Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Jungian View of Fairy Tales

    According to Jung, there are many things that make up fairy tales and how they connect to us on a psychological level.  One thing is archetypes.  An archetype is defined as an "unconscious mode of understanding that regulate[s] perception" (Mazeroff  "Fairy Tales").  It is part of the collective unconscious and comes from "universal experiences . . . and [is] . . . expressed in dreams, myths, and fairy tales" ("Fairy Tales").  Some of the most common archetypes are the wise old man, the mother figure, the forest, the so called shadow, and the ever lovable trickster figure ("Fairy Tales").

     Besides archetypes though, the most important thing to Jung is the so called "hero's journey" that the main character of a fairy tale must take (Mazeroff "Fairy Tales").  The journey is meant to change the character from a immature individual to a mature individual.  The journey beings with the hero leaving his old world (his comfort zone) and going out into the unknown (outside his comfort zone).  He is helped by animals or people he encounters along the way.  He also is faced with tasks and temptations that the hero eventually cannot complete or resist.  An example of this is the old and popular task of staying awake all night to help defend the princess of an enchanted castle.  When the hero fails the task, the hero dies in a sense (meaning his old self, his immature self dies) and like a phoenix, he is reborn (he becomes mature and learns his mistakes and takes care not to repeat them) ("Fairy Tales").  It is important and necessary for him to fail just like it is important for Red Riding Hood to go off the path.  If he did not do this, he wouldn't learn anything and the opportunity to grow would be wasted.  He begins to make up for his errors and soon achieves the ultimate goal and is rewarded (often with jewels, a life-long companion, or a kingdom).  He also returns to his old world (often with the help of magic) and is now able to be master of both worlds, the world he inhabits and the world he encountered on his journey ("Fairy Tales").  Jung views fairy tales as dealing with "growth and transformation" and dealing with problems that are represented by archetypes ("Fairy Tales").  Basically, one could say that fairy tales to Jung are self-help manuals for how to deal with life and its difficulties.

     However, while reading this, many people will be asking for supportive proof of Jung's theories of the fairy tale.  One fairy tale that proves this idea of growth and maturity is "The Frog Princess."  The story begins with a king having three sons, but no queen.  The king has his three sons shoot arrows into the sky and whoever returns the arrows to each of the sons will be their brides.  The sons do what he says without hesitation, showing that the sons, especially the youngest, Prince Ivan, are immature because they do what their father tells them without questioning the logic.  The oldest son marries a princess, the second oldest marries a general's daughter, and Ivan marries . . . a frog.  Literally a frog.  Now one may ask, why did the author of the fairy tale choose a frog?  Well looking at it from a Jungian point of view, we can see the frog as an archetype of uglyness/impurity.  People generally associate frogs with filth and warts and dirtiness.  So, this marriage to the frog will challenge Ivan's main problem, his obsession with superficiality and his lack of assertiveness.  After all, Ivan could have said no to marrying the frog and run away, but he blindly followed his father's orders.

     Soon, the king has each daughter-in-law perform certain tasks for him.  Ivan despairs each time because he doesn't think that his frog wife can do anything.  After all, to him, she is just a frog.  However, before each task, she tells Ivan to go to sleep and let her handle it, which he does and which again shows his unassertive side.  While he is asleep, the frog sheds her skin (transformation) and is revealed to be a beautiful maiden named Elena the Fair, and she has servants who perform the tasks (helpers) and as to be expected, the frog princess outdoes the other wives every single time.  Soon however, the king wants to see which of the wives dances best and this time, Ivan is sure he is going to lose.  However, his wife tells him to not worry and that she will be at the ball presently.  Soon, the frog (now again in her true form as a beautiful maiden) comes to the ball, and Prince Ivan is delighted with the discovery that his wife is actually beautiful.  Also, the princess outdoes the two wives again.  She slips bones and the last drops of water down her sleeves and the foolish wives do the same and Elena dances and causes birds and animals to appear with the help of the bones and the water.  The two other wives dance as well but instead, all that falls out of their sleeves are bones and water and naturally, the king is not pleased with this.

     Soon, Prince Ivan goes and burns the frog skin and this turns out to be a foolish decision because Elena tells him that now she must leave him and he has to find her.  This moment shows how immature Ivan is because instead of being patient and waiting for his wife to get rid of the skin on her own time, he is superficial and decides to get rid of it himself.  It also shows how he isn't ready for marriage because he doesn't really understand what it means to love someone.  To maturely love someone, you must look beyond the physical and love the psychological, the personality.  So, Ivan soon begins to go out into the woods (archetype) and begin the hero's journey.  He soon encounters each of Elena's sisters who tell him that she is forgetting him and getting married soon and he soon finds her at the eldest sister's cottage.  However, in order to get Elena back, he must turn her from a spindle into a human which he does (transformation).  Soon, they live happily ever after with Ivan having become more mature and learning about how to not be superficial and to be more assertive.  This connects to Jung in that the hero's journey is used in the fairy tale and the prince fails to keep his bride at first (death of immature self) and is reborn as a mature individual and goes through the woods (the unconscious) and soon finds her again having becoming assertive and caring (mature individual).

Work Cited
   Mazeroff, Paul.  "Fairy Tales."  Lecture in SIS 2015.  McDaniel College.  26 Feb. 2013.  Lecture.


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