Fairy Tales 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
EDIT: Whoa! Embedded Youtube Video!
On to the essays:
The real difference between Darnton and Bettelheim comes in how they approach the stories. Bettelheim, as a psychologist, is going to look for Freudian examples in Little Red Riding Hood. It's what he does for a living and it is what he is interested in. Similarily, Darnton, as a historian, will view the ever-changing stories as examples of the cultures of the peasents at the time. Neither are wrong but neither are completely right either.
Darnton is wrong to complain about Bettelheim's analysis of only one version of the story because Bettelheim only needs to care about one version. Consider Darnton's logic for a moment. He believes that the details of the story are changed throughout time by the cultures they exist in. If Bettelheim is interested in how fairy tales affect children today, which it seems is his main focus, then why wouldn't he pick the most prevalent and well-known version of the story currently? Why should he care what the version was in the 1500s? That version holds no meaning for the children he seeks to help and analyze.
Bettelheim's theories have their own problem. The entire idea of the subconcious and the symbols are based on unprovable facts. If we could prove it, then it would be part of our normal conciousness. Many of Freud's claims have been debunked in the modern era, partly because anything can be a Freudian symbol if you look at it closely enough. Looking around my dorm room, I see many potential Freudian symbols for female sexuality--a bowl, a drawer, a red blanket--as well as many ones for males--a water bottle, a lacrosse stick, the dorm I live in itself (Towers). With that in mind, I am not impressed by Bettelheim's ability to find such symbols in fairy tales. Like a lot of literary criticism, you can find whatever you want if you look closely enough.
Sure, some believe that texts are their own product away from the author so Bettelheim should be able to look for symbols as close as he wants but I happen to side more with Darnton, who seems to be more interested in authorial intent. What I mean here is Darnton cares why the peasants thought to tell these fairy tales while Bettelheim is more interested in why the peasents' subconcious told them too. In that regard, their articles are both similar yet very, very different.
Both Bettelheim and Darnton make strong arguments for two separate aspects of the role of fairy tales in society. To begin with, Bettelheim concentrates on a scientific and psychological approach to fairy tales, with a main focus on ensuring that children feel they have a purpose and meaning in their lives. Bettelheim believes fairy tales are the best way to help children develop and he states that the biggest influences in a child’s development are conditions in the home, parenting styles, and certain traditions in one’s particular culture. Additionally, Bettelheim criticizes other children’s literature because it does not teach children how to develop certain “inner resources”, as he calls them, meaning our emotions and imagination, with which they can find purpose for their lives (270). Bettelheim adopts the idea of Freud’s id, superego, and ego, all of which can be influenced by a fairy tale. He argues that both the content and structure of fairy tales instigate a sense of curiosity and wonder in children. In order for a child to live in our society, he must have “a moral education which subtly, and by implication only, conveys to him the advantages of moral behavior, not through abstract ethical concepts by through that which seems tangibly right and therefore meaningful to him” (Bettelheim 270), which Bettelheim declares can best be learned by fairy tales. My only complaint with this article is the lack of proof, especially when Bettelheim criticizes other children’s literature. I do not know what other books he is referring to, and therefore I cannot compare the two to determine my own opinion on whether or not fairy tales are truly better than other children’s books. I would like more proof that other children’s literature cannot serve the exact same purpose as a fairy tale. Overall, he offers a convincing argument about why children enjoy fairy tales and how these stories positively influence their psyche, as well as help children identify meaning in their lives.
On the other hand, Darnton seems to view fairy tales more as cultural stories that portray the history of a group of people, rather than a manual or guide to help children develop properly and fully. Darnton views fairy tales as a source of understanding the early modern peasant outlook of the world. At the beginning of the article, he also discusses the id, superego, and ego as it relates to “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Hansel and Gretel”. He knows that while these tales are critical to understanding the peasants of this time period, they are also problematic because there is no direct link to the peasants’ culture since the stories are passed down orally over many years. Also, he argues that because there are multiple versions of each fairy tale, it would be inaccurate to establish one universal truth of one particular version of a fairy tale. I liked how Darnton used specific fairy tales to illustrate his points relating to the French folklore tales and their distinct characteristics, like the blatant violence and reflection of popular culture at one time period in the stories.
Honestly, I think the articles are meant to complement each other because they are not necessarily taking opposite sides. However, Darnton disagrees with Bettelheim’s generalizations of a story’s truths when studying only one version. Bettelheim seems to be focused on the scientific side of fairy tales and their benefit for children, while Darnton is focused on the historical aspect of fairy tales and where they originate. I found Darnton’s article more convincing, mainly because he used specific examples and I was also more drawn to the historical and cultural analysis rather than the psychological one. I enjoyed reading both articles, and I gained a better understanding of each man’s approach to fairy tales and their functions.
The first article, Bruno Bettelheim's "The Struggle for Meaning," provides a psychoanalytical approach towards analyzing fairy tales and their impact, both past and present, on the development of a child's psychology. Bettelhim suggests that a fairy tale should serve to fuel the imagination of a child in order to provide a blueprint for handling real-life situations. In other words, molding the subconscious to stimulate the conscious when the time comes. By not merely presenting a story wrapped in sunshine and rainbows, a "good" fairy tale trains the child for what he/she is truly bound to face growing up (unless of course you know of someone that was granted an unlimited number of wishes and is living happily ever after...)
The second article, Robert Darnton's "Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose," simultaneously dismisses Bettelheim's psychoanalytic babble while promoting the historical value of fairy tales. To Darnton, modern fairy tales are not merely the conversion of the crass tales of yesteryear to the subliminally sexual bout between the id, ego, and superego, but rather a means to track progression of the same tales through different cultures and time frames. Darnton lists numerous tales that were altered in some way as they were passed on from person to person, region to region. By giving different versions of the same story, Darnton is trying to discredit Bettelheim's psychoanalytic interpretations of a various details when those details are not entirely consistent through all versions of the story.
Unfortunately for Darnton, his argument actually strengthens Bettelheim's claims.
Fairy tales are what they are, which is to say they are absolutely anything at all. Bettelheim is using his background in childhood psychology to interpret the meaning behind fairy tales and how they impact the audience (primarily, children). Darnton is using his background (I'm assuming as a historian based on his long list of names, dates, etc. and tendency to use these blandly draw out a point...) to interpret fairy tales and their cultural significance. They are both doing the same thing, just in different ways. Fairy tales are open to interpretation on behalf of both the teller and audience. Bettelheim's psychoanalytical analysis of fairy tales shouldn't be dismissed just because Darnton is convinced the true value lies in the cultural/historical background of said tales. Fairy tales are like a Rorschach test consisting of magic and princesses, there's no right answer.
I also imagined what would happen if we lived 300 years from now and applied to today’s tales Darnton’s theories of looking at fairy tales through a lens of history. What would we find? Fairy tales, as we learned in class earlier this week, haven’t historically focused on love and the love story. But if we looked back on today, we’d see bunches of happy endings and even more stories about young girls’ lives revolving around handsome young men. For example, take yesterday’s new Taylor Swift song that will soon be appearing in the movie “Valentine’s Day.” Here’s a link to a YouTube clip.
Here’s a link to the lyrics. Not a great feat of songwriting by any means, but I think the verrrrry simple lyrics help to even further the point that fairy tale = love story.
Imagine yourself 300 years from now, looking back on us peasants in 21st century America. Is this whole love storyline really the main concern of our day-to-day lives? When I think of all the other fairytales I read this week for class, there were so many other plot lines and relationships, but when Taylor Swift refers to the fairy tale, she’s pretty much just referring to boy-meets-girl, happily ever after (or not, depending on her song). Is that really what our modern fairy tale is? Are there any other connotations or meanings that come with the words “fairy tale” in today’s American society? Do we really have no bigger life problems to tell stories about?
Despite everything I just said, I do believe that the two authors are not necessarily mutually exclusive if you take Bettelheim's theories at face value. Darnton chastizes Bettleheim for focusing his research and analysis too narrowly but in truth Darnton does not really show that Bettelheim is wrong. Fairy tales could very well be used as tools for character building and moral uplift, they simply get adapted as each culture sees fit for its well being and the rearing of its youngsters (which would help explain the dozens of versions of some tales). In that sense, as Darnton says, it is very important to consider the history of each story to understand the influences that played a part in its shaping. From there, Bettelheim or others could have analyzed the tales on a symbolic level in a historical/cultural frame of reference to determine if his theories (however asinine they might be) are generalizable.
It's hard (maybe impossible) to disagree with Darnton's belief that there are many aspects of fairy tales that must be considered in order to fully understand them. The traditions of oral and scribed storytelling are complex beasts and to ignore any aspect of their creation, alteration or promulgation seems unwise.
The similarity I see between the two aside from critically looking at fairy tales is they both are analyzing the effects fairy tales have on all of us. Whether it is to go through a stage as Bettleheim suggests or even finding what the fairy tale is trying to uncover, there is still a focus on how we were, how we are or how we are going to be affected. I feel that they have an underlying comparison which is not too evident but interesting nevertheless.
In darkened nursery rooms everywhere, from Paris to Beijing to New York, they are told: bedside tales of princesses and withered crones and wily elves, softly uttered to some wide-eyed child, the speaker’s ancient words awakening a sense of timeless enchantment. For centuries, fairy tales have long evoked the imaginations of children and adults alike. They cast a spell of awe and wonderment; they enthrall and entertain; they teach us morals, inspire us to dream of happy endings. They even capture the interest of academics, who comb through these age-old tales searching for symbols, unconscious motifs, and psycho-analytical elements.
As to the question of how fairy tales should be used—how they should be treated, what purpose they serve—Bruno Bettelheim and Robert Darnton’s ideas differ greatly. On the one hand, we have Bettelheim, who seeks to employ fairy tales as moral and educational tools for children. Energetically applying psychoanalytical theory to his study of fairy tales, Bettelheim sees fairy tales as deliverers of crucial messages to the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind. Furthermore, fairy tales provide a valve for satisfying the pressures of the id and ego. Because they squarely confront such “existential” issues as evil, death, and suffering, he deems folk tales the ideal literature for children.
Then, however, Darnton enters the picture and proceeds to swiftly dismiss all of Bettelheim’s ideas. Scoffing at the attempts of such psychoanalysts as Bettelheim to investigate the “hidden meanings” of fairy tales, Darnton is most concerned with preserving the historical integrity of fairy tales. He views fairy tales and folk tales as rich repositories of cultural history through which we can trace evolution of a people. In their pure, unadulterated forms—the way French peasants told them, huddled around their hearths on blue winter nights—most fairy tales are crude and blunt, rife with brutal details and erotic underpinnings. It was only as a result of changing cultural values that these fairy tales evolved into their present, “fluffy” forms, purged of all traces of explicit eroticism and violence. For this reason, psychoanalysis, Darnton maintains, blindly ignores the crucial origins of fairy tales. By subjecting folklore to a close study of the “hidden” symbols and meanings that didn’t even originally exist, psychoanalysts sully the role of fairy tales as historical documents.
Either way, however, whether we see them as intriguing troves of psycho-analytical thought, as important historical documents, or simply as light-hearted entertainment, fairy tales have permeated human culture for centuries and will surely continue to transcend the boundaries of time.
In preparation of this blog post, I began by recording my own personal notes and comments before class today. I admit though, after class today I find that some of my initial feelings about the articles have changed and I will make note of that throughout the post.
How do their perspectives differ?
Well, Bottelhem in brief believes that Fairy Tales address unconscious feeling and desires, thus they have been immortalized. He believes that they are especially appealing to children. Children are drawn to such tales because they allow the child to safely immerse themselves in situations of danger and build a repertoire of mechanisms to fight the unpleasant obstacles that life presents.
Darnton on the other hand quickly dismisses the psychoanalytic approaches. Darnton believes that Bottelham relies to heavily on details that are not latterly present in the tales and get fixed on one version, which may be severely doctored, which satisfies his goals as a psychiatrist. Darnton approaches fairy tales as an alternative source of historical information. He believes that although the current versions of fairy tales are compromised, they are still a valid source of historical information on peasants during the Enlightenment. They should not be addressed as a source of facts, but historians should dwell on the fact that the general persisting themes are reoccurring as a result of a need of the culture that produced them.
Which do you find more convincing?
This is where my opinion has swayed a bit. Initially I thought Bottelhem to be the more convincing article. He asks the question, “Why do children find fairy tales more satisfying that all other children’s stories?” and I thought his answer was very convincing (means of confronting obstacles without any real danger). Yet, in class I was intrigued by the almost disdain towards this man’s ideas. For instance, the above question was discussed as such a broad generalization and almost arrogant. I began to reconsider and perhaps I too quickly accepted the question and answer. I was also not really aware of the Freudian lens I was reading the article through. Yet at the same time, if I consider the argument in isolation from Bottelhem’s overriding Freudian based carrer , I would still agree with it. Summarily, I agree with Darnton as well. Some psychoanalyst may take their analysis too far. Although, to some degree I find it a reasonable to read the symbolism as a similar leap of faith is necessary to “read” a painting. Approaching it as historical evidence is defiantly valid and his arguments support it thoroughly.
I believe the two theories can work together rather than in conflict. If Darnton admits that fairy tales have general themes, which are a result of a culture’s contemporary situation, why can one not read into some of the clues to decipher the feelings/ sensibility of that culture? Fairy tales have many different versions for a reason- and if the audience if so vast, why can they not be seriously considered in a vast number of disciplines?
In contrast to Darnton's historical and anthropological approach, Bettleheim takes a psychoanalytical approach. He uses Freudian methods, such as the id, ego and superego to analyze stories and fairy tales. Bettleheim asserts that fairy tales are necessary to discover the deeper meaning of what is important for the child in their specific stage of development. In addition, Bettleheim believes that the censored fairy tales are robbing the children of an outlet to express their unconscious fears and anxieties. I find Bettleheim's argument incomplete and unsupported. The author has not researched the psychological effects of fairy tales on children. Therefore, I do not believe his argument is sound. He also makes many assumptions about children that are not valid. First, Bettleheim assumes that all children develop into an adult identically. Second, he asserts that he understands the types of "inner turmoil" that every child experiences is the same. Lastly, I am not convinced that Bettleheim has studied the effects of fairy tales on "undisturbed" childern to make his various statements.
Why does Bettleheim believe that young kids should be exposed to every possible fear in existence? Whats the matter with parents trying to protect their kids from the harsh realities of the world when they are young and naive? Why cant kids be exposed to the evils of the world bit by bit as they mature?
My name is Hayley Danner, I'm currently a junior with Film Studies as my major, and Managerial Studies as my minor. I love fairy tales. I had a biggggggg book filled with great pictures of pretty much every fairy tale ever written and I read virtually until the book fell apart. So this should be fun right!?
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Robert Darnton, the author of “Peasants Tell Tales,” is invested in an anthropological way of extracting historical and cultural information, based on the oral tradition of peasants’ recounting of folk tales. Interestingly, he begins his essay by acknowledging the psychoanalytic rhetoric of authors such as Erich Fromm and Bruno Bettelheim. However, he (quite acerbically) narrates their findings by refuting them due to fairy tales’ transformations from culture to culture: “In fact … folktales are historical documents. They have evolved over many centuries and have taken different turns in different cultural traditions” (Darnton 283). In turn, I would say that Darnton probably finds psychoanalysis too unreliable for tales that are so marked by different meanings as a result of the history and “the context[s] in which [they] take place” (285). This is curious because Bettelheim’s “The Struggle for Meaning” uses psychoanalysis dependent on how fairy tales – and “our cultural heritage” (Bettelheim 269)” – can help a disturbed child find meaning through morality.
Are Darnton and Bettelheim simply arguing two sides of the same coin, then? Bettelheim’s rhetoric synonymizes fairy tales with history and culture just as much as Darnton’s argument does. Nevertheless, Darnton seems to be unjustly critiquing only one of Bettelheim’s psychoanalytic interpretations, instead of studying how Bettelheim’s general approach to fairy tales might be remarkably similar to his own. Certainly, Bettelheim’s particular interest in fairy tales might be different (as he is trying to cure disturbed children’s mental ailments and lack of self-importance), just as Darnton is interested in what the oral tradition tells us about peasants and their milieux.
Is Darnton correct in using Bettelheim’s interpretation of “Little Red Riding Hood” as one piece of evidence in order to discredit him? I think his judgment is too hasty, especially if he returns to Bettelheim’s “The Struggle for Meaning” and sees how his respective work simply tackles fairy tales from another angle.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I'm Sara Gast and I'm a senior. I'm majoring in English and sociology, and I'm just taking the class because I think fairy tales are wonderful and friends who have taken this class have enjoyed it. Can't wait to read all your thoughts throughout the semester!