Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bettelheim and Darnton on teaching morality through fairytales

[Intro] My name is JeriLyn Stone and I am originally from Miami. I am a junior in the college of arts and sciences. My concentrations are anthropology, philosophy and women’s studies. After graduation I plan to return to Denmark to continue my studies in architecture and design. My interest in fairytales began when my aunt who is an artist in Copenhagen won several awards for her designs that were based on the Hans Christen Andersen tales.

[Blog Response 1] Bettelheim believes that fairytales are the most satisfying stories for children, regardless of the child’s intellectual ability. He refers to emotional and psychological processes that are working in fairytales through modes such as symbolism. Darnton also references psychoanalytic processes in his essay. Some more common topics in both essays include child as a developing organism, the importance of fairytales to teach difficult lessons, and psychoanalysis in the context of French enlightenment.

In short I think that Bettelheim’s account is cushy and largely uninteresting (his last section excluded). His discourse neglects to provide is readers with academic support for his claims and thus leaves them unfulfilled at the end of his work. He presumes particular “rights of passage” to be universals when in fact his specifications refer only to Western civilization.

Despite Bettelheim’s shortcomings in structural complexity and I am captivated by the last section of his essay in which he begins to attack the falsehood of happily ending fairytales that create a fallacious sense of security in children. Bettelheim presents this view that fairytales of today do not have the same “nightmare quality” of those that Darnton references in his essay “The Meaning of Mother Goose.”

In comparison with Bettelheims work, Darnton is more efficient in providing his audience with facts, data, support and analysis yet the direction of his essay is confusing. Bettelheim’s structure and fluidity certainly outdoes Darnton’s disconnected compilation of a little red riding hood story, psychoanalytic perspective, and discourse of the importance of storytelling.

Darnton offers several perspectives throughout his essay. I will focus my analysis on Darnton’s anthropologically oriented perspective that storytelling in France during the enlightenment is useful in preserving the peasant experience. According to the article, comparative studies “have revealed striking similarities in different recordings of the same tale” despite geographical placement. This information supports the latter points that Darnton makes in his work such as the accuracy of tale passed down orally are not easily subjected to change. Additionally, Darnton’s work provides support for Bettelheim’s claim to the universality of life changes as humans’ progress from infants to children to teenagers to adults.

In all, these works are a compliment to one another. The shortcomings of Bettelheim’s work are the strong points in Darnton’s and vice versa. Battelheim provide logical structure and Darnton provides necessary support for the use of fairytales in children’s curriculum. Moreover, the two champion the old fashioned fairytale that does not always end happily in favor for the use of symbols to subconsciously guide children in morality and decision making processes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Properly Analyze a Fairy Tale

From reading Bettelheim's take on how to raise a child, I better understand why the world is in the shape it is in. His argument is that everyone is born inherently bad, that our id strives to do wrong by others by only concerning ourselves with our own selfish desires. Also, that it would be wrong to bring out and become better aquanted with that part of us. He seems to argue that it would be damaging for children (and therefore the adults that they become) if we don't assure them that they are the only one's with evil desires in society. We should promote that to children - it's normal. Besides, life isn't a Disney version of a fairy tale, it's more like a French peasant's version. I could not disagree with his methods more.

I fully believe the world is not a happy go lucky place; unfortunately, I am sure that we could all easily name hundreds of counter examples of that even in our own life experiences. But since children will one day realize this fact, should we take away the time of peaceful bliss they can enjoy before being knocked down in life. Should the child never be taught to hope and strive to do good for the world and improve it's situation instead of succumb to the evils, accept them as normal and just have to live in fear of pain and disappointment. I think we can all recall the joys of recess (and wish we still had nap time too). Well, since that doesn't happen out in the working world, should children not be allowed to experience those joys ever. It may seem that I am going off on a tangent and focusing on extremes, but that is kind of my point.

At what point should we throw up our hands and totally stop trying as a society? "Well, we are never going to achieve perfection, bad things have happened in the past and we won't be able to stop them in the future, why not participate to fulfill my own desires without consequence..." I wasn't born afraid of monsters. I acquired a fear of monsters after learning about them, and honestly that fear has increased over the years due to further exposure to movies, tv shows, and even news articles about the monsters and twisted imaginations in our own society. I'm glad there was a time I didn't have to be sad or afraid of the evils of society. Children learn from what is around them, what they see, hear and experience. I don't think society as a whole, or individual children would be worse off for not getting to see the dark side winning out.

When I see a horror movie I think, "wow, that is what came out of one person's mind and it was gruesome and ugly and not beneficial for society to see because while that may have come to one person or several scattered, unconnected people as an original idea, now that it is public knowledge it is the starting point for the next gruesome murder scene, etc. It has placed that idea in someone's head and they are going to continue it, expand on it, and carry it out. The horror's of their actions may have never taken place had they not experienced the sensationalism of murder." I agree with an earlier post, if the bad guys win, more people want to be bad guys; and if the good guys win, more people want to be good guys.

I think we should raise our children to want to be one of the good guys in society, protect them, but allow them to grow with time. As Vandy scholars I think we may take this study too seriously and get lost in the details. We are discussing these horrible urges children have and their conclusions about their own self worth in society, etc. Realistically I think it is important to remember that at a young age, children still see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys, not complex characters with various background experiences and motives, etc. I think Bettelheim needs to lighten up and not dismiss the real the problems children deal with (abuse, neglect, depression, etc.), but also not to fuel those thoughts. Try cheering them up and giving them hope of a better world instead of reenforcing the idea that the world is and will always be bad.

As for Darnton, I believe he is on the right track to understanding (in all of his adult wisdom) that societies are complex and that their forms of entertainment may be able to reveal a good bit about them and should be considered a tool for understanding them on a more complete and complex level. I also agree with him that the psychiatrists of today are picking and choosing what to consider relavant and what the symbolism may reveal. I feel that a lot of symbolism is intentional very broad to allow for wide interpretation - which means that there may not be a correct answer, which may be because it was never originally intended to mean anything that they wanted it to mean. I generally agreed with him, so this is about it. Enjoy!

Introduction and Bettelheim/Darnton response

As I did not introduce myself before, I would like to do that before I respond to the articles.

My name is Kim, and I am a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering. I’m very excited about this class and I’m looking forward to some material that is very different from my usual engineering classes. I’ve always liked Disney movies, but I have not read many classic German tales. However, I was raised on the classic Danish folktales, most notably those by Hans Christen Anderson, so I am looking forward to comparing those.

What struck me in Bettelheim’s article was the need to provide children with a meaning for their life. He mentions that the children’s literature today is shallow, almost as if children today are not expected to have any meaning or purpose in their lives. Fairy tales, on the other hand, give more credit to the understanding of a child. Today, we don’t expect children to think on a deeper level, and therefore make everything painfully clear. However, a story with more meaning, that requires more thought to understand, is likely to have a more lasting impact.

Darnton’s historical view of fairytales in intriguing, but I find that I do not trust its accuracy. With stories that were passed along for so long without being written down, I would imagine it is all but impossible to verify which version was being told at a certain time, in a certain place. However, I think he does make the important point that the stories are altered by the time period, and can convey messages that may not pertain to us, but were certainly important at one point. For instance, though we may see the Little Red Riding Hood as a lesson not to talk to strangers, the people who once told the story most likely did not have such a strong mistrust of people they did not know, and an entirely different message could have been prominent in the tale.

I think both articles have good points. The article can certainly complement each other. For example, in our history, when people are studying the culture of the time of the Disney fairy tales, as Darnton would suggest, they may look at the stories and take Bettelheim’s perspective, that in modern tale there is no meaning.


Respond to Darnton's and Bettelheim's articles. How do their perspectives differ? Which do you find more convincing? Do you have to take sides on this debate, or can the two complement each other?

While Bettelheim is concerned mostly with the effect of the fairy tale, Darnton is concerned with the nature of the fairy tale itself. I find it interesting that Darnton is concerned with tracing these tales as far back as possible in order to find a truer meaning than that prescribed by psychoanalysts and their “nonexistent” symbols. Bettleheim believes that fairy tales teach children that there are severe difficulties in life, yet these difficulties can be overcome. He continues to say that the introduction of fantasy in the tales connects with a child’s imagination to further his capabilities toward being morally good. Not that I can agree with Bettelheim, but if this was to be true, then Darnton’s quest for the source of these tales in different cultures is rendered obsolete. As long as children get this helpful/inspiring unconscious content, then the tale can really be about anything.

I do think that one has to take sides in this debate—even though the two essays are only indirectly linked. Bettelheim is suggesting that fairy tales teach children good moral behavior. Darnton, on the other hand, is attempting to expose fairy tales as their true form—gruesome, unrelenting, and not preoccupied with morality.

Darnton and Bettelheim

I too am a history major and therefore found Darnton’s essay much more interesting. I liked how he argued that fairy tales can act as cultural artifacts from which we can learn about the peasant class during the enlightenment period where upper class elitist literature and artwork abound. By closely examining these texts, we can confidently hypothesize which morals, ethics, and traits the peasant class valued.

People may easily toss out Bettelheim’s argument on how fairy tales are crucial in the upbringing of a child and its ongoing psychological development because we are looking at it in hindsight. We are adults now (18-22 years of age) and it is hard for us to remember the specific effects reading or hearing those stories had on our development as children. But I will agree with Bettelheim that we most certainly were and are psychologically effected by these stories and that these fairy tales served as the perfect medium to translate certain inexplicable fears or concerns that we alone felt and that society may have deemed taboo.

As scholars at Vanderbilt University, we are looking back on these fairy tales to study them, examine them, and interpret them. Therefore now we would take the point of view of Darnton—to view these tales as a culturally and historically rich texts. But just because we are adults now, we cannot discard the argument Bettelheim makes because most certainly we shaped some of our thoughts and ideas from these stories growing up.

Bettelheim and Darnton

Respond to Darnton's and Bettelheim's articles. How do their perspectives differ? Which do you find more convincing? Do you have to take sides on this debate, or can the two complement each other?

Well first, I feel that their perspectives differ in many ways. Bettelheim is concerned with the development of children and what qualities and characteristics in the fairy tales are contributing to which elements of development. Bettelheim claims that the fairy tales that are not so clean cut with happy endings provide a better context for children to produce meaning from them. He is a little drastic when he claims that many children do not have meaning and he strives to provide meaning in children's lives through fairy tales. Darnton looks at more of how the fairy tales originate and what their context means within the particular culture. He stresses more about what you can gather from hints within the fairy tale about people of a certain time and place.

I think that Darnton is more convincing because he looks at more than just the morals and happenings of the fairy tale. Yes they are enjoyable for children and can help foster development but at the same time, there is more to them than just this. There is cultural and historical significance that provides a window into the lives of societies. Even though I do feel like Darnton's is more convincing, it is not necessary to take sides. The two are written from completely different points of views with different goals and theories in mind. Therefore, they can relate and differ from each other, but at the same time they are two separate entities that can stand alone.

The moral values of fairy tales

Even though I do not agree with large parts of Bettelheim’s essay, I still have to assent to his main point: that fairy tales do have value in the upbringing of children. Not only do they help children to develop imagination and intellect but also to develop an understanding of good and bad, of right and wrong – moral values without our society couldn’t exist. In Bettelheim’s opinion this effect is achieved by exposing children to the “bad”, to death, murder and violence – all very common topics in the folk fairy tales. But what we should keep in mind is that in these classic folk fairy tales the good does not always win. Like Darnton mentions in his essay, the original ending of “Little Red Riding Hood” was that the wolf eats everybody – he is the winner. Thus, the message of the story must have been something like “stay away from wolves” or “don’t talk to strangers” or similar. But what this story also conveys is that you win if you are bad, so to say if you become the wolf. Thus, the Disney versions of fairy tales Bettelheim despises so much might have more value to the upbringing of children than the original folk fairy tales. They clearly show what is bad and what is good and make children wish to be one of the good ones as it is them who finally win. Even though this is clearly not as it is in real life, it still conveys the right values – a feature many of the folk fairy tales clearly lack.

In my opinion, many of these folk fairy tales do not fulfill the standards of modern parenting anymore. More modern versions like the Disney movies are much more appropriate for today’s society that is on average definitely much less violent than the societies from which the folk fairy tales emerged. Thinking of Darnton’s essay, we can definitely see this point. He uses folk fairy tales as a mirror of society and shows that murder and violence were much more common back then – also the reason why they are such important topics in the folk fairy tales. As these things are less common today, it isn’t necessary to expose our children to topics like that to such a degree anymore. Maybe Bettelheim should have thought of how culture had been changing during the last 300 years before declaring antiquated stories as the cure for modern problems with raising children.

Darnton & Bettelheim

In reading both texts, I found myself actually agreeing with Bettelheim's statements more than Darnton's. While Darnton does make very valid points, I found that Battelheim's made more sense to me. I don't think, however, that you have to necessarily take a side in the debate. The two perspectives can complement each other. If you want to focus on the childhood aspect of fairy tales, then look at Bettelheim's essay and then as you progress toward the adulthood aspect, take a look at Darnton's essay.

Perhaps I liked Bettelheim's essay more because his perspective is the way I've always looked at fairy tales, as a positive influence in the upbringing of children and in my own childhood. Every child grew up having heard at least one fairy tale and to say that the child wasn't influenced by it in some way is something that I, personally, can not fathom. Many lessons we are supposed to know about morals, ethics, and life were taught in fairy tales. Although many folk fairy tales are outdated or a bit inappropriate by today's standards, there are still many good lessons in the stories and those are the lessons children notice.

Darnton, on the other hand, also made many valid points especially concerning the way adults view fairy tales when reflecting on them. While fairy tales did seem innocent enough growing up, it is once you re-read them as an adult that they become "questionable." When most children read these stories growing up, however, they don't see the questionable or outlandish views an adult can take when reading the stories. "Little Red Riding Hood" isn't about sexuality to a child, it's about not talking to strangers. I see where Darnton is coming from and it does make sense, but I agree with Battleheim more.

The Search for Meaning in Mother Goose

For me, Bettleheim's characterization of fairy tales was very interesting, yet slightly unsettling. He writes, "More can be learned from [fairy tales] about the inner problems of human beings, and of the right solutions to their predicaments in any society, than from any other type of story within a child's comprehension." After reading the fairy tales of this week, I'm not sure that these stories are the best building blocks of a child's early development (example: cutting off the children's heads to save the life of the king's most faithful servant, Johannes). However, he points out what a great tool fairy tales can be to create a basic foundation for children to learn basic morals, though I think most of us would agree that learning from experience is far more effective than simply reminding children of the horrible consequences of not behaving a certain way from tales. Did anyone else catch Bettleheim's mention that fairy tales help children overcome "oedipal dilemmas"? Awkward... I wonder how widespread he thought these dilemmas are.

I, too, preferred Darnton's historical perspective on tales versus Bettleheim's romanticized, overly positive view on the effect of fairy tales. The over-psychoanalysis of the Red Riding Hood story was amusing, but as a (potential) English major I would agree that people will find meaning out of anything. I love how Darnton characterizes a historical view of fairy tales as a mixture of "anthropology and folklore": literature is one of the best ways we can see what lives were like for the group of people and culture of the time these fairy tales came about. The details that each time period chose to include, remove or change can reveal so much about the peoples from which they came.

Bettelheim and Darnton

I realize that, as a history major, my response to these two pieces might be biased. That said, I find Darnton's essay to be far more convincing than Bettelheim's, mainly because I feel that Bettelheim takes a "fairy tale" view of fairy tales. Bettelheim argues that fairy tales ‘fell from heaven’ (as we said in class today) and are the prime source of enlightenment for children. To Bettelheim “children—normal and abnormal alike, at all levels of intelligence—find folk fairy tales more satisfying than all other children’s stories” (271). I believe that Bettelheim gives far too much credit to the power of fairy tales, just as Freud placed vast significance on dreams. Bettelheim sees the fairy tales as a panacea for all the disturbed children of the world and the perfect way to education the normal ones. Maybe my issue is that Disney movies did not help me “master the psychological problems of growing up,” nevertheless I don’t see how a child’s subconscious would be soothed by stories alone. Bettelheim puts too much faith in the “magical powers” of fairy tales, in the power of the fantastical elements to alter the mind and heat. This might be a result of looking at fairy tales as works for children from an adult perspective: adults read fairy tales and think ‘wow, this could have changed my life if I had read it as a child’ and forget the vast intellectual differences that separate children and adults.

Darnton, on the other hand, looks at fairy tales from an adult perspective and tries to argue for their significance for adults, not for children. His analysis does not try to understand how fairy tales affect children, but what they can tell us about adults. The fairy tale is an important artifact of cultures—namely the French peasantry—that otherwise left only secondary record of their existences. He admits that the written fairy tale is also a secondary source, nevertheless, looking at fairy tales in order to learn about those who told them and wrote them down—and the continuity or change of the tale over time—tells us about the place and time from which the fairy tales originated. Bettelheim places too much faith in, again, the “magical” power of fairy tales; in effect, he buys into the fairy tales own conceits, that they take place in a different world than our own, and tries to map the fantasy world—and its potential didactic power—onto our own society. On the other hand, Darnton chooses to map that same “magic” onto the time and place of the fairy tale’s origin, thereby establishing, arguably, stronger truths about the meaning and effect of fairy tales by trying to examine their original purposes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hey Hey

My name is Alessandra Petty, I'm a senior, International Relations major and Navy ROTC student. I'm off to flight school after graduation (assuming I survive this 20 hour semester)! I already found my prince charming 7 years ago and married him in the fall of 2008. My favorite book of all time is Alice in Wonderland and I collect all things Alice (which is what my dad calls me). I am a huge Disney fan, but I can appreciate the classics, too. I do enjoy a good happily ever after. Hope this post works, third times a charm.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Hey guys.

My name is Sven. I'm an exchange student from Germany (which is also the reason why I took the class: to rediscover some bedtime stories from my past :-))

Hope we're having a good time here.

See you all in class.
My name is James Arterberry, from Washington DC, and I am a senior in A+S majoring in Econ/History and minoring in Film Studies. Looking forward to the class

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Hi everyone!

My name is Summy. I'm from a suburb of Chicago, Park Ridge if anyone here is from the area. I'm a freshman, tentatively majoring in English. I think that our blog will be very interesting.

Hey guys,

My name is Dean. I'm a junior studying film and philosophy. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania but have been living in Tennessee for the past ten years.

I'm having a tough time thinking of anything witty to say (probably because I'm about to face around 300 pages of reading tonight), but I do like this blog format for discussion.

See you all tomorrow

Hi! Okay so I commented before on someones post because i could not figure this site out! But now I think I got it..anyway I'm a junior from Atlanta and majoring in elementary education and child studies.

I'm excited about this class!