Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Child as a Hero

http://images.nypl.org/index.php?id=1700854&t=r
Seeing that fairy tales were usually created to teach a lesson to children, it makes sense that there are stories where the protagonists/heroes/heroines are children. This can be seen through the story of "Little Thumbling". It is a story that is about a family with 7 male children. The woodcutter father and his wife have a problem presented before them when there is a famine. They are poor and because they cannot feed their family, the parents decide to abandon their children instead of watching them starve. The hero of this story is found in the youngest child who they call Little Thumbling (LT). LT is overlooked by his family and thought to be stupid because of his young age, sickly demeanor, and he did not speak much. When his parents abandon him and his siblings the first time, he uses his critical thinking and comes up with the idea to leave white pebbles behind him in the woods that would lead him and his brothers back to the house. The second time they are abandoned, he tries a similar thing, but with breadcrumbs instead, but that fails because they are eaten by birds. Later when the boys are captured by an ogre, LT is the one who tricks the ogre by taking his daughters crowns and putting them on him and his brothers. This leads the ogre to kill his sleeping daughters instead of killing the sleeping boys. The boys are then able to escape the ogres house. Lastly, LT is able to trick the ogres wife into giving him their fortune by saying that her sleeping husband was actually being robbed and he needed the money for his ransom. Overall, throughout the story, LT showed leadership and ingenuity in the face of dire situations.
Another example of a child hero comes from the tale "Juniper Tree". In this story, a woman is essentially impregnated by a juniper tree after her and her husband have failed to conceive for so long. The woman gives birth to a beautiful baby boy and then dies. The husband remarries and his new wife gives birth to a girl. She is jealous though of the boy and kills him, makes the daughter think she did it, and then feeds him to the family. He is transformed into a songbird who exchanges his beautiful song for gifts from some locals. He then uses these gifts to reward his father and sister, and to kill his evil stepmother thus bringing him back from the dead. Both him and his sister can be seen as heroes for his sister buried him under the tree, enabling him to transform back into a boy. The boy is also a hero for he was able to use his gift of a voice to collect the necessary items to reward those who were good and to punish those who were evil.
Bettelheim believed that these things had much deeper meanings and it was important that children faced these things in order to understand the cruelties of this world. For example, in LT, the parents have to abandon their children. This is a common fear of children, but what the story does is shows how there are stages and events in life where one must become more independent. LT shows that though he may be small and considered insignificant, he can still be a hero and he is the one who handles this separation and call for maturity the best. A lot of these stories also have to do with oral regression and the refusal to mature. This can be seen through all of the ideas and obsessions with food. In LT, it is the famine, breadcrumbs, and the ogre trying to eat them that shows this fixation. In the Juniper Tree, the ideas of the apples and cannibalism also revolve around this oral fixation. Overall, theses stories that focus around children do so in a manner that calls them to mature rather than resisting the push forward in maturity that all will face.

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