Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

(so apparently internet explorer sucks, I was able to paste when I got on Firefox! just in case anyone else has the same issue)

Between Bettelheim and Darnton’s articles, I found Darnton’s to be more convincing, mostly because I disagree with much of the psychology in Bettelheim’s argument. Darnton’s article approaches fairy tales from a historical perspective, questioning their relevance in the historical and cultural context in which they were created. He criticizes Bettelheim, and rightly so, for looking for symbolism and psychoanalytical tools that are not present in the original versions of the tales. The example that Darnton uses of Little Red Riding Hood shows that Bettelheim suits the tales to his own purposes, rather than reading them in an anthropological way and appreciating them for what they meant to the people who were telling them. Beyond the way Bettelheim disregards the historical and anthropological significance of the tales, the use he puts the fairy tales to is flawed as well.

Bettelheim argues that fairy tales give children a release for the pressures from their “id” or subconscious mind that their parents deny them by hiding the fact that there is darkness in man. Children who are not exposed to the darkness in others end up feeling like “a monster in their own eyes” due to the dark desires they feel. I disagree with this assessment of the benefit of fairy tales on the child’s subconscious. Bettelheim bases his entire argument on a Freudian model of child psychology in which every child has suppressed sexual desires and violent urges towards a parent. The very fact that these urges are “unconscious” contradicts Bettelheim’s idea that children feel like monsters for having dark thoughts. How can one feel monstrous for a thought one has never consciously had? The darkness present in many fairy tales, if a child even picked up on it, would likely only serve to scare the child and introduce new fears about the world into the child’s imagination. It seems counter-productive to introduce more fear of the world and stress into an already disturbed child’s imagination.

Bettelheim v Darnton

So...I wrote my blog response in Word and tried to copy and paste it onto this blog post...but it won't let me. Did anyone else have this problem? Is there a way to enable pasting? The copying is working fine because I can paste what I copied back onto another Word document...I'm so confused! Any help would be muchly appreciated!

Bettelheim vs Darnton

I believe that Bettelheim's argument has some validity to it, even though I don't quite agree with his attempts to "restore meaning" to disturbed children, as though as a result of being "disturbed," they have no meaning in their life. Bettelheim says that there are two important methods that help a child evolve so that he can understand reality. The first is the impact that the child's parent has on him, and the second is transmitting cultural heritage through literature. I have to agree with his statement that "when children are young, it is literature that carries such information best" (269), and I have to add that even when a person is no longer young, he is still drawn to the fairy tale. Bettelheim argues that literary fairy tales help people find meaning in their lives because it has the power to enhance reality, it allows the reader to see his own life in a different light. I think Bettelheim realizes that people, young and old, are drawn to the fairy tale because they see that in fairy tales, struggles and hardships are overcome, and so they are given hope to overcome struggles in their own lives.

A point where I see Bettelheim and Darnton overlapping ideas is that the "dominant culture wishes to pretend...that the dark side of man does not exist" (272). While Bettelheim argues that this is unhealthy for children to only be exposed to "happily ever after" endings, Darnton focuses more on the evolution of fairy tales, and he does not really look at how it affects the human being as Bettelheim does. Darnton shows that a supposedly familiar fairy tale has a twisting and ever-changing past in the oral tradition.

Essentially though, Darnton asks the same question as Bettelheim, by asking "How can the historian make sense of this world?" Lo and behold, one of the elements is folklore, or the fairy tale. Both Bettelheim and Darnton appear to be looking for meaning through fairy tales. Bettelheim focuses on the "meaning" in life that humans, (specifically children), extract from fairy tales, while Darnton looks at "meaning" in a cultural sense, and how the changes fairy tales have undergone are specific to a region. An example would be that the German tales differ from the French in that they have a "tone of terror and fantasy," whereas the French have more "humor and domesticity" (290). These aspects help to define what kind of effect the story had on the people in that particular region.

Darnton's strongest argument is that the fairy tale has lost a historical aspect by turning into a literary genre, and that originally, it was meant to be told aloud. This is a crucial point that Bettelheim seems to skip over, as he only examines how literary, recorded fairy tales affect children. Wouldn't they have a greater effect on children, and on people in general, if they were told with facial expressions, hand gestures, scary voices, etc.? Darnton makes a good point that the oral devices used in story telling helped to shape a historical meaning that is now lost in modern day recorded literature. Does this mean that now, we accept the fairy tales as they are recorded? Will they stop evolving because they are written down?

I come to the conclusion that Bettelheim and Darnton complement each other through their differences of opinion because they analyze different aspects of the fairy tale, so one argument cannot be more "right" than the other, they can only help to enhance the meaning of the fairy tale.

Bettleheim and Darnton

I found both articles to be equally convincing in and of themselves. However, I’m not sure that they were really arguing on the same topic. Bettelheim’s article seems to assert that fairy tales are more beneficial to children in that they “confront the child squarely with the basic human predicaments,” unlike other types of stories. He is arguing that they teach the child something about real life problems and how to approach them, but maybe not in an entirely literal sense.

Darnton’s article seems more focused on the fact that fairy tales have changed over the years, and this makes it difficult to evaluate the state of mind of people at the time the stories began circulating. Darnton points out one of Bettleheim’s analyses of “The Little Red Riding Hood” in which he relates the story to the working out and resolution of the girl’s Oedipal fantasies. Darnton mentions that Bettleheim is using a more current version of the tale, which in my opinion is irrelevant. I don’t think that Bettleheim’s point was to use the analysis in a historical context, but rather, discuss what it says to readers now. While it does seem a bit of a stretch to say that the story relates to her Oedipal complex, I don’t feel that Darnton and Bettleheim are really arguing against each other. Darnton is focused on maintaining the historical integrity of the tales, and Bettleheim is concerned with the tales’ current relevance in teaching children.

Darnton vs. Bettelheim: Let's Get Ready to Rumble.

Darnton most definitely makes the more convincing argument of the two. Instead of giving broad generalizations on how children behave and respond to certain stimuli (like the fairytale), Darnton gives concrete examples of the way these "original" fairytales would have been told: "Bettelheim reads 'Little Red Riding Hood' and the other tales as if they had no history. He treats them, so to speak, flattened out, like patients on a couch, in a timeless contemporaneity. He does not question their origins or worry over other meanings that they might have had in other contexts because he knows how the soul works and how it has always worked. In fact, however, folktales are historical documents" (Darnton, 283 The Classic Fairy Tales). Instead of constructing the tale he wants to fulfill his own agenda, in Bettelheim's case this is Freudian psychoanalysis, Darnton stays true to the folklore and anthropology of the tales; the French "Red Riding Hood," for example, would never have been told to a child simply because of its explicit sex and violence.

Darnton's theory that the simplicity of these tales were how they'd originally have been done makes a lot of sense. They came from an oral tradition, one where the storyteller could embellish the minor details and keep the main points of the story: "...the dramatic pauses, the sly glances, the use of gestures to set scenes--a Snow White at a spinning wheel, a Cinderella delousing a stepsister--and the use of sounds to punctuate actions-- a knock on the door (often done by rapping on a listener's forehead) or cudgeling or a fart" (287, The Classic Fairy Tales). This oral tradition is how so many different deviations of the same tale came to be throughout different towns and countries; the details might be different, but the story remains the same.

It's pretty impossible to think that both of these theories could coexist side by side: one's based on concrete facts and the other's based on subjective interpretation.
Hello, I'm Justin. I'm a Sociology major who is fascinated by different cultures. I'm taking this course to further my knowledge on German/European beliefs and influences.

Bettelheim's Generalizations

“This is exactly the message that fairy tales get across to the child in manifold form: that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence – but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious” (Bettelheim 272 in The Classic Fairy Tales).

Bettleheim’s approach to tales is too narrow not only in the tales he chooses to analyze, as Darnton points out, but also in the way that he groups children into a single identity.

While I understand Bettelheim’s belief that overcoming obstacles on account of the hero or heroine’s virtue is a helpful message for children to learn, it seems that Bettelheim fails to acknowledge other types of tales, those in which the hero or heroine does not triumph (as in the Little Red Riding Hood version mentioned by Darnton) or those in which the hero or heroine got their wishes based on lies and luck (as in The Brave Little Tailor). If Darnton looks at a wide range of different tellings and sources in order to propose some connection to cultural history, Bettelheim should be expected to do the same in order to propose that some symbol has universal psychological meaning.

Moreover, Bettelheim seems to believe that every child has the same unconscious urges and needs and thus every child will respond to and gain from the tales in the same way. With this assumption, he fails to recognize individuality. Would a disturbed child from an abusive family respond to “A Tale About the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” just as a child living in a nurturing environment or an autistic child would? Would specifying the type of child even be feasible since all children have different personalities, beliefs, moral values, interests, etc.? Is there then any way to assess the results that the reading of fairy tales would have on “all” children? It seems to me that answering this in the affirmative would enable all sorts of gross generalizations.


Hellooo!!! Sorry that I'm lame and am just now introducing myself; feel free to blame VUT auditions and callbacks. ;)
I'm a senior from Dickson, TN (home of Anson Mount, Craig Morgan, and Luke Perry) with a double major in Theatre and Film and a minor in Studio Art. I'm a self-proclaimed gnome and 50s housewife in training simply because I'm short and stout (yes, like a little teapot) and have an obsession with yarn.
So yeah. That's me.

Darnton vs. Bettelheim

Of the fairy tales introduced this week, the one I enjoyed most was “Faithful Johannes” because the story affirms the sacred bonds of loyalty, trust, and fair lordship that belonged to hierarchies of the past. Johannes is without a doubt an exemplary character, and the idea that one’s loyalty could lead to one’s demise, and even be mistaken for disloyalty, is not completely absent from other genres and always makes for something to think about. By sacrificing his own children, the young king affirms the kingly quality of justice, which completes the bond between him and Johannes, which allows for their immortalization in the stories end.

Many of the stories have people falling into riches or great luck for little reason at all. Some are rotten characters such as the one who wanted to learn about “the creeps,” and others gave away all they had, such as the character in “the Star Coins.” There is little to suggest of a “morality” in this tales as Bruno Bettelheim suggests. While the tales occasionally suggest good behavior for readers, there never appears any sort of “moral imperative” for characters in their actions, rather, their goodness or badness manifests itself genuinely and naturally. There is no “searching for meaning” in these tales either. Rather, the institutions and ways of life such as marriage and work provide the characters their “meaning.” Completely absent is any sort of theoretical construct that Bettelheim suggests readers can find in these texts. By contrasting the emptiness and pointlessness of modern mass society to that of the one found in the Grimm tales, Bettelheim does make a good point though. In their world, as “primitive” as it was, society at least had firm structures and roles that gave individuals natural and fulfilling lives that made sense and served higher purpose. Bettelheim’s anxieties are justified due to modern life’s lack of sense, but his solutions are illusory. The “daydreams” he describes were real life for the people who created these oral tales, and Freud’s “courageous struggles” weren’t some sort of “inner tussle,” but rather describing real world struggles that allowed for one’s maturity and initiation into higher life through official institutions like marriage.

(I wrote this before reading the prompt)

Darnton’s article is more convincing. He rejects the application of Freudian theory to these tales by blatantly explaining that violence and sex were embedded into them explicitly, they didn’t have to live in the Bourgeois vacuum of the Freudian writers. His claim that it is possible to reconstruct close to the exact copies of stories of unwritten peasant oral tradition seems conceivable. It is very interesting how the same tales could appear in different cultures, yet maintain their own sort of details and effects that would remain unique to that particular culture. His pointing out that the texts never give much detail into a specific setting seems natural to me, as these stories were meant to provide advice and explanations that could apply universally and help the young who would hear these stories make good decisions and judgments. By attempting to fill in specificities, it would have clouded this purpose.

The two are mutually exclusive because Bettelheim takes Freudian theory at face value and reads its significance into the stories, while Darnton seeks more natural meaning in the tales.

Hi I am Trevor, a junior History/Philosophy major.
I hope to learn much about Old European culture from this class.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Hey y'all! I'm Candace. I'm a senior, psychology major. I'm from Atlanta. I'm taking this class because I love fairy tales, especially if they're kinda grim(no pun intended).

I don't know what else to say, so here's a picture of an otter!