Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"The Fairy Tale about Common Sense"

I read “The Fairy Tale About Common Sense”, by Erich Kastner. This story is obviously meant to entertain its reader and is a commentary on politics and society of the time. The tale does not seem to be a fairy tale at all, except for the fact that the entire story was fictional, which the author notes at the end of the story. It was written in 1948, just three years after the end of World War II; and thus, many references to war are made. Essentially, the story is about a “nice old gentlemen”, really a crooked politician, “who had the nasty habit of thinking up sensible things to do every now and then” (622). Immediately, the reader can tell that this story is a satire. The writer proceeds to explain how this rich man would “torture” experts with his sensible suggestions and diminish the significance of their expertise. Both the rich and poor are mentioned in this first paragraph. Then, the man gives a speech on how to make peace at a conference filled with many influential men from all over the world. He asks that they listen to what he’s about to say, “not for my sake, but in the interest of common sense” (623). He then gives his pitch, which is filled with references to social structure and giving equal wealth to each member of a community.

My favorite lines are spoken after the gentleman has given his speech, and he says, “I envy you, for even though I don’t believe that material things embody the highest earthly goods, I have enough common sense to realize that peace among peoples depends first on the material satisfaction of human beings. If I’ve just said that I envy you, then I’ve lied. Actually, I’m happy” (623). Unlike the typical crooked politician, this man blatantly lies and then admits that he lied. To top it off, he then takes out a cigar and begins to smoke it while discussing his plan with the statesmen, who believe he is joking with them. When the statesmen call him crazy and begin laughing uncontrollably, the gentleman admits that the plan requires a lot of money. He does not understand what they think is so funny, so he asks, “If a long war costs one hundred thousand billion dollars [WWII], why shouldn’t a long peace be worth exactly the same?” (624). More laugher erupts, and one man tells him, “War is something entirely different!” (624).

This whole story was fascinating to read because it honestly does not contain any aspects of a fairy tale. The story does begin with “Once upon a time…” and we know that the tale and its characters are fictional. However, there are no references to magic; there is no physical transformation of the protagonist; there are no talking animals; there are no fairy godmothers or witches. The story is purely a commentary about politics, war, and even the notion of “common sense”. I am not fully versed on the political problems after WWII, so I’m sure there are deeper meanings that can be drawn from this story. Feel free to comment if you know!

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