Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fairy Tales Through a Jungian Perspective

Fairytales and Jungian psychoanalysis share a strong relationship. In order to better understand this relationship, we must first understand some of the main components in the Jungian parts of the psyche.  Listed below are some definitions that will aide us in our understanding of this relationship.

Parts of the Psyche[1]

·      Ego: the conscious component of personality; carries out normal daily actions.
·      Personal Unconscious: repository of personal experiences
·      Collective Unconscious: Repository of racial memories. Encoded in the cells and passed on genetically.
·      Archetypes: Energy centers in the unconscious. Based on universal experiences, and expressed in dreams, myths and fairytales.

Within the lines of almost all fairytales there are components of the psyche according to Jung. Starting with the first two definitions listed, ego and personal unconscious, we can see how these definitions play a role in many fairytales. We can see that personal unconscious relates to most fairytales in the sense that the main characters in the beginning of the tales usually start out performing acts on impulse or desire. For instance, in Hansel and Gretel the main characters impulsively eat the gingerbread house without any thought of the consequences. Ego is supplementary to personal unconscious in most fairytales. This is because a majority of main characters go through some sort of transformation to rid themselves of these impulsive actions or personal unconscious. Frequently by the end of the story the main characters change from a state where personal unconscious is dominate to a state of conscious decision-making or ego.  Referring back to the Hansel and Gretel example, the two children end up using ego to make informed decisions on how to escape from the witch’s house.

The last two definitions on the list help us better comprehend why fairytales from all around the world have common themes and storylines. Archetype is the term Jung and others use to sum up these reoccurring themes and experiences. For instance, the idea of the lost husband is an archetype that is seen across many fairytales from different countries. The question is then, how can we have the same themes and consequently similar storylines from cultures that had no contact with each other? Jung answered that with his concept of the collective unconscious.  Relating back to the archetype of the lost husband, we can imagine that in the past there were many wars that drove men away from their homes. Consequently, many women were left widowed and uncertain of the fate of their husbands. Therefore, the archetype of the lost husband would have been prevalent in almost all cultures and the reaction to the feeling of the lost husband would have worked itself into the collective unconscious of different cultures as well.

[1] Mazeroff. Paul. Class Lecture.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Little Red Riding Hood as a Political Tool

BY WOLVERTON, CAGLE CARTOONS  -  6/2/2009 12:00:00 AM

         Little Red Riding Hood (LRRH) is one theme of this political cartoon. The cartoon itself depicts Sonia Sotomayor on her path to becoming a Supreme Court Justice in the United States Supreme Court. Like LRRH, Ms. Sotomayor’s path was not an easy one. Little Red Riding Hood’s path was difficult because she had a cunning wolf attempting to deter her from her trail of getting to grandmother’s house. While Sotomayor did not face a wolf, she faced an equally determined adversary in the GOP/Republican Party. Both the wolf and the GOP play the same role insofar that they attempt to halt the goals of the two women. While I think that the cartoon is a smart play on the fairytale, I do not necessarily enjoy the overall picture it sends. It gives me the impression that the Republican Party would literally go to any length to stop Sotomayor’s ascension to Supreme Court Justice. Perhaps this is true in a political sense, but it is not true in a literal sense. The story of Little Red Riding Hood contains possible negative underlying themes such as rape and cannibalism. Although I do not think it was the cartoonist’s intention to associate the GOP with these themes, I do believe that people with an in depth understanding of LRRH could interpret it this way. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, I do not believe anyone would want to portray our political leaders as rapist or cannibals.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Child as the Hero...

Growing up, I always imagined myself as the hero in the movies I watched or in the books that were read to me by my parents. My childhood friends and I always argued over which main character we were in a particular movie. For instance, the Star Wars trilogy was always one that was highly contested for roles. Everyone wanted to be the Jedi Luke Skywalker. Looking back, I can see why we all wanted to be him. Luke was a young hero who had to seemingly overcome insurmountable odds to make the universe emerge from darkness.  In all three movies, my young eyes watched as he went from a farmhand to a Jedi Master.

Like Luke Skywalker, fairytales are littered with young or even child heroes. These heroes have to overcome insurmountable odds and mature into the next stage of life as well. For instance, the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk is just one example. In the story, Jack mistakenly sells the family’s only source of income, a cow, for beans. His mother punishes Jack when he returns home, and then proceeds to throw the beans out the window. The beans overnight grow into a giant beanstalk. Jack climbs the beanstalk and encounters a giant. Three times he outwits his opponent, the giant, and steals treasures from him. Jack does this in order to replace the money lost from the sale of the cow for beans. Another tale that contains the child as a hero is Hansel and Gretel. In this tale, Hansel and Gretel’s parents abandon the two children due to fear of starvation. The first time they are abandoned, Hansel and Gretel find their way back home from a trail of polished stones that Hansel left as the children were being led astray. The second time they are led away, the children leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back. Unfortunately, birds eat their trail of breadcrumbs and they can no loner find their way home. Consequently, the two siblings are lost in the woods and after some time find refuge at a gingerbread house. Hansel and Gretel begin eating the house due to their starvation and dismiss a voice that they hear as wind. Suddenly, a woman who was owner of the house appears and takes them in for the night. The woman provides the children with food and shelter. However, the woman’s hospitality is a trick. She is in fact a witch that wants to fatten Hansel up to eat him. Hansel and Gretel get the best of the witch in the end. They trick the witch by using a bone as Hansel’s finger so that the witch would think he was not gaining weight. Eventually, the children push the witch into the oven to kill her and they escape.

From a Freudian psychoanalytical perspective, we can begin to identify the purpose of using children as heroes. Children are prime subjects for this due to their various stages of development that illuminate the ID, Ego, and Superego. If we go back and analyze Hansel and Gretel, we can see this relationship between a child’s development and the ID, Ego, and Superego. The ID in this story manifests itself in the children’s impulsive decision to eat the gingerbread house. Hansel and Gretel are so starved that they need to fulfill their internal desire to eat. As they are eating the house, they hear a voice that says “who is nibbling at my house.” This voice was a warning sign to let them know what they were doing was wrong. The voice can be interpreted as the superego in the story. However, since they are young and have not developed yet, it makes sense that they would ignore this warning sign. Finally the ego comes into play and it symbolizes maturity of the children. The children no longer react to impulsive behaviors and begin to think logically. They devise a plan using a bone as Hansel’s finger and get the witch to go into the oven in order to kill her. The child as a hero allows us to see the ID, Ego, and Superego in the simplest of forms. Not only can adults see this connection, but children can unconsciously see it as well.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary there are a few listings for how a fairytale is defined:

a : a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins) —called also fairy story[1]

b : a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending[2]

If I have learned anything in the past two weeks of class, it is that both of these definitions come up short. Lets take definition “a” for example. I am currently taking a college level undergraduate course titled Once Upon a Time – Folk and Fairy Tales Around the World. I am 22 and am as much of a child as fairy tales are for children. Starting here one can start to formulate a working definition for a fairytale. The second definition “b” is also problematic. Fairytales do not always lead to happy endings. In Hans Christian Anderson’s original tale, Little Mermaid actually does not marry the prince and throws herself into the sea where she dissolves[3]. Thus far we know that fairytales are for children as well as adults and they do not always lead to happy endings. The next task we must accomplish is finding the origin. I do not mean the origin of the word fairytale, but the origins of the fairytale stories. Many theories stretch from monogenesis and polygenesis to dreams and local legends. While all have individual merit, I believe that fairytales have formed from Max Lüthi theory. Max’s idea is that legends and local sagas emerge into fairytales[4]. This theory works for me the best. This is because I can see how in everyday life a story originates and is then passed along until the original story is completely embellished. Fairy tales seem to have the same characteristic because there are so many different versions of the same story. Now I am down to the last step of my definition. The last step is to determine the purpose of these tales. In class we learned that fairytales are a means of teaching someone a lesson or societal norm. For instance, Little Red Riding Hood was not supposed to deviate from her path. In every version of the story she does and this is what gets her in trouble. One potential meaning behind the story would be to listen to your elders. Finally, I am ready to make my definition.

Fairytale- a story with a happy or unhappy ending that is intended for all audiences. A fairytale has originated from a local story or legend and usually contains a meaning or lesson for the audience.

[1] "Fairytale" Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2013.
Web. 6 Feb 2013.

[2] "Fairytale" Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2013.
Web. 6 Feb 2013.

[3] Andersen, Hans Christian. "The Little Mermaid." . N.p.. Web. 6 Feb 2013. <http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html>.

[4] von Franz, Marie-Louise. The interpretations of Fairy Tales. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1996. 16-17. Print.