Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Bouth (rhymes with "mouth"): the place you fart out of if you're a butt face.

Etym: I slipped up when I was trying to say "mouth." Bouth came out and this was the definition my niece gave to it.

Sent from my iPhone

Conformity and Lois Lowry's The Giver

Jonas asks, “What if we could hold up things that were bright red or bright yellow, and [Gabriel] could choose?” The Giver replies with “He might make wrong choices.”

Unlike novels like Brave New World, A Wrinkle in Time and 1984, the community in The Giver is small enough, and is allowed enough choice, that people do not realize that they are being controlled into Sameness. Camaztoz, is the most extreme in the examples of conformed societies, where all people operate on exactly the same time table. Like IT’s control of many worlds and his assertion that it is only to eliminate pain and choice, the community in The Giver and the choices that are made for the people are also designed to keep them from the pain of war, famine, etc. that Jonas receives as memories from the Giver.

That Gabriel might make the wrong choice when it comes to the color of a toy is inconsequential. The Giver challenges Jonas to think about the bigger picture, other wrong choices that Gabriel could make in the future, and Jonas acquiesces.

I felt like both the Giver and Jonas struggled with whether or not they saw the sameness that permeates the community as completely beneficial to the community, especially when it comes to the release of citizens.

Our discussion questions ask if we’ve ever made a wrong choice, if we’ve regretted having to choose. It may seem surface to many, my recent major choice that I have guilt about more than regret, is the choice of a mobile phone. My brother-in-law works for Verizon and I have AT&T. I was supposed to switch to Verizon—everyone in my family has a Blackberry. But that device didn’t and doesn’t make sense for me. I’m a Mac user and since last September have carried around my phone and my iPod because the functionality of my iPod was better suited for what I wanted in a device than my Blackberry. Do I regret buying an iPhone rather than switching to Verizon? Not really. I just have family members that make me feel bad for choosing what makes sense for me. I’m sure they could take a lesson from the community—I’m sure one of the rules must be not to lay guilt trips on people for indiscretions.

Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. St. Paul, MN: EMC/Paradigm Publishing.

Science, Technology and Lois Lowry's The Giver

While The Giver may be considered a futuristic novel due to it’s utopian setting, the role of science and technology takes a back seat to the larger issues of conformity and euthanasia. There are few mentions of technological advances—one that makes all people see in shades of grey. We know this because the Giver tells Jonas that the red hair of his friend Fiona must drive the geneticists crazy since everyone is supposed to be the same.

We also learn about another Twelve who has made significant advances in the field of healing. But anymore than this—it’s not like other futuristic novels or films where the characters ride in hovercrafts or have gadgets that do everything for them. On the contrary, it seems that in technological advances as we would generally think of them, the community has regressed. All of its people ride bicycles and are communicated with via loudspeaker. Their existence is not electronic heavy as ours is.

Additionally, it seems that there are not many illnesses, if any, within the community. Another technological advance on the part of the geneticists. People are engineered in such a way that they do not have to deal with any pain and suffering.

In other futuristic novels, like A Wrinkle in Time, the real world is one where scientists have discovered how to fold time onto space. In my favorite futuristic novel, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, which deals with issues of consumerism, people ride the hovercrafts and the internet is internally hardwired into people from a young age. Neither of the worlds in these novels is particularly simplistic.

Anderson, M.T. (2002). Feed. Cambridge: Candlewick Press.
L’Engle, M. (1962). A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Dell Yearlilng.
Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. St. Paul, MN: EMC/Paradigm Publishing.

Language Use in Lois Lowry's The Giver

One of the effects of “Sameness” on the community is the rule of precision of language. This meaning use the word that most accurately represents what one is thinking or feeling at any given time. This precision of language eliminates the figurative language use that many speakers, and I can’t say speakers of English because that would be too limiting and outside my scope of knowledge, use in their everyday language.

In Jonas’s first lie to his parents, he says that “he slept soundly,” when the question he responded to included that question in addition to the question of whether or not he dreamt. In an inadvertent lie he told as a child and was reprimanded for, he stated that he was starving. In both instances, the language was chosen to explicitly express Jonas’s feelings, though it is explained to young Jonas that he has never experienced starvation, and will never experience starvation within the community. It isn’t until Jonas leaves the community that he can accurately say that he has come across this feeling.

Authors use diction, the specific choice in words, to evoke certain feelings in readers. Lowry’s choice of the word “release” to embody the ideas of suicide, euthanasia and infanticide, is meant to cause even the reader to wonder at the beginning of the novel. Her choice in words allows the reader to experience the epiphany along with Jonas and react with him to the truth of the events in the community.

Jonas is selected to be the community’s next Receiver, where the other Twelves are assigned for their positions. The distinction has to do with honor, as the Elders suggest. The positions that others in his year fill are positions that are less selective, and while not of lesser importance, of lesser prestige than becoming the Receiver. That Jonas is selected rather than assigned expresses the importance of the position to the other members of the community.

Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. St. Paul, MN: EMC/Paradigm Publishing.

Censorship and Lois Lowry's The Giver

In the “ALA list of most frequently challenged books from 1990-1999” (which in my mind is the perfect reading list), Lois Lowry’s The Giver ranks number eleven, following such titles as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Adventures of Huckelbury Finn, and Bridge to Terabithia. In an article in USA Today (2001), entitled “Suicide book challenged in schools,” the main reason stated for challenging Lowry’s novel is its light treatment of infanticide, suicide and euthanasia.

Censorship is usually a touchy issue when determining what books should be kept on the shelves in a library or in regards to what novels are appropriate to teach to a specific grade level of student. There are issues that may not be deemed appropriate for the school setting. I, myself, recently pulled Lauren Myracle’s ttyl from the shelves of the RMMS library, deeming it unfit for the 7th and 8th graders we serve due to explicit sexual content. Have I read it? Yes. And once I got past the language I thoroughly enjoyed it. Would I put it in the high school library? Yes. The three protagonists have experiences that students can relate to. I will admit that many of my 7th and 8th graders have had these experiences as well, but I still do not believe it to be appropriate for the age group.

Taught in an elementary school, I’m not surprised that The Giver met some tension. I’m not sure students that young are mature enough to deal with the issues of infanticide, suicide and euthanasia that the novel deals with. At the middle school, however, it is a novel that can lead students to form their own opinions on these issues, and have informed arguments amongst themselves about these issues. That is, if the novel is taught.

I disagree with the parent in the USA Today article who suggested that these issues are treated lightly. He did read the novel, but I think he did not internalize the main character’s reaction to the discovery of what releasing really is. The treatment, outside of Jonas’s reaction, is not necessarily lightly. Children are warned not to use release as a joke when chastising another child for an indiscretion.

The novel also brings up issues of conformity and choice, two that are important in the lives of adolescents. They want to be seen as old enough and mature enough to make their own choices, but their choices frequently involve making themselves similar to one another, thus conforming to a norm. Again, if the novel is taught, and not simply given to students to read on their own, the conversations that can be had regarding the thematic ideas in the novel are conversations that can help shape the lives of these adolescents.

Conversation is key.

Denver (AP). Suicide book challenged in schools. In USA Today. (July 20, 2001). Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/2001-07-20-the-giver.htm

Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. St. Paul, MN: EMC Paradigm Publishing

Myracle, L. (2004). ttyl. New York: Amulet Books.

Monday, June 29, 2009

More made up words

nonetha-less--What my niece thought the pronunciation of nonetheless was before she realized. Now it's a name. Like:

Mom, I don't want to clean. I want to go outside and play.
Nonetha-less, you have to clean your room first.

To hear our pronunciation of the word, click the play button on our Voki.

Get a Voki now!

It's always entertaining around here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

imadeitupmyselfdictioary.com Enties 1-3

There have been many entries to this dictionary over the last year, when it was created by me and of a friend of mine. See, we have this tendency to create words that properly express what we're thinking/feeling at any given moment.

decrapitate -- "After Hurricane Katrina, it was necessary to decrapitate New Orleans."

obviosity -- used like "curiosity" as in, "That's an obviosity"

smarticle (courtesy of Estevan) -- "Aren't I smarticle?" or "Hey, did you catch Newsweek? There was a smarticle on technology in education."

Harriet the Spy as a Mirror & Window

Barbara Hardy notes that “we dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, love by narrative. In order really to live, we make up stories about ourselves and others, about the personal as well as the social past and future” (“Narrative as a Primary Act of the Mind,” in The Cool Web: The Pattern of Children’s Reading, 1978).

In Harriet the Spy, the basic premise of the lifestyle of the protagonist, Harriet, is that of narrative. As stated, she has little concept of the thoughts and feelings about the people she discusses in her notebook, as is the case with many young adults. For me, this novel served as a window into the experiences of my 10 year-old niece who often makes hurtful statements without thinking and/or considering the consequences or the feelings of her audience.

Both she and I can take experiences from this novel: she, a lesson in consequences—she’ll witness the effects of Harriet’s actions on her friends. If she’s reflective (which most pre-adolescents are not) she’ll see that the attitudes and reactions of Harriet mirror her own responses to situations and understand that the subsequent adult reactions to those actions are not always favorable. I’ll get a glimpse of the pre-adolescent mind and perhaps be able to better sympathize with her situation.

Also much like Harriet, my niece learns through inquiry, though not inquiry into the lives of people. While Harriet wants to learn anything and everything about everyone, my niece’s inquiry generally relegates itself to asking questions and making predictions about high interest novels (she’s currently reading the final Harry Potter installment) and high interest television shows designed to cause viewers to ask questions (we’re currently working on the first season of NBC’s Heroes).

What the novel Harriet the Spy initially afforded me was an insight into the mind of the 10 year old with whom I spend a lot of time, as she and Harriet are quite similar. Young adults, especially those who are reluctant reader, tend to look for familiar situations to which they can relate in their readings.

Fitzhugh, L. (1964). Harriet the Spy. New York: Yearling.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fairy Tale Elements in A LIttle Princess

The fairy tale components we see in Francis Hodgson Burnette’s A Little Princess come from Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth, or hero journey. Sara Crewe goes through all three stages of the hero journey: the initiation, the separation, and the return. Of the fairy tales, A Little Princess also most resembles the Cinderella stories.

In the initiation section of the story, Sara is left by her father at a boarding school in London, as he goes back to India to attend to his affairs. While the boarding school itself is a new world for Sara, it serves the function of the “Old World” or natural world. Sara becomes accustomed to living with these girls, some of whom adore her, others of who abhor her. She is the princess of the school—one who is in the favor of the headmistress who doesn’t actually like the girl.

This corresponds to the Cinderella portion of the story where she is still in her father’s favor, not having been made into a servant. Even though the stepmother character dislikes the protagonist, she treats her as she would someone she wants something from.

The separation occurs when Miss Minchin and co. find out that Sara’s father has died. At this point, Sara sets sail from the old world of being in the favor of Miss Minchin to the new world (or supernatural world) of a scullery maid. The fact that the old and new worlds are in the same physical location is possible because there is a change in circumstance. Sara is made to run errands in the worst weather, and treated badly by all of the other workers in the seminary. In the new world, the hero often meets people who will be both friends and enemies. Sara and Becky draw themselves even closer together in Sara’s adversity. Additionally, Sara finds out that there are some people who like her regardless of her status; those people who Sara believed turned to enemies actually remained friends.

Sara’s move to the New World is similar to the part of the Cinderella story we are most familiar with—the ill treatment of a young girl who has done nothing to deserve such abuse. Like Cinderella, because of her change in status, Sara becomes a slave to people of a higher social class.

The discovery of Sara’s identity by her father’s business partner marks the beginning of Sara’s return to the Old World. The prize that the returns from the New World with is a renewed sense of compassion for people less fortunate than she and a desire to do something about it more than giving a hungry girl five muffins.

Burnett, F. (2008). A Little Princess. New York: Puffin Classics.

Dean, C. (2008). The secret language of stories: beyond story grammar. Retrieved on June 23, 2009 from

Smith, C. (2009). What is a fairytale/folktale. Retrieved on June 23, 2009 from https://salsa.nmsu.edu/SCRIPT/carmens01_SU/scripts/serve_home

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Charm" from The Rose and the Beast

A feature of young adult literature that I stress to my students is that it can be a mirror, reflecting their own lives, or a window, allowing them to see into someone else’s. The situation that underscores “Charm” is one that far too many adolescents may be familiar with. In this short story, we see thematic ideas on abuse and drug use.

With a rise in cyberbullying, there is also a rise in child pornography, though actually created at the hands of the children. To that end, adolescents will be able to identify with the protagonist and her friend, in light of the naked pictures taken of two young girls shackled together. I have heard of girls who take naked pictures of themselves with their cell phones and forward them to other people. While the story doesn’t suggest direct repercussions for those actions, the reader is presented with a world in which the protagonist is disconsolate and removed from herself.

We also get a sense that the protagonist is sexually abused, whether it be while she is high, in trade for drugs, or in a situation she cannot remove herself from. The familiarity with this scene can not only be with the rape, but also with the sense of powerlessness and dissociation that many victims experience during a trauma.

While opium isn’t a drug that many are familiar with anymore—I associate it with authors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge—a clear picture is drawn for the reader that Rev is on drugs. The way the narrator describes Rev’s addiction can be familiar to students, how the drugs feel like “ecstasy of pure honeyed delight in her veins, like being infused with the soul she had lost” (Block, 2000, 73). With the climate on the border the way it is right now, if nothing else, this image serves as a window into the world of someone the reader is close to or has heard about. The detox scene is similarly vivid, though done differently than scenes in novels like Go Ask Alice (Anonymous, 1971). The drug line of thematic idea resolves quasi-happily, with the realization that the drug is no longer necessary.

Anonymous. (1971). Go Ask Alice. New York: Simon Pulse.
Block, F. (2000). The Rose and the Beast. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.

Figurative Language in "Glass" from The Rose and the Beast

When authors use figurative language, it is to draw unusual comparisons that lead the reader to focus on the similarities between the two items, the one literal and the one figurative, creating a specific image in the mind of the reader. Block (2000) uses figurative language in "Glass" to help the reader create a mental picture of the story, get a sense of the characters and their situations.

Primarily, Block uses similes to describe elements of the setting, in "Glass," to provide the reader with images and characterize the protagonist. When the protagonist "[arranges] flowers in the vase like dancing sisters" (Block, 2000, p. 56), the reader sees a bouquet with stems intertwining. That the flowers are described as "dancing" can also lead the reader to believe that there is a sense of joviality to this task, that it makes the protagonist happy. The glass goblets are described as having roses and grapes that "one could feel with the fingertips like Braille" (Block, 2000, p. 57) playing to the reader's sense of touch, showing that the images on the glass are raised, and that the protagonist is an imaginative character, creating history based on what she feels. The candlesticks are compared to crystal balls, in which "the girl could not read her own future" (Block, 2000, 58), suggesting an undertone of sadness to the previous evidence of cheerfulness.

For further characterization, Block uses paradox to describe the godmother character. Paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that holds some truth in the contradiction. A simpler form of paradox is oxymoron, where two words are placed in juxtaposition (e.g. jumbo shrimp).  The godmother character is "young and old…blind and could see everything…spoke softly, in whispers, but her voice carried across the mountain ranges…" (Block, 2000, p. 59). These characteristics are contradictive, but lend to the fantastic nature of the character, one who is capable of many things outside the realm of ordinary life.

A metaphor that caught my attention, made me come up short for a minute was the explicit metaphor when at that dance when "he planted in her a seed of a white flower with a dizzy scent" (Block, 2000, 64). This following the word "one," and continuing to discuss the sisters' envy leads me to infer that there is an immediate physical aspect to this relationship, an aspect that would cause the two to become one, an aspect that would evoke jealousy in her sisters because she has what they want.

There is an extended metaphor that I can't get a handle on, so I'm putting it to anyone else to suggest ideas for. The first is the idea that the protagonist's words created her shoes. The godmother characters says, "and here are glass shoes made from your words, the stories you have told like a blower with her torch forming the thinnest, most translucent sheets of light of out of what was once sand" (Block, 2000, p. 61). Similarly, at the end of the story when her time at the party is finished, the protagonist "ran home through a tangle of words where the letters jumbled and made no sense and meant nothing…" (Block, 2000, 66). I draw the comparison between the words and the shoes, the words and the event, but I'm having trouble with the "so what?" element of the metaphor. What does it mean? What was the author trying to accomplish?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Tiny" from The Rose and the Beast

For many adolescents isolation is a feeling that is all too prevalent in their everyday lives. In “Tiny,” the protagonist of the same name is familiar with this notion as well, and the story becomes a window to those who understand what it means to really feel different. Then again, maybe the message is about overcoming the differences to find what one really wants.

All Tiny’s mother wants is to protect her. As a result, Tiny is so sheltered that she doesn’t realize that she is different from anyone else. Not until she sees a boy and response to unrequited love in much the same way modern teenagers do—with retreat, depression and resentment. For her mother, Tiny is a star, a symbol of hope after losing eight other children. This hope is her mother’s motivation for keeping Tiny as safe as possible.

As with “Snow,” in “Tiny” the protagonist’s sexuality is activated upon seeing someone outside of the norm. We can see Tiny’s infatuation with the boy in the description of him blundering around the garden, and how she watches him and finds him both “full of wonder” and “terrifying” (Block, 2000, p. 41). Even further, we witness her discovery of musk as the boy watches Tiny’s mother. A scent that she says is “better than all the flowers in her garden” (Block, 2000, p. 43).

Tiny’s journey is a journey of self-discovery. She realizes that she cannot stay with her mother—that she must try to find what she desires. This desire instigated change in Tiny, though she doubts her own power. Many adolescents doubt themselves, especially when they are unsure of whether or not they can achieve what they want. No doubt some will identify with Tiny on her quest to be part of a world bigger than she is, and have a place that means something.

Block, F. (2000). The Rose and the Beast. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.

"Snow" from The Rose and the Beast

As I mentioned in my first post, some of the common themes in young adult literature are family life and sexuality. Both of these are present in Block’s first fairy tale retelling, “Snow.” One thing I wanted to mention about this tale before discussing the thematic ideas is point of view. Third person limited narrators are only in the head of one character, telling the story from the point of view of that character. “Snow” is told from the point of view of more than one character, making it more difficult to read. We find ourselves mainly in the head of the gardener, but we also get the thoughts of the seven brothers, Snow’s mother and of Snow herself. It limits the ease at which the story is read.

Family life can be considered a broad category. In the case of “Snow,” the main character is abandoned by her mother, and grows up with seven brothers. The narrator tells us that Snow’s mother is young, “still a girl herself” (Block, 2000, p. 3) when Snow is born. I infer that she asks the gardener to get rid of the child because she feels she’s not ready to have a child, which is noble in one sense, but sad in another. The mother tells the gardener that she will be devoured by Snow, possibly referring to the end of her life as she knew it, more than a literal devouring. We are to infer that the mother becomes jealous after the gardener visits the seven brothers and Snow and something dies (his love for the mother) and something is born (his infatuation with Snow and Snow’s sexuality), providing the motivation for the witch to kill the girl, as we saw in the other Snow White fairy tales. The mother’s issues with family, her own blood, stem from the loss of a lover.

As the mother is losing a lover, we see Snow discover her sexuality, something born, after meeting the gardener, “exploring the palpitations of her body under the nightdress” (Block, 2000, p. 18-10). Like Snow, many young adolescents are curious about their sexuality and the changes their bodies go through when they see someone to whom they are attracted. She is also excited by meeting the woman who is her mother, she has never seen a woman before and is curious about her own being and how it is similar to other women outside of where she lived all her life. The narrator’s description of Snow’s encounter with the mother and the apple draw on our ideas of oral fixation: “Snow put the piece to her lips and ran her tongue along the ridge” (Block, 2000, p. 25). The image there, in the context of the story, can be sexual in nature, especially for adolescents who have been conditioned by the media to focus on lips as an indicator for sexuality and beauty.

Block, F. (2000). The Rose and the Beast.. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.
First session of summer school is almost over, and I'd like to get some reading done over the July 4 holiday. I know it's a ways away, but I figure I'd go ahead and make a list of my current Must Reads.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Graveyard Book by Neal Gaiman (which I'm reading aloud with one of my book buddies)
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (which I've started already, just need to finish it)

Four books in three days. That's reasonable, right?

What is Young Adult Literature?

This post is in response to this prompt for ENGL 363: What is young adult literature? What are the concerns/themes of young adult literature? In other words, what is this literature about? How do these stories relate to the fairy tales we read?

What is young adult literature? Just like television shows like Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity and Popular were geared toward a teenage audience, such is the nature of young adult literature. Nancie Atwell, in her teacher’s text In the Middle, that the same way adults use novels to see the “universalities of our condition” (Atwell, 1998, p. 36), so can young adults “find their perspectives reflected and explored in a body of fiction of their own, books that can help them grow up and books that can help them love books” (Atwell, 1998, p. 36).

I tell my reading students that for them, in my class, fiction will be one of two things: a window, or a mirror. And that’s essentially what young adult literature is. Young adult literature provides an avenue for adolescents to explore issues and situations that mirror their own lives or the lives of people around them, allow them to make a text-to-self connection, thereby working through the painful issues of adolescence. Young adult literature also provides an avenue for adolescents to explore issues that they are not familiar with, a window into other worlds.

It is difficult to narrow a genre of literature, a growing body of work, into a short list of concerns or themes that interest young adult readers. Some major concerns or themes within this body of literature, those hit close to home for many readers are self-identity/self-discovery, family issues, overcoming adversity, sexuality, and violence.

The two specific major themes from young adult literature that are present in the fairy tales we read are sexuality and violence. Throughout many of the fairy tales we witnessed violence against children, namely in the form of neglect. We’ve also seen parents’ sexuality come into question in the form of lust after their own children. The voice used in The Rose and the Beast (Block, 2000), is decidedly adolescent throughout all of the stories.

See also, "Characteristics of Young Adult Literature" on BlogForLiteracy

Atwell, N. (1998). In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading and Learning. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers.
Block, F. (2000). The Rose and the Beast. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bruno Bettelheim and "Hansel and Gretel"

In Bettelheim’s article on “Hansel and Gretel,” he begins by stating the realistic nature of the story. That a family is poor and the parents may not be able to provide for the family is a very real possibility at the time of the story. Bettelheim discusses the differences in how the overheard conversation between parents, when discussing what to do about their hunger, is perceived. In terms of the parents, it is that “poverty and deprivation do not improve man’s character, but rather make him more selfish, les sensitive to the sufferings of others and thus prone to embark on evil deeds” (Bettelheim in Tatar, 1999, p. 273). Basically, the id overpowers the ego. But the children, being children, interpret the communication differently, letting themselves be “convinced that their parents plan to starve them to death” (Bettelheim in Tatar, 1999, p. 273).

In a previous post, I asked about the nature of Bettelheim’s “regression,” wondering if it likened to the Golding’s regression in Lord of the Flies. Rereading helped me understand the actual nature of Bettelheim’s regression, being one that entails reverting back to the original state of being, one that is completely dependent upon the mother. The children are ruled by their id, the need to find food. Bettelheim’s suggestion that the gingerbread house is symbolic of the mother’s body made me think for a minute. If they think of the mother in terms of being someone who provides them with sustenance, then this comparison makes sense.

Because symbolism is particularly interesting to me, the last point that interests me is the symbolism of the bird. Bettelheim explains that Hansel turns back to the house to say goodbye to a bird sitting on the chimney, a white bird guides them to the witch’s house, and it is a bird that guides the children back home. Bettelheim suggests that, since a bird is present at all three stages of the story, that the characters are exactly where they’re supposed to be in order to learn a specific lesson. Given that he also discusses the characters’ newfound independence when they return home, I’m inclined to agree with Bettelheim. Especially when considering the water archetype on the children’s return home. Water is symbolic of purification, and has a transformative nature. As they cross the river to return home, they are transformed from dependent child into independent child who is no longer ruled by the id.

Bettelheim, B. Hansel and Gretel in Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Freud and Charles Perrault's "Little Thumbling"

According to Freud, everyone has an id, an ego, and a superego as part of their psyche. The id portion of a person’s psyche only cares about getting what it needs or wants in a timely fashion. The superego is where a person’s moral compass resides, and Freud’s ego holds the id and the superego in balance (AllPsych, 2004). Within the fairy tale “Little Thumbling,” by Charles Perrault, we can see how these three elements of the psyche contribute to the characterization of the story’s characters.

The easiest character to pinpoint with Freud’s theory is the character who demonstrates a prevalence of the id. In the case of “Little Thumbling,” the character with an overdeveloped id is the ogre. It is his desire for the meat of the seven boys that leads him to kill his own daughters, who he mistakes for Little Thumbling and his brothers. He is further driven by his id when he chases the boys down with his seven-league boots in attempt to both avenge the deaths of his daughters and to retrieve his dinner. He shows a disregard for his wife, leaving her home alone to pursue the boys, even though her daughters, too, are dead.

How much of Little Thumbling’s id and superego are held in the balance by his ego is debatable. The need that Thumbling is preoccupied with is the survival of himself and his brothers. Because of him, and his id, the ogre’s daughters are killed. But Thumbling isn’t ruled by his id. Using his ego, he considers his brothers and their well-being, and those thoughts drive his actions. I wonder, though, if Thumbling has an under-developed superego. He doesn’t seem to consider the repercussions of his actions—especially those that get the ogre’s daughters, who are, admittedly monsters, killed. His underdeveloped superego also is what helps him secure his family’s wealth. He doesn’t consider lying to the ogre’s wife to steal their fortune as an immoral act, thus allowing his family to live happily ever after.

The father, on the other hand, is more balanced, though still ruled by his id. With is superego, he realizes, though this is more evident in his wife, that abandoning his children in the forest isn’t the most honest of acts, but his own desire not to see his sons perish from hunger overrules his superego. We see the father’s superego in action when he rejoices because his boys have returned home.

AllPsych and Heifner Media Group, Inc. (2004). Id, Ego, Superego and the Unconsious in Psychology at AllPsych Online. Retrieved June 13, 2009 from http://allpsych.com/psychology101/ego.html.
Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Charles Perrault's "Little Thumbling"

In the introduction to Hansel and Gretel, Tatar suggests that the Tom Thumb type Hansel and Gretel stories “offer comic relief in the form of spunky adventurers who use their wits to turn the tables on adversaries with daunting powers” (Tatar, 1999, p. 183). Perrault’s “Little Thumbling” is just one of those tales.

But if we take fairy tales as social commentary of the times, we are also moved to look at how the number of children affects the tone of a household. The townspeople in “Little Thumbling” are amazed that the family “had so many children in so short a time,” (Perrault in Tatar, 1999, p. 199). It is clear that while the parents (or at least the father) love their children, having so many takes a toll on the family finances. We learn that “these people were very poor. [And] having seven children was a great burden, because not one of them was able to earn his own living” (Perrault in Tatar, 1999, p. 199). If famine, or hard times even, are taken into account, this becomes a tale about what can happen when a family overproduces offspring.

In Virginia Hamilton’s collection of American Black folktales called The People Could Fly, there is a tale called “John and the Devil’s Daughter.” The ogre’s “seven-league boots” are similar to the boots of the devil character in this folk tale. The Hansel and Gretel story formula doesn’t apply to “John and the Devil’s Daughter,” but Hamilton, in her notes on the story, discusses motifs, the motif of “the girl as helper in the hero’s fight” and “obstacle flight” that are applicable to our readings (Hamilton, 1985, p. 114-115).

In “Little Thumbling,” the hero receives help from the ogre’s wife. In many of the American Black supernatural tales, the hero received help from the ogre’s daughter. In that there is a variation, but there is similarity in the motif. Also, the boys from “Little Thumbling” engage in an obstacle flight, as their passage from the house of the ogre is not simple. First, the hero keeps the boys from being killed, then they are chased by the ogre in his seven-league boots. Finally, the hero steals the ogre’s boots and secures his family’s well-being by stealing from the ogre.

So not only do we see these motifs in European and Anglo-American versions of fairy tales, but in the African American fairy tales as well.

Hamilton, V. (1985). The People Could Fly. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

"The Juniper Tree" by the Grimm Brothers

Post 2
One of the most intriguing aspects of fairy tales, and the different stories we’ve read so far, is the interconnectedness of the stories, even those of different types. In the Grimm brothers’ “The Juniper Tree,” the pious wife of the rich man wished for a child “as red as blood and white as snow” (Grimm in Tatar, 1999, p. 190). Interestingly, one of the instances I found when reviewing this minor detail is that another instance occurs not in the story of a different author, but in the Grimm brothers’ version of “Snow White.” It makes me wonder why the authors chose to reuse this particular detail, not to mention what it means to want a child “red as blood.”

While many of the Hansel and Gretel type stories used bird imagery, it is the imagery from “The Juniper Tree” that particularly stands out, if only because of the brothers’ use of an allusion to the mythical Egyptian/Greek phoenix. When the boy’s sister takes his remains in silk to bury under the tree, there was a mist, “and in the middle of the mist burned a flame, and from the flame a beautiful bird emerged and began singing gloriously” (Grimm in Tatar, 1999, p. 192). In both Greek and Egyptian mythology, the phoenix was a bird that, after from 100-600 years (depending on the version of the myth told), bursts into flames and is reborn from the ashes of that fire.

That the boy’s resurrection as a bird comes from the Juniper tree is appropriate since it was under that tree, due to the blood of his mother, which could be considered a sacrifice to the tree, that he was conceived. Once again, the tree is given a sacrifice, in this case the bones of the boy, and this is what allows him to be resurrected. Upon rereading, the bird may be a gift from his mother, who is also buried beneath the tree.

The phoenix imagery comes full circle at the end of the story, when the boy is restored to his former state of being, resurrected from the ashes of the woman who took his life. I wonder what possessed the brothers to take the bird imagery from the story and shift it to the specific imagery of the phoenix.

Brothers Grimm. The Juniper Tree in Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Full Tilt

The end of this novel was a long time coming. Due to school, work, etc. our read-aloud time was severely lacking. I read this novel because, when I was sitting next to Neal Shusterman at the New Mexico Library Association Conference in April, he told a story about a teacher who bet a student $5 that they would like this novel. If the student disliked the novel, then the teacher would cough up the dough. As it turned out, the student liked the novel and the teacher didn't lose any money. Of course, being the "extraordinary" reading teacher I am, I had to find out about this novel and see if I could entice my reluctant readers with the same bet. After finishing the novel, I'm fairly certain that many of my readers will enjoy it, if only for the intense ride the main character has to go on. They probably won't get the allusions to famous places around the world, or some of the novels the main character read (like Melville's Moby Dick), but even without that prior knowledge, students are in for an adventure.

Shusterman, N. (2004) Full Tilt. Simon Pulse.

Introduction to "Hansel and Gretel" Stories

In Tatar’s “Introduction: Hansel and Gretel,” the first point discussed is food. She says, “Food—it’s presence and absence—shapes the social world of fairy tales in a profound way,” (Tatar, 1999, p. 179). In the case of the “Hansel and Gretel” stories, it is the absence of food that is the story’s driving force. Tatar also reaffirms what we’ve already discussed about how fairy tales reflect the climate of society; these stories “not so much stage a child’s fears about starvation, exposure and abandonment as mirror the hard facts of the pre-modern era” (Tatar, 1999, p. 180). Starvation was a real part of the mid-19th century in Ireland, where a fungus wiped out the potato crops in a country where the majority of the population was relied on this crop for survival.

Tatar also discusses the transformation from the mother into the witch, which seems to be a motif among fairy tale stories. In this incarnation of the maternal transformation motif, both the mother and the witch are most concerned with their own survival, rather than the survival of the offspring, though “the witch is an even more exaggerated form of maternal malice than the stepmother” (Tatar, 1999, p. 180). The mother, since she is not capable of providing nourishment for her entire household, plots to rid herself of the competition, thus ensuring, or at least upping the odds of, her continued existence. The witch’s survival, on the other hand, is not dependent upon her cannibalistic tendencies, as she has the means to fatten up the children, but it is clearly her preferred means of sustenance. It is the fact that the witch appears to be the antithesis of the mother character that the children follow her and their cleverness that they triumph over her.

Bettelheim suggests that “Hansel and Gretel” is a story based on the “oral greed, denial and regression of the children” (Tatar, 1999, p. 181). The question I have is regression to where? Yes, in some versions of the story it is the reincarnated child that avenges his or her own death, but is that regression? It’s not like Golding’s Lord of the Flies, where the lack of structure facilitates a regression of sorts to a pack-type mentality. In the case of the characters of Hansel and Gretel, their motivation stems from the desire not to be eaten, as well as the desire to return home to their father.

Golding, W. (1954). Lord of the Flies. United States: Wideview/Perigee Books.
Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Motif in Margaret Atwood's "Bluebeard's Egg"

The most intriguing motif in Atwood's "Bluebeard's Egg" was the heart
motif. Sally's husband Ed is a "heart man," which we can infer is a
cardiologist. He works in a hospital, and according to Sally, many women
want him to fix their hearts. The narrator says that Ed is "beset by
sirens," (Atwood in Tatar, 1999, p. 160) alluding to the mythological
characters said to lure sailors off course and to their deaths. But even
though Ed is a heart man, he's not clear on matters of the heart, thus
making him a target for those sirens. To Sally, however, the heart is
not a necessary organ, it is something that can be removed,
symbolically, I imagine, if it causes trouble.

We see, even further, Sally's detachment from her heart when Ed allows
her to test the new machine in his wing. She sees her heart in black and
white not as something that is attached to her, but something that beats
somewhere off in the distance of its own volition. Thus, she cannot get
a read on her own feelings, her own sense of self.

At the end of the story, past the retelling of a version of Bluebeard,
after Sally decides to retell the story from the perspective of the egg,
she revisits the black and white version of the heart outside of herself
as something she has no control over. The egg is the next image to pop
into her mind, one that shifts and changes, and feels alive to her. Its
red hue intrigues Sally, and she wonders what will hatch from it.

I wonder, as a reader, if we are supposed to infer that within the egg
is a color version of Sally's heart, very alive and very much part of
her. This could represent a liberation of sorts, returning to the actual
question. There life within an egg, followed by the birth (hatching) of
an egg--Sally's sense of self is confined inside this pulsating object,
and Sally is afraid of it, as many women find themselves afraid of life
on their own.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

Comments on Tatar's Introduction to Cinderella

I have to admit that I read the introduction to this section of the
anthology twice, once before reading the variations, and once following.
Reading the introduction beforehand allowed me enough awareness that I
was able to see the difference in personality from one Cinderella to the
next. Tatar said that "even within a single culture, she can appear
genteel and self-effacing in one story, clever and enterprising in
another, coy and manipulative in a third" (Tatar, 1999, p. 102). Knowing
this beforehand, and having read other fairy tale variations, made these
character changes easier to see.

Because of Tatar's introduction I was also aware of the role of the
father in the stories--the father either is cause of the turmoil,
lusting after his daughter because of his dying wife's wish for fidelity
(I don't think she thought he'd find anyone that met her requirements),
or his own daughter's neglect. I find it interesting that the father
figure fades into the backgroud. I remember reading on Disney animated
movies for another class long ago, and something there was mentioned
about the absence of father. If I remember (and I haven't seen
Cinderella in a long time), something happens to the father, it's
not that he's absent so much as he dies, I think, and Cinderella is left
with her stepmother and stepsisters. We see this particular idea again
in other film versions of the story as well.

Finally, and I mentioned this a little above, I never thought about the
story of Cinderella involving incestuous relationships between father
and daughter before. Where must a father be after the death of his wife,
to pursue a relationship with his own offspring?

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

Cultural Value in Grimms' Cinderella

I chose to look at the Grimms' version of Cinderella and the values that
are evident in the culture.

By his absence throughout the entire story, a message sent to
readers/listeners of this version of the story are led to believe that a
father's love for a daughter wanes to non-existance when he remarries.
The father does not admonish his wife, nor her daughters for the
mistreatment of his own progeny. He allows them to strip her of her
clothing, and treat her as a servant, placing conditions on her
attendance to events she is rightly entitled to attend. By doing this,
he has elevated his wife and step-daughters to a station higher than his
flesh and blood. Additionally, he refers to Cinderella as "my dead
wife's daughter" (Grimm in Tatar, 1999, p. 121), placing no claim on her

Also, we see that sacrifices of the flesh, if made dishonestly, are
fruitless when attempting to come about our desires. Both of
Cinderella's stepsisters mutilate themselves to fit into a shoe, but the
fact that they are morally corrupt and Cinderella is not leads nature to
respond on Cinderella's behalf, alerting the prince to the girls'
deception. In the end, their misdeeds are rewarded with blindness,
another gift from nature.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

Image and Symbol in Cinderella

An interesting image in the Cinderella stories to me was the image of
the antagonist sending a "hunter to kill and recover her lungs and liver
for dinner" (103). This image is recurring, not only in the Cinderella
stories, but in the Snow White stories as well. The antagonist, in this
case the "wicked" stepmother, is looking for evidence of her
stepdaughter's murder. The fact that she wants to ingest parts of her
stepdaughter's remains suggests that by consuming these pieces of the
girl, the stepmother is thereby internalizing Cinderella's (or Snow
White's) power, becoming one with it.

A prominent symbolic element in the Cinderella stories is the
protagonist's finding of aid in the natural world. From animals helping
with ridiculous tasks (Grimm's "Cinderella"), gifts from a dead fish
("Yeh-hsien"), to being dressed up in the hides of animals
("Donkeyskin", "Catskin", and "The Princess in the Suit of Leather"),
the protagonists have a peace with nature that allows it to help the
with their tasks and away from harm. In "Catskin," "Donkeyskin," and
"The Princess in the Suit of Leather" specifically, the Cinderella
character assumes the outward figure of an animal, dressed in their
hides, to keep from being recognized.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

Grimm Brothers & Sex and Violence

It's interesting to me that the Grimm brothers, while were galled at the
appearance of sex and/or desire in their stories but the "fastidious
descriptions of cruel punishments, on the whole escaped censorship"
(Tatar, 1999, p. 369-370); in many places they further expanded on the
violent scenes from whichever story version they pulled from. The
brothers were encouraged by their brother Ferdinand to remove the sexual
connotations from the story, "eliminating anything that might offend
sensibilities of the reading public" (Tatar, 1999, p. 372). This
suggests that the brothers decided that violence was completely
acceptable, but the discussion of sex and incest was not.

Here's where I'm having trouble. If the intended audience for these
stories was not children, why did they title the collection Nursery
and Household Tales
? Yes, they thought that parents should use their
discretion in telling tales to the children (connection to present day
television watching, anyone?), but the title seems misleading.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

Symbolism in "Bluebeard" Variations

One symbolic element seen in the Bluebeard stories is the key. In the
Perrault version of the story, Bluebeard gives his wife the keys to the
storerooms containing all of his valuables. He uses the key to try and
"unlock" the happiness of his wife, or at least, to keep the door to
happiness open and thus misdirect her. However, Bluebeard gives her the
specific instruction not to enter the little room at the end of the
hall, though he does give her the key. This small key is the key to
unlock Bluebeard's anger, as well as the key that unlocks his past and
what became of his previous wives. This little key also becomes the key
to her potential demise—because it is enchanted, she cannot wipe it of
her misbehavior, and it is stained with the blood of the women in the room.

Similarly, in the Grimms' version ("Fitcher's bird"), the husband gives
the wife the keys to the estate and says that she can go anywhere except
in one room with penalty of death. This small key represents the
husband's history. That it is locked away may mean that it is something
he wants private, but that he also wants her to find, otherwise he would
have removed the key to begin with. In the end of the story, it is a key
(though not explicitly stated) that becomes the demise of the sorcerer
as he is locked in his house and destroyed by fire.

In the second Grimms' version ("The Robber Bridegroom"), there is no
mention of a key in this story, though the finger that the girl
possessed is like a key as it is the element that unlocks the story of
the robber and is used to turn this robber over to the authorities so he
and his band of murderers cannot kill anyone else.

Another symbolic element present in the Bluebeard stories is the use of
dreams and rings. Both the girl in "Fitcher's Bird" and Lady Mary in
"Mr. Fox" use dream telling as a means of confrontation. By using dream
telling, the protagonists can distance themselves from the action they
witnessed, express to the antagonist their knowledge of his
transgressions, and find their way out of the marriage contract.

In both of these stories, as well, the protagonists witnessed the
antagonist's attempt to remove a ring from the finger of a murdered
girl. The archetypal ring is associated with fidelity. The removal, or
attempted removal of the ring from the girl is symbolic, to the
antagonist, of the girls' fidelity, in death, to the antagonist.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

On "Domesticating Dreams in Walt Disney's Cinderella"

Naomi Wood says that "Disney's reputation for squeaky-clean family
entertainment has led many to overlook the very American prurience that
was so appealing and acceptable to his audiences" (Woods, p. 31). What I
want to take from this is a look at the lasciviousness of the Disney
films, so much as a look at this idea of the purity of Disney's reputation.

Wood points out that Disney films have a tendency to stereotype. She
mentions the relationship between body type and intelligence as well as
the use of accent in speech as two examples of how the Disney films have
been used to create and/or perpetuate certain societal norms in American
culture. This portrayal in Disney films is not so different from what
the Grimm brothers were trying to do with their stories.

This "squeaky-clean family entertainment" in addition to
not-so-inadvertently expressing the desires of adults and instilling
ideas of a social hierarchy based on regional dialect, also uses song
lyrics to implant cultural stereotyping ideas in the minds of the
viewers. Take Aladdin (1991) for example. In the opening song,
the character talks about his middle-eastern homeland as a place where
people "cut off your ear / if they don't like your face," continuing to
call it a "barbaric" place, thus giving the viewer the idea that anyone
of middle-eastern descent is uncivilized.

Further examination of the color archetypes used in Disney films most
likely would add to Wood's assertion, but I won't go into that here.

Wood, N. Domesticating dreams in Walt Disney's Cinderella.
Retrieved June 7, 2009 from

Comments on "Snow White" Stories

In the introduction to this section of the anthology, Tatar says that
"Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has so eclipsed
other versions of the story that it is easy to forget that hundreds of
variants have been collected over the past century in Europe, Asia,
Africa and the Americas" (1999, p. 74). It seems that such is the case
with many fairy tales adapted for the screen by the Disney company. Once
again, there are two particular parts of this story that caught my
interest, evidence of both can be seen in the Grimms' adaptation of the
story, the second of which is blatantly referenced in Sexton's poem
version of the tale.

A section of the Grimms' tale struck me as very similar to tellings of
the "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" story I heard as a child. There are
references to, and all seven dwarfs go through the line, to the ideas
that someone's eaten their food, drank their wine and slept in their
beds, much like the bears' lament, though without the destructive
element of Goldilocks. I can't help but wonder if the Grimm brothers
were alluding to that story when telling their version of "Snow White,"
or if the story of Goldilocks grew from this one section of the Grimm
brothers' tale.

The other point of interest in the "Snow White" stories is the
implication that women are the lesser in intelligence when men and women
are compared. Again, in the Grimm brother's tale, the dwarfs repeatedly
tell Snow White not to open the door for anyone as they know her
stepmother is coming after her. Snow White, and Sexton refers to her as
a "dumb bunny" (in Tatar, 1999, p. 99), repeatedly ignores the warnings
of the dwarfs, and finds herself killed as many times as she opens the door.

We have already discussed the purpose of the Grimm's tales--that they
were designed to be morality tales for children of a set social class.
This being the case, that the protagonist of these stories continued to
repeat a dangerous action further perpetuated the Arthurian idea that
women need protecting from men, as they are not intelligent enough to
protect themselves.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

Gilbert & Gubar's Snow Whit

Gilbert and Gubar (in Tatar, 1999) offer analytical perspective into the
classic fairy tale we know as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." As I've
looked at the role of parent already, I'll continue with that theme,
focusing on Gilbert and Gubar's take on the role of the father figure
within this particular tale.

The male figures in "Snow White," according to Gilbert and Gubar, take a
backseat to the conflict between mother and daughter. This secondary
role, however, still has a vast impact on the mother's motivation, and
thus the patriarchal characters are part of the driving force in terms
of plot movement.

Of the "magic mirror" as we know it, Gilbert and Gubar say that one male
figure, the father figure, is "the voice of the looking glass, the
patriarchal voice of judgment that rules the queen's--and every
woman's--self-evaluation" (in Tatar, 1999, p. 293). It is this
judgmental voice, the one that tells the queen that she no longer holds
highest favor, that provides the catalyst for the queen's hatred of her
daughter, and the part of herself that mirrors her daughter.

Similarly, the "huntsman is really a surrogate for the King, a
parental--or more specifically, patriarchal--figure who 'dominates,
controls and subdues wild ferocious beasts" (Gilbert & Gubar in Tatar,
1999, p. 294). Here we see another male character who has limited input
in the story become a driving force for plot. It is the huntsman's
failure, his choice to save his "daughter" that escalates the queen's
anger, having ingested the innards of a wild boar instead of the girl's
own entrails.

Gilbert, S. and Gubar, S. Snow White and her wicked stepmother. In
Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

Comments on "Beauty and the Beast"

It's interesting to see how much the Disney renditions of classic fairy
tales have infiltrated our perceptions of what fairy tales are, and how
the plots of these fairy tales should unfold. I'll admit that when
beginning to read "Beauty and the Beast," I drew on my already establish
knowledge of the story and drew comparisons between that version and the
classic tellings. The two versions I found particularly interesting were
"The Pig King" as told by Giovanni Straparola and "The Tiger's Bride" as
told by Angela Carter.

What struck me about "The Pig King" first was the role the pig's mother
played in the pig's matrimonial pursuits. Did anyone else find it
intriguing that the mother of the girls the pig found infatuating didn't
protest after the pig murdered her first daughter. The second daughter
met the same fate as the first and it was only the difference in the
third daughter's countenance that allowed her to be shown the pig
without his swine hide. What I can't figure out, and I don't know if I
just misread, is why the pig chose to be a pig if he knew that he could
shed that skin. Why would he choose solely to appear as a man to his
wife and keep it secret from the rest of the world? So while the spell
was cast on him in the womb, the difference between this and the other
versions of the tale is that the beast character is capable of changing
between his human and beast forms at will.

The end of "The Tiger's Bride" is what struck me most. Where in most
stories, the prince takes the form of a human because someone loves him
for who or what he is on the outside, in "The Tiger's Bride," the
narrator ends up as a tigress, and doesn't seem too disturbed by this
change. What actually caught my attention was the way she became a
tiger. For cats, licking is the process by which they bathe themselves,
and sometimes each other. The narrator's transformation is a result of
being licked by the tiger, or bathed if you will, cleaning off her human
form such that she can exist in her true form.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton
& Co.

On "Breaking the Disney Spell"

Most of the time, I can't decide whether I love Disney productions, or
abhor them. Some of the films produced by the company (and admittedly
other companies as well) are fantastic for teaching literary terms in a
manner in which my 8th graders can understand, but that doesn't make the
fact that the films are infused with stereotypes and cultural biases any
less disturbing.

Zipes in Tatar's The Classic Fairy Tales says that "Disney was a
radical filmmaker who changed our way of viewing fairy tales" (1999, p.
333). While this is true, there are other considerations to be made when
deciding if Disney's portrayal of these fairy tales was a legitimate
transformation from one medium to another or if Disney actually
bastardized the tales to suit his own whims.

When the printing press was invented, a shift from the fairy tales being
solely oral, to oral and printed occurred. At this time, Zipes says, the
written tale allowed readers to remove themselves from society to be
alone with a tale and that "this privatization violated the communal
aspects of the folktale, but the very printing of a fairy tales was
already a violation since it was based on separation of social classes"
(in Tatar, 1999, p. 335). What bothers me about this statement is the
author's choice of "violation" to describe what some view as
technological progress. The connotation of "violation" is clearly
negative, though without this process, there is no guarantee that
stories adapted from the oral traditions and their many variations,
would have survived.

While Zipes criticizes Disney's adaptations of fairy tales, that they
are self-serving and a desecration of the written tales, Disney used
these tales in the 1930s to "[touch] the lives of people during the
Depression" (in Tatar, 1999, p. 346). These adaptations, the
stereotyping and cultural biases portrayed in the films aside, holds
with the modifications made to oral tales when the needs of the
listening group changed. It is no different than being able to see
qualities of the English Romantics in Jane Austin's Pride and
, of the Victorians in Bram Stoker's Dracula, or
criticism of American society in Aaron McGruder's cartoon The

Zipes, J. Breaking the Disney Spell. In Tatar, M. ed. (1999). The
Classic Fairy Tale
. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Fairy Tale Insight

Through the stories told, and their variations, readers are allowed a
glimpse into the interactions between parents and children, and parents'
motivation for specific actions in regards to their children. Tatar
explains that "the desire for wealth motivates parents to turn their
daughters over to a beast points to the possibility that these tales
mirror social practices of another age" (1999, p. 27).

It seems that the story of "Beauty and the Beast" was used as a means,
an outlet for those women stuck in an arranged marriage, seeing their
husbands metaphorically as "beasts." These stories, especially those
that involve parents trying to convince--even to the point of
begging--people to marry their children, shows how preoccupied these
parents were either with bride-price, or giving into the whims of their

Tatar discusses the de Beaumont version of "Beauty and the Beast"
specifically, stating that "Beauty and the Beast not only endorses the
importance of obedience and self-denial, but also uses the tale to
preach the transformative power of love..." (1999, p. 27). This
statement caught my attention because of the idea that loving someone
despite their faults causes them to appear better in one's eyes,
transforming them into the kind of person that they "should" be. In
terms of the story, this transformation is a physical one, where the
princes shed their monstrous skin and become the handsome prince that
they believe the princess deserves, suggesting that beauty is directly
associated with people of solid ethics and morals.

I think the animated film Shrek, which reverses the archetype, is
an equally interesting take on "the transformative power of love"
(Tatar, 1999, p. 27). This physically altering power changes both
characters into the ogre, the character often portrayed in an
antagonistic role. It is the goal of Shrek to take the archetype,
the formula everyone knows, and turn it on its head. Even the characters
are aware of the archetype--see Princess Fiona's surprise when the
result of her "true love's kiss" does not transform him into the
handsome prince, but transforms her into the monster as well.

Cox, P.F. (Producer) & Adamson, A. and Jensen, V. (Directors). (2001).
Shrek (Motion Picture). United States: Dreamworks.

Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales.. New York: W. W.
Norton & Co.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Classic Fairy Tales Post 2

There is an almost archetypal interconnectedness to the variations of “Little Red Riding Hood.” As Tatar used Berne to point out in the introduction, it is difficult to pin one moral idea to the vary content of the stories. While the content and general path of the stories are similar, it is virtually impossible to extrapolate a single common value lesson.

I was particularly interested in the more risqué versions of the tale, ranging from the Nievre, to the Dahl, the two of which I will discuss herein.

Of the two versions I chose to examine, the Nievre, “The Story of Grandmother” is controversial in the sense that the wolf has the girl remove her clothes and throw them into the fire, stating that she will no longer be in need of them. I cannot help but wonder if the author was inadvertently trying to warn children away from the predatory nature of some strangers. The question is, why would the child so easily and without question remove her clothing, even for her grandmother? It seems to me, given the slip she gives the wolf at the end of the story by tying the rope to a tree, that she knew she wasn’t dealing with a relative and yet, she played along anyway.

The Dahl piece shows how the view of children has evolved from the baby Jesus view of the sixteenth century. It is an amusing tale, again showing the ingenuity of children, though some adults may find issue with the fact that the child uses a gun to ward off the wolf rather than leaving such dirty work to an adult (like the woodsman) or nature (see the Calvino version). As such, the child departs from that innocence of other portrayals. Though the Dahl piece was written in 1982, given the climate of today, how this version of the story could appeal to current children more than some of the others, especially given the propensity of children to see gun violence regularly on television, is clear.

Tatar, M., ed. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Classic Fairy Tales

A point that caught my attention from the introduction of Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar came from the Brother’s Grimm discussion of why they wrote the stories they wrote. They are quoted in Tatar as saying that their tales “tried to capture the pure, artless simplicity of people not yet tainted by the corrupting influences of civilization” (Tatar, 1999, p. xi). It seems as if the brothers are arguing for nurture over nature, like children are blank slates and the stories are written to shield them from the harsh reality that exists outside the walls of their parents’ house.

The brothers, when writing, however, “must have recognized that fairy tales were far from culturally innocent, for they extolled the ‘civilizing’ power of the tales and conceived of their collection as ‘manual of manners’ for children” (Tatar, 1999, p. xi). While these fairy tales were exalted, the brothers took the main points of the stories and recrafted the tales into a handbook of sorts for children, guiding them to be moral citizens. The question is, who defined those morals the brothers were trying to ingrain in children? Were they determined by the brothers themselves, or are they extending morality based upon the morals with which they were raised, those determined by a particular class as important to be a productive member of the social structure?

The conversation about how children are influenced before they have a chance to truly interact within society makes me wonder about children today, so many of whom are not read to, be it fairy tales, Mother Goose Rhymes, or the newspaper. How are the morals and ideas children are inculcated with in the present due to their preoccupation with electronics and reality television? When I wonder about how fairy tales have changed with the present time, the first thought I have is of Neal Shusterman’s Dark Fusion series. Shusterman fuses the Medusa myth with “The Three Little Bears” in Dread Locks, fuses werewolf and vampire mythology with “Little Red Riding Hood” in Red Rider’s Hood and the legend of the Fountain of Youth with “The Ugly Duckling.” Many of the themes are the same, but Shusterman adds discussion of self-sacrifice, family values and revenge to his mix.

Shusterman, N. (2005). Dread Locks. New York, Speak.
Shusterman, N. (2005). Red Rider’s Hood. New York, Speak.
Shusterman, N. (2006). Duckling Ugly. New York, Speak.
Tatar, M., ed. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co

Monday, June 1, 2009

National Education Standards?

So, 46 states (excluding Alaska, Missouri, Texas and South Carolina), have agreed to condiser working on a set of national education standards for English/Reading and Math. In a rise in global competition, they're trying to step it up so we can compete. Government officials tend to forget from time to time that comparing the students in other countries to students in the United States is like comparing apples and oranges. If only the elite attend university and other student take classes that will prepare them for whatever career they will find themselves in, then it makes sense that the scores from overseas will be higher for countries that give all students an opportunity to graduate.

Will good come of this? And will government officials consider using NCTE/IRA and NCTM standards?