The tale's primary character is a young girl who is obviously carefree and loving, thus representing her youth. She is given a red velvet cap by her grandmother, which she chooses to wear all the time. Red is one of the most dramatic and most widely recognised symbols. It is the colour of passion, sexuality and maturation. The young girl has reached the age of puberty, thus also the point at which menstruation will begin as a sign of the onset of sexual maturity. She is therefore about to make the transition from being a carefree child to being confronted by the issues of womanhood and sexuality. She is about to set off on the journey to her grandmother's house, however to get there she has to journey down a path surrounded by a thick wood. She is warned not to stray from the path and not to drop the contents of her basket. The path represents the ideal and righteous road to follow, perhaps the 'path of virtue'. Her mother has warned her not to stray from this because she does not know what might befall her in the 'real world'. The basket is symbolic of her innocence, she is not to let her guard down to the risk of losing her virginity. This is the protective mother, trying to keep her child innocent and protected. The wood is a dark and mysterious place, there is no knowing what goes on within the confines of the dark and shadowy trees. It is the world that we all as individuals must face and stand up against. Temptation is a human flaw that we cannot escape. Mystery is temptation, therefore we are tempted to enter the unknown 'woods of the world'. This test of life is presented to the young girl as she walks by herself along the path. The fact that she is alone is a key detail; her mother cannot come with her and cannot be with her every step of the way. Parents must let go of their children, all they can do is hope that their guidelines will keep them away from danger.

The wolf character enters while she is walking the path. He tempts her by telling her to come and see the flowers that grow just off the road, in the wood. She resists at first, remembering that she has been told not to listen to strangers and not to stray. However, after a bit of coaxing she does agree, convincing herself that she could collect some flowers for her grandmother. The wolf is seen as the dark, sleazy and deceptive male symbol. To him, the girl is young, sexually naive and yet mature, because of this he wishes to take advantage of her. The wolf is one of the devil's animals, seen as being dangerously destructive, representing evil in the highest form. He is also cunningly keen and aware of his power of persuasion and seduction. He speaks of the flowers and the birds singing in the forest. Flowers again are a symbol of her innocence and of sex. Having been convinced to go have a look, she is lured "deeper and deeper into the woods". The wolf then runs on ahead to the house of the sickly grandmother, where he promptly devours her. This is seen as a sign again of the animal nature of the male. Masquerading as the grandmother he again 'swallows' Little Red Riding Hood and falls asleep when he as satiated his appetite. The role of the man here is quite clearly that of evil. Sex is seen as an act enjoyed purely by the male and as some form of cannibalistic activity wherein he uses the female to get what and as much as he desires. What is presented is a seemingly deep antagonistic view of men. As well as showing the dangers of sex, the tale is able to portray men as being cunning but at the same time ridiculous. Even though the wolf has succeeded in his deception it is ultimately the female that comes out on top. After devouring the girl and her grandmother, he has two living beings in his stomach. Thus, making him a man attempting to play the role of a pregnant woman. This is a feminist interjection on the apparent superiority of females because of their ability to give birth. The two females are saved by a huntsman releasing them from the belly of the wolf. When released Little Red Riding Hood says, 'Ah how frightened I have been! How dark it is inside the wolf!' Thus making an exclamation that straying ...

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Keywords: psychoanalysis of fairy tales, psychoanalysis of fairy tales bettelheim, pros and cons of fairy tales, examples of problems in fairy tales, social function of fairy tales, problems in fairy tales, types of fairy tales stories

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