Sunday, February 17, 2013

"The Child as a Hero"

"Hansel and Gretel" by:  Alyssa Zell
In real life, children are often seen as week, easily victimized, and in need of constant protection.  In the world of fairy tales, however, children are often viewed as a threat to/means of another character's survival.  Despite the world seeming to be against them, these children rise up and become heroes in their own right.
Just look at “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Little Thumbling.”  In both stories, Famine is running rampant throughout the country; so one parent decides that the children must be abandoned in the forest.  At least one child overhears the conversation and decides to fill his pockets with little white pebbles, which he drops along the way and uses to successfully guide himself and his sibling(s) back to the house.  When the second attempt to return home fails, the children do not give up hope.  Here, the stories begin to differ.  Either way, without any assistance from an adult, the children manage to defeat their enemies, and return home with treasure that keeps the family well fed for the rest of their lives…as far as we know.
Then you have “The Juniper Tree.”  This story is about monetary greed instead of food.  Now, which child is truly the hero of the story can be debated.  While the son is the main focus of the story, it is the daughter who thinks to bury his bones.  This shows that she knows she is currently too young to truly defy her mother, but there is hope for her yet.  The way the story is written, the “Little Sister” can’t be more than five years old.  It takes a lot of bravery and heroism to stand up to a woman like that.
Aside from the actual examples of children being heroes, there is also symbolism and psychological perspectives to idea itself.  Bettelheim, who uses Freud’s school of thought, feels that “Hansel and Gretel” is all about oral fixation and regression.  Instead of fending for themselves in the forest, which would indicate maturity, all the children can think about is returning home, which is indicative of regression.  In a way, the whole story is a rebellion against the mother (step-mother), who has cast them out of the house, therefore denying them nurture.  “The child must learn that if he does not free himself of these [destructive desires], his parents or society will force him to do so against his will, as earlier his mother had stopped nursing the child when she felt the time had come to do so.”  But “the child” at that age is infatuated with the mother.  Keeping in mind the focus on the male child, I present the following quote from Bettelheim:
“Having overcome his oedipal difficulties, mastered his oral anxieties, sublimated those of his cravings which cannot be satisfied realistically, and learned that wishful thinking has to be replaced by intelligent action, the child is ready to live happily again with his parents.”
Thus, the children have matured and are ready to rejoin their father in order to live “happily ever after.”
            Bettelheim’s point of view takes away Hansel and Gretel’s triumph over the witch and turns it into hate towards the mother figure.  Just because Freud, and possibly Bettelheim, had mommy issues doesn’t mean that fairy tales have to revolve around such ideas.  For me, the most important part of “the child as a hero” is the fact that children can be heroes, they can succeed!  That is the point that renews a little bit of my faith in humanity…                        Now, if only we could get the world to listen to children a little more often.

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