Looking At The Use Of Fear In Literature English Literature Essay


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A man with an IQ equivalent to Einstein's takes part in a study. He is told to answer one question correctly, but if he is wrong then he will be subjected to painful shocks that increase in intensity for every incorrect answer. The question: 1 + 1= 3, true or false? The man is gobsmacked by the simplicity if that question, so he answers confidently false, 1+1=2. He gets an electric shock. He is asked the same question again and answers accurately false, and still he is submitted to electric shock. By the end of the fourth try, he yells in excruciating pain and quickly changes his answer to true knowing full well that the accurate answer is false. The shocks stop. Why did he change his answer knowing that it was wrong? Simply put, he feared the pain of electric shocks. This fear is what teaches children and people right from wrong. By using scary villains, setting and consequences, they will be more likely to learn.

The setting of the stories plays an intricate part to the scary image that fairy tales portrays. The most common used is a dark forest. In addition to LRRH, the dark forest setting is also applied in the movie The Brothers Grimm. In order to feel the fear the setting must be scary, like in the movie The Brothers Grimm. When they go off to search for the one responsible for kidnapping the children, they take a walk in the woods. These woods have special magically properties which allow the trees to move around, so that it confuses those walking around in it and causes them to get lost (2005). It instils fear because it lets ones imagination run wild with thoughts of being stuck in a dark forest, and will therefore cause a bit more apprehension when walking around in unknown territories. According to Rene Ten Bos' The Fear of Wolves, "roads and paths" (7) not only symbolize the new modern world but are meant as untrustworthy. He considers roads to have stomachs that in which things disappear into (Ten Bos, 7). The dark forest is a path filled with holes and twist that would cause any person to feel scared and it explains why they are often used in fairy tales. People learn to beware of the paths they chose for it doesn't take much to get lost.

The hidden ingredient a story needs to truly be considered scary is the consequences that the main protagonist faces when they do not follow the rules. Snow White is the perfect example that demonstrates the importance of following rules. There once was a queen who was terribly jealous of Snow Whites natural beauty wished to get rid of her so that the Queen may be the "fairest one of all" (83). White was able to find refuge from the attempts on her life by boarding with seven dwarfs, however after the third attempt on her life failed they warned her "Beware of your stepmother. She'll know soon enough that you're here. Don't let anyone in the house." (87). One day, an old woman knocked on the door and offered Snow White a juicy red apple. She bit into it and fell into a very deep sleep. The morale of this story is to not break the rules and open the door to strangers. Because the consequence of disobeying was a deep sleep, more people would think twice before opening the door for someone and breaking any rules. The consequences are too scary. In Exploring Fear, the authors tackle Rousseau's work in which he agreed with the use of fear in education because he believed that it taught a person how to prepare themselves for the future when they become independent (524). By applying this theory to fairy tales, the consequences that are shown after the protagonist goes against the rules teaches the reader what not to do because they fear the repercussions and don't want to try them. Therefore the fear expressed in the tale is transformed into knowledge, thus proving that children are taught through fear.

Maya Angelou once said that "Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other". These words cannot ring any truer. Fear is a natural and completely normal feeling to experience. However, with time people of all ages have learned that by manipulating this fear, children and people of all ages are able to learn much more through this feeling. Fairy tales support this theory quite clearly. Instead of simply telling tales for amusement, they were applied in order to forewarn children of the dangers that the outside world possesses. Scary villains, a dark setting like a forest and the consequences one must face when they disobey rules are all characteristics required to create fear because with fear comes knowledge.

Work Cited

English, Andrea, and Barbara Stengel. "Exploring Fear: Rousseau, Dewey, and Freire on Fear and Learning." Educational Theory 60.5 (2010): 521-542. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 16 May 2011.

Field, Andy P., and Joanne Lawson. "The verbal information pathway to fear and subsequent causal learning in children." Cognition & Emotion 22.3 (2008): 459-479. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 16 May 2011.

Gilliam, Terry, dir. The Brothers Grimm. Summit Entertainment, 2005.

Rene, Ten Bos. "The Fear of Wolves: Anti-Hodological Ruminations about Organizations and Labyrinths." Culture & Organization 10.1 (2004): 7-24. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 16 May 2011.

Tatar, Maria., Ed. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.

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