By Lyz Reblin
During my nine-month journey to my destination I chose to research the planet before encountering its inhabitants. In the spaceship’s library, I found a text titled “The Classic Fairy Tales” edited by a human named Maria Tatar. The tome seemed to be a misnomer, for no fairies were to be found within its pages. Instead, I found a collection of anecdotes commonly depicting the harsh young lives of the female human species residing in the Western Hemisphere of the third rock from the sun. It seems that the text is too difficult for their human minds to comprehend, for upon my arrival on the watery planet I found that many adolescent humans containing the XX chromosomes emulated the very “princesses” in these tales, seemingly ignorant of the suffering and punishment such role-models endured.
In one part of this volume, two male siblings named Grimm turned German folkloric dictation into their own written narration with a story entitled “Hansel and Gretel.” The tale follows the sibling duo of male Hansel and female Gretel as they suffer the pains of economic depravity. Instead of succumbing to cannibalism, their parents choose the rational option and abandon their children within the forest. Though saved once by Hansel’s superior intellect, the children are abandoned a second time within the woods and without a proper trail to follow home, find their way to an abode constructed out of desserts. It seems that with a lack of food comes a lack of manners, for the children begin to eat the house before being apprehended by the homeowner. Hansel is incarcerated while his sister is forced into a twisted form of apprenticeship, aiding the magical geriatric woman in killing her brother. But this time the pair is saved by Gretel’s mental prowess, for she kills the witch with the magical being’s very own trick. Hansel and Gretel then steal the deceased woman’s treasures and return home to a single parent household.
Ignoring the psychoanalytical tones of infantile maturity in play preached by Bruno Bettelheim, the terror instilled in the children over their well-being is an economic-based Marxist creation. Though their father is a woodcutter within a forest filled with wood to be chopped, their family is poor. Their country seems to be in need of a “One Child/Family Planning Policy,” focused on the rural areas unlike the urban families in China. But, similar to China, it is males that are favored in this society. Though the wife’s calculation to sacrifice the children over her and her husband’s decline is based on reason, it goes against the accepted morals and emotional attachment standard human families are expected to possess. Gretel is dependent on her brother to save them from their mother’s evil plot. Once in the woods they meet the alternative incarnation of their poverty stricken family: the cannibalistic maternal figure. Gretel becomes the witch’s assistant, forcing her into the role of the cunning but wicked female. The young girl then kills her mistress in cold-blood, using the very wiles she has adopted from both her cruel mother and her sadistic “teacher.’’ On their way home, Hansel and Gretel are forced to cross the river separately, signifying again the distinction and gap between the masculine and the feminine (Bettelheim 278). The Grimms’ dismissively inform their audience that the “wife had died” with no explanation or call for an emotional response (Grimm 189). The convenient timing of her passing with that of the witch’s’ death could stand as more than just coincidence, possibly both villains were one and the same. The wife’s passing also creates an opening for Gretel to fill as the antagonizing feminine force to come.
“Hansel and Gretel’s” sexist overtones could be blamed on its male collectors, but even märchens spawned from the minds of the feminine species place their own sex in the role of the adversary. In Margaret Atwood’s “Bluebeard’s Egg,” a human named Sally becomes her own worst enemy. After reveling in her superior intellect, Sally is shocked to find her husband Ed and best friend Marylynn having unnecessary physical contact. Or does she? Any psychiatrist, either on pathetic Earth or godly Mars, could diagnose Sally with a case of projection and displacement. After receiving an assignment based on “Fitcher’s Bird” in her Forms of Narrative Fiction course, Sally begins to suffer from psychological burnout. In an attempt to analyze her “inner world” for the project, the line between reality and fiction becomes blurred (Atwood 169). Sally becomes unable to separate her creation from her real life and she associates “Bluebeard” motifs within her own life. When she supposedly sees Ed cheating on her, it could actually be a form of displacement. Sally is taking the underlying theme of infidelity within the tale and forcing the connection on to her mysterious husband.
The possibly fictional events seen by Sally come from a lack of her own identity. She fears that, like her best friend Marylynn, “she is nothing” (Atwood 161). Questioning her own self-worth, Sally flippantly disregards this notion or the action of divorce, yet on an unconscious level her identity loss continues to eat away at her. She projects the lack of understanding of herself upon her husband, whom she associates with the egg from the Grimm’s “Fitcher’s Bird” story, an egg that she cannot crack. In the beginning of the tale Sally relished Ed’s denseness, how stupid he was or appeared to be. But by the end of the story Sally fears the unknown, not only what lies within Ed’s heart but her own as well. Without a strong sense of self, Sally forces her anxieties and worries on others, creating even more trouble for herself. Until Sally is able to disassociate herself from the characters within the “Bluebeard” tale, Ed will continue to be incorrectly tied to varying aspects of the story depending on Sally’s mental state.
Just as “Hansel and Gretel” leaves us with a false ending of hope, “Bluebeard’s Egg” has an ending that at first appears depressing. But, Atwood’s tale is more than just a reiteration of a classic fairy tale. The post-modern interpretation of “Bluebeard” is actually Sally’s Forms of Narrative Fiction assignment. With the exception of length, Atwood’s story fulfills all of the requirements set down by her Forms of Narrative Fiction instructor, Bertha. These included present, realistic setting, no Universal Narrator, limited point of view to one character, and based on Bluebeard (Atwood 171). As a result of writing out this transposition, Sally has begun the self-discovery process. By the time the reader completes the story the Sally they have just read no longer exists. However, this does not guarantee a happy ending for our modern female woman. It is unclear from the story/assignment what Sally will take from it. Will she interpret it as a written form of a Freudian “dream work” in which all of her anxieties, worries, and fears has been regurgitated upon the page? Or will she be stuck on the surface level of the story, as many humans seem to be when it comes to fairy tales, and only view it as a sign for possible divorce with her inexplicable husband?
In Angela Carter’s “Tiger’s Bride” we again find a young girl punished for her parent’s economic turmoil. The young Russian lady is lost in a bet by her father in a game of cards, like chattel, to a masked Italian lord. From a bartering chip to an object of carnal desire, the beauty refuses to shun her pride for the beast’s pleasure. Despite his wealth of property or his rank, the girl is unable to be wooed by such a foreign creature. Though on the surface the beast is a human-animal hybrid, the undertones of the text delve into an Oriental notion of the Other. After losing his daughter, the foolish Russian father quotes the line from William Shakespeare’s Othello: “One whose hand/Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away/Richer than all his tribe” (qtd. in Tatar 54). The line, even taken out of context, has pertinence to the scene. But the choice of quoting this particular play is more suited in associating the beast with the moor Othello, rather than the speaker. Both men are high-raking Orientals residing in Italy while suffering from unrequited love towards a Western woman. The beast’s exact point of origin is never disclosed, though the English nurse’s story about the “tiger-man… from Sumatra,” implies that he may possibly be Indian (Carter 55). Harboring noble blood, the Russian girl may not be able to overlook the beast’s origins. Poor humans should learn that it does not matter what region you inhabit but who has the larger Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator.
Her narrow-minded views fade, however, as the beast humbles himself for her. In the end, she lowers herself to his level and becomes like him. However, the young girl always had the Other side within her. First of all, she is a woman and therefore by birth on the outskirts of society. Secondly, she and her father come from Russia. Located in Asia, though regarded as European, the country is nevertheless a hybrid of the two worlds. It adopted European cultures and customs, yet retained many of its own traditions. The Russian pair is also an outsider within the timetable of the story, for they are away from home and in a foreign country. By shedding her attachment to Western civility by engaging in a sexual manner with the beast, the girl accepts her Eastern roots. Angela Carter implies this return to her uncivilized side when the girl’s “earrings turned back into water”, the last remnant’s of her former life melting away (66).
Why these stories have become the cornerstone of any female Western Earthling’s childhood is beyond even my great brain to comprehend. These tales are only three examples amidst an entire universe of stories that place the females of the species in an inferior state. These so-called fairy tales become propaganda to show Earth women how they are supposed to act in a patriarchal society. If they fail to inhabit the passivity of Snow White, then their astuteness will only becomes a means for their banishment to the outskirts of society like a witch or evil stepmother. Alison Lurie is correct in her assumption that from women “real trouble” brews, but this can be as much a curse as the “innocent, victimized…beauteous lump of ultimate, sleeping good” described by Andrea Dworkin that becomes a nightmare for young human girls to aspire to (qtd. Tatar xiii-xiv).
Atwood, Margaret. “Bluebeard’s Egg.” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 156-178. Print.
Bettelheim, Bruno. “Hansel and Gretel.” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 273-280. Print.
Grimm. “Hansel and Gretel.” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 184-190. Print.
Carter, Angela. “Tiger’s Bride.” The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 50-66. Print.
The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.
Lyz Reblin is currently a senior at Chapman University, pursuing a degree in Screenwriting with a minor in English. She plans on attending graduate school for film studies. Her academic interests include horror films, postmodernism, and adaptation theory.