Essay, Research Paper: Psychology And Fairy Tale


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Many parents read fairy tales to their children. Young people are able to use
their imaginations while listening to these fantastical stories. Filled with
dragons, witches, damsels in distress, and heroes, these tales stay in the mind
children for years to come. However, these young listeners are getting much more
than a happy ending. Fairy tales such as The Goose Girl, The Three Little Pigs,
Cinderella, and Snow White one can find theories of psychology. Erik Erikson`s
theories of social development as well as Sigmund Freud`s theory of the map of
the mind and his controversial Oedipal complex can be found in many fairy tales.
Within every fairy tale there lies a hidden lesson in psychology. In 1963,
psychoanalyst Erik Erikson developed one of the most comprehensive theories of
social development. The theory centers around eight stages of psychological
development. One of the stages, autonomy versus shame and doubt, occurs between
the ages of one and a half and three years old. In this stage toddlers develop
independence if freedom and exploration are encouraged. Autonomy itself means
having control over oneself. At any given moment, our behavior, including this
sense [autonomy], is influenced by the outer environment and our inner
psychological state (Restak 268). If they are overly restricted and protected
they develop shame. ⌠Shame is the estrangement of being exposed and
conscious of being looked at disapprovingly, of wishing to bury one`s face or
sink into the ground. (Blake 115). The key to developing autonomy over shame and
doubt lies in the amount of control. If parents control their children too much
the children will not be able to develop their own sense of control in the
environment around them. However, if the parents provide too little control the
children will become overly demanding. Gaining autonomy from one`s parents is
the topic of a once famous Brother`s Grimm story, The Goose Girl. The story is
of a beautiful princess who is to be married to a prince chosen by her mother.
The girl along with her maid was sent to the castle of the prince. On the way
the princess gave her maid a golden cup and asked for a drink. The maid took the
cup and told the princess she would no longer be her servant. Again this
happened and this time the maid realized her power over the princes and forced
her to switch horses and dresses and to tell no one. Upon arrival at the castle
the maid was married while the true princess was forced to tend to the geese in
a pasture. In the pasture while tending geese with a boy she let her pure gold
hair down. The boy wished to grab it. However, the princess summoned the winds
and would not allow the boy to touch her hair. The boy calls the king to witness
this daily event. This reveals the truth and the maid is killed. The true
princess marries her prince and they rule their kingdom in peace. This tale
shows the consequences of a childish dependence clung to for a long time. The
princess trusts her mother who then sends her off to get married. Because she
was protected as a child she did not develop autonomy. She was very dependent on
her parents. Her dependence is then shifted to her maid who robs her of her
title. The princess fears the maid and goes along with her lies. When the
princess is in the pasture herding geese her partner wishes to touch her hair.
She stands up for herself and will not allow this. The boy degrading her is the
turning point in her life. The happy solution came about by the girl asserting
herself and her dignity in not allowing the boy to touch her hair. The Goose
girl learned that it is much harder to be truly oneself, but that this alone
will gain her true autonomy and change her fate. One of Sigmund Freud`s theories
centers on the map of the mind. He divided the mind into three parts. The three
parts are the id, the ego, and the super ego. The id is known as the pleasure
principal. He believed Our entire physical activity is bent upon procuring
pleasure and avoiding pain. (Restak 110). The id only wants to seek pleasure. It
is mainly concerned with discharging built up energy. The second part is the
super ego. The super ego keeps control over the id by causing guilt for being
bad and pride for doing good. The third part is the ego. The ego is also known
as the reality principal. It regulates the interactions of the person with their
environment. The ego allows us to express the desires of the id in a socially
acceptable way and within the boundaries of the super ego. Freud believed these
three things were in all minds and were in constant interaction. The fairy tale
of the Three Little Pigs centers around three pigs who are told they must live
on their own. The first two pigs make week homes and then celebrate until the
wolf blows their house down. They travel to the oldest pig`s home, which is made
of sturdy bricks. There they live in peace. This tale deals directly with the
ongoing battle between the id and the super ego. The pigs must choose between
the pleasure principal and the reality principal. The two pigs that built weak
homes chose to side with the pleasure principal and seek gratification. They
were not thinking of the dangers of reality. The oldest pig learned to behave in
agreement with the reality principal or the super ego. Instead of acting out of
desire he acts on his ability to predict what may occur in the future. Thus,
Freud`s theory of the map of the mind deals directly with the three little pigs.
The myth of Oedipus begins with a pregnant queen of Thebes. The local prophet
told the anxious king that his son to be born would kill his father and marry
his mother. When the child was born he was given to a royal servant. The servant
was to abandon the child. However, the child was found by a shepherd and was
later adopted. One day the child now known as Oedipus traveled to the prophet.
The prophet told him he would murder his father and marry his mother. Horrified
at the prediction he refused to return home to his adoptive parents. He wandered
around and was struck by a chariot containing his birth father. Oedipus killed
his unknown birth father and the driver. Unconcerned with what he had done he
came to Thebes where he found a sphinx guarding the city. The sphinx would not
let anyone into the city unless they answered a riddle. After answering the
riddle correctly the sphinx killed herself. The citizens were so happy they
offered their queen to Oedipus. He then married the queen who was his unknown
birth mother. After having four children the city was plagued with famine. The
gods claimed to plague the city because a son killed a father and continued to
live among them unpunished. The truth was revealed and the queen hung herself.
Oedipus was blinded and left the city into exile. This same plot can be related
to a well known fairy tale. The tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs can be
directly related to the myth of Oedipus. Her stepmother raises Young Snow White
after her father`s death. The evil queen was very vain and asked her magical
mirror every day who was the fairest of them all. Once the mirror replied Snow
White the queen ordered her to be killed. This can be compared to the life of
Oedipus. His father believed his unborn son (Oedipus) was going to kill him and
become king. His jealously forced him to have a royal servant kill the young
baby. The stories become more similar as they advance. The royal servant in Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs is sent to kill Snow White but he could not kill such
a beautiful creature. Therefore he abandoned her in the woods. Luckily she found
a home and lived with the dwarves. ⌠Despite her stepmother▓s
jealousy, Snow White not only survives but finds great happiness.■ (Bettelheim
199). The servant sent to kill Oedipus could not commit the terrible dead and
opted to leave him at a home in the forest. In spite of the king▓s
attempts Oedipus gains the crown. Both tales are of unwanted children who
prevail in the end. Sigmund Freud▓s theory of sexual development contains
five stages. This theory has faced opposition from many critics. ⌠Freud
went down deeper, stayed down longer, and came up dirtier than anyone
else.■ (Miller 242). The third stage or the Phallic stage occurs from the
age of two until the age of five or six. During this stage children suffer from
what is known as the Oedipus complex. The Oedipal conflict for a girl centers on
her father. She wants to be with her father and give him children. She views her
mother as an overpowering or evil force that prevents her from being with her
father. In the Oedipal conflict, a young boy resents his father for standing in
his way of the mother`s full attention. The boy wants the mother to see him as
the hero. He wished to get the father out of the way. However, he needs his
father to protect him. He also fears the father will castrate him. This fear
forces the child to repress his desire and his hostility. When the repression is
complete the complex disappears. The theory of the Oedipus complex can be seen
in many fairy tales. Tales such as Cinderella and Rapunzel contain oedipal
overtones. Cinderella is the tale of a young girl held captive by her
dictatorial stepmother. Her stepmother tries to prevent her from attending the
royal ball and meeting Prince Charming. The prince can be compared to Cinderella`s
father. The queen is standing in the way of Cinderella`s desires for the prince.
Here the theme of the overbearing female figure of the Oedipus complex is
transferred into the stepmother refusing Cinderella of the prince. A similar
female Oedipus complex is present in Rapunzel. An evil witch traps the young
girl in a tower. A prince walking by the tower begins a relationship with
Rapunzel. The witch stands in the way of the young girl to be with the prince.
This story also contains a male oedipal conflict. The prince wants to be the
hero and save Rapunzel. Just as the oedipal boy wants to be the hero to his
mother. These two fairy tales are just few examples of this dominating theme. We
should never accept the fact that we have grasped the entire and ultimate
meaning of these narrations. (Heuscher 395). To read a fairy tale and relate it
to any psychological theory is not an easy task. Many people have different
opinions on the topic. Some people feel fairy tales should be left alone and not
picked a part. Others feel everything must have a hidden meaning. Heinrich
Zimmer once said, We can never exhaust the depths of myths and fairy tales- of
that we may be certain; but then neither can anyone else. (Heuscher vii). Fairy
tales can mean many different things to many different people. Children may like
fairy tales because good triumphs over evil. Adults may favor them because they
trigger childhood memories. And a psychologist may prefer fairy tales because
every tale presents a theory. In the end everything boils down to the fact that,
fairy tales were written to be enjoyed.

BibliographyBettelhem, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Vintage, 1976. Blake,
Toni. Enduring Issues in Psychology. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1995. Feldman,
Robert. Understanding Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill, 1990. Heuscher, Julius.
A Psychiatric Study of Myths and Fairy Tales. Springfield: Thomas, 1974. Lang,
Andrew. Fifty Favorite Fairy Tales. New York: Nonesuch Press, 1964. LЭthe,
Max. Once Upon a Time on the Nature of Fairy Tales. New York: Ungar, 1970.
Miller, Geroge. Psychology: The Science of Mental Life. New York: Bann, 1962.
Restak, Richard. The Mind. New York: Holt Company, 1988. Velikovsky, Immanuel.
Oedipus and Akhnation. Garden City: Buccaneer, 1960.
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