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Fairy tales are folk-lore's that consist of characters like fairies, elves, dwarves, witches or magical enchantments. Fairy tales are found in oral or literary forms. Due to its existence as a literary form that has survived, the history or the origination of this particular genre is difficult to trace. As per the evidence suggested, fairy tales have existed for thousands of years. Many of today's fairy tales have evolved over centuries-old stories that have appeared with variations, n multiple cultures around the world. Fairy tales and works derived from fairy-tales are still written today. Originally, adults were the audience of fairy tales just as children today. Literary fairy tales appeared in works intended for adults, but in 19th and 20th century the fairy tales became part of children's literature. (wiki)
The stories chosen for this essay are 'Little-Snow White', 'The Beauty and The Beast' and 'Cinderella'. These stories have several sources and versions that resemble their respective culture of their origination. Therefore, the version chosen for this essay is of the Brothers Grimm which is very well acknowledged by children all round the world.
The two brothers Wilhelm and Ludwig Grimm had determined to preserve Germanic folk tales in the early 1800's. They were highly influenced by Clemans Bretano and Schim von Arnim, they began collecting the tales of the folklore. Very soon, Grimm Brothers then went on to publish Kinder-und Hausmarchen (Children's and Household Tales) in 1812. This was first volume of 86 folk-tales. Two years later second volume of 70 stories was brought out. The work was so well received that its six editions were subsequently printed. This book was the most popular and influential in German language. By 1818 the Grimms had also published two volumes of Deutsche Sagen, a collection of 585 German legends, and Altdeutsche Walder (Tales from Old German Forests). A year later they received honorary doctorates from the University of Marburg, and continued their medieval studies, linguistics and folklore, resulting in several more publications. Their early work began in somewhat severe, harsh style; but the tales gradually got softer, sweeter and primly moral. The polishing, however, never rubbed the golden heart of the stories that are now lovingly read and treasured universally. (Publisher's Note, Grimm's Fairy Tales)
Traditional fairy tales fuse morality with romantic fantasy in order to portray cultural ideals for human relationships. For many centuries, adolescent young girls have paid homage to these romantic visions aroused by the faith in fairy tales. Even in modern times, the disguised forms of fairy tales transmit romantic convention through the medium of popular literature. Subconsciously, women may transfer from fairy tales into real life cultural norms which exalt passivity, dependency and self-sacrifice as a female's cardinal virtues. Fairy tales perpetuate and propagate patriarchal norms by making female subordination seem a romantically desirable, indeed an inescapable fate.
Feminist criticism and re-visioning of fairy tales is essential to expose the gender ideology that is propelled in the tales. Criticism has focused on the passivity of the young girls waiting to be rescued, the subtleties of equating beauty with goodness, the representation of evil step-mothers and the girl's dependency on a prince. The main interest of Feminist Critique is to explore the extent of patriarchal ideology in literature and discrimination of women. The re-reading of a canon or 'Andro-Texts' (writings by men) was challenged by Feminist Critique. These offered the perspectives of literature being universal, objective in the portrayal of a character and literature being neutral.
According to the Feminist Critique, text is a product of a particular culture; they challenged the New Critics. They said literature is not completely universal interpretation. It challenges already accepted texts as canonical. It questions literature, men's writing and the portrayal of female characters by male writers. Woman were conditioned by reading 'Andro-Texts' that were universal and humane. Fairy tales were majorly written by men. They portrayed women extremely feminine, subservient, soft and beautiful. For example, 'Belle' in 'The Beauty and the Beast' was named cause of her beauty, 'Snow White'; her beauty has a lot to do with the fairness. These little girls stereotyped woman's character and modeled a 'good' behavior for them. This conditioned female readers to be 'good' who conformed with these patriarchal reinforcement and 'bad' who did not.
In most fairy tales, the female plays the role of being naÃ¯ve and always ends up getting into danger, then man comes and saves her life. Woman can never really protect herself. In the story of "Little-Snow White", it is observed that it is the huntsman who spares Snow White's life. When she lands in the house of the dwarves, they only let her in with one request; if she were to keep the house, they would protect her. The roles of the gender are clearly stereotyped. The woman is supposed to cook, clean and tidy up everything while the man goes out to work and protect the woman. The role of the Queen is stereotyped too. She is given typical female role of jealousy, self-centered and beauty loving. When Snow-White falls for the same trick thrice, it reinforces the stereotype of how woman are naÃ¯ve and gullible. This fairy tale is a perfect example of how woman are stereotyped and portrayed in literature.
The Brother's Grimm version of "Snow White", also present the male image as honorable, noble and the savior. Every man in this story shows the trait of compassion and honor. The huntsmen saved her life by not killing her. The dwarves serve a parental figure and remind her of what to do and what not to do. They are also protecting her by doing so. Towards the end it is observed how a noble Prince rescues her from death.
The portrayal of Snow White's character is stereotyped of a good one that of a Queen is a foil to her. Her evil qualities portray what woman should not be. The over obsession resulted into bad consequence for her therefore; it preaches the woman specifically that disobedience leads to punishment.
Fairy tales rarely display realistic circumstances. "The Beauty and the Beast" has Beauty want to take punishment for her father's fault because he was doing it on her behalf. Beauty sacrifices herself for the good of her father. This is to teach young girls that it is their duty to do what they can do for their family's situation even if it means sacrificing themselves. She constantly threatens the beast to either commit suicide, run away, but "The Beat" knows that she won't go through with these actions because she is "a woman of honor" who will remain because of her sense of obligation to her father. Beauty was not there to make the readers think, but to teach young girls that "being good" is more important also it is important to put values above intelligence to end up in a happy marriage.
Fairy tales constantly reinforces 'good' behavior for woman. In "Cinderella" the traditional feminine roles states that if a woman despite adversity and is grateful, kind, sweet, passive, submissive, non-rebellion she will attract a husband. The shoe that only fits Cinderella shows that only her character is worthy being fit into the role of a prince's wife. Cinderella is portrayed as the 'good' girl who deserves the just reward of a marriage will remove her from her ill-situation.
Unlike Cinderella's stepsisters, she is taught what is needed to achieve a good husband. If it were not for the stepmother's demands, she would not have achieved those goals. She is obedient to orders, works with grace and silence. Her step sisters are falling behind the ideals that Cinderella possesses and conforms to it.
The transformation of Cinderella from rags to riches involves enslavement of herself; it is not a blessing without bondage.
Cinderella's step sisters are so desperate for the hand of the prince that they are willing to cut and slice their bodies in order to meet their physical criteria. The price that both the sisters attempt to win is that of subjugation. In the original version of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, the two sisters get their eyes plucked out as punishment.
Women are portrayed as puppets with foolish desired, simple character, virtuous and superficial emotions to be controlled by men for their own good. In reality woman are trapped within the cycle that has been set up by men so that they will always remain the puppeteer. Through these stories we come to a conclusion that they are based on social feminism where the men always have the upper hand over the women. The roles carried out by the female are very domestic and submissive in nature. They ought to do jobs that are feminine. The power is concentrated in the hands of men, while women are subjected to indirect slavery and dependency.
The liberation of the female psyche has not matured with the movements witnessed in last few decades. The society still sustains to patriarchy and its norms very strongly. As a part of folk lore, fairy tales preserve rather than challenging patriarchy. Today, women are caught between the cultural set up and the feminist movement, between the preservation of values and adjustment with the same, between romantic fantasies and contemporary realities. The metamorphosis of women over the period of time has been gradual yet challenging. Fairy tales cannot be seen only as a source of entertainment, it has always been a mode of instruction too.