In case anyone's interested more in the brief blurb I gave you guys on Thursday about the Borthers Grimm, here's the paper I wrote on it. I found it to be a fascinating topic, and I'm stoked that I had the opportunity to learn more about it, while simultaneously receiving credit! :) Enjoy...
Who's Afraid of the Brothers Grimm?
Once upon a time, there were two brothers named Grimm. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were their names, and theirs was a life full of magic and fairy tales, luxury and splendor. Or was it? Many misconceptions have been made in the past two hundred years concerning the two brothers and their quest to record the tales and legacy of their country. Exactly how precise was their methodology in transcribing and retaining the information that had formerly been passed on purely by means of the oral tradition? Most critics seem to assume that the tales are genuine folk tales, but they, along with many children and adults, would be sorely disappointed to learn that the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm have been tweaked, misconstrued, edited and re-edited, and contain a definite agenda hiding in the shadows, right back there with the big, bad wolf.
Jacob Grimm was just eleven years old when his father died, forcing him into the role of the man of the house in helping his ailing mother raise his five younger siblings. Their drastic drop down the social ladder caused both Wilhelm and Jacob, the two inseparable brothers, to come to terms with the social injustices and cruelties that the lower classes faced. Their strict Calvinistic upbringing embedded morals and a rigorous daily structure in their lives. After shrugging off their life-long plan of becoming lawyers, the Grimms took to collecting folk tales. However, they were not simply collectors of these tales. Their agenda also included creating an ideal type for the literary fairy tale, one that sought to be as close to the oral tradition as possible, while incorporating stylistic, formal, and substantial thematic changes to appeal to a growing bourgeois audience.
Contrary to popular belief, the Grimms did not collect their tales by visiting peasants in the countryside and writing down the tales that they heard. Their primary method was to invite storytellers to their home and then have them tell the tales aloud, which the Grimms either noted down on the first or after a couple hearings. Memory played an important role in the Grimms’ transcriptions. Most of the storytellers during this period were educated young women from the middle class or aristocracy. “What appears to be natural in the Grimms’ tales was not natural in the oral folk tradition: the oral tales were not, nor are they today, as eloquently structured and thematically oriented around bourgeois values until literate members of the aristocracy and bourgeois began accepting them and adapting them for the printed page and for educated audiences” (Zipes 22). The Grimms took these products and infused them with their own psychological needs, utopian dreams, sexual preferences, and socio-political views. This deconstruction of the primary tales polluted what the brothers had originally claimed they wanted to do with them, which was to preserve, contain and present to the German public what they felt were profound truths about the origins of both German culture and European civilization. Instead, these tales have morphed into what they desired those truths and origins to be. The brothers made incredibly major changes while editing the tales, such as eliminating erotic and sexual elements that might be offensive to middle-class morality, adding numerous Christian expressions and references, emphasizing specific role models for male and females protagonists according to the dominant patriarchal code of that time, and endowing many of the tales with ‘homey’ or biedermeier flavor by use of diminutives, quaint expressions and cute descriptions. “In seeking to establish its rightful and ‘righteous’ position in German society , the bourgeoisie, due to its lack of actual military power and unified economic power, used its ‘culture’ as a weapon to push through its demands and needs. It was in the house and through household items that bourgeois character was to be developed” (Zipes 21). The consciousness on the part of the brothers concerning this particular effort is debatable, though the effects of it can clearly be seen. Fairy tales in their oral, literary, and mass-mediated forms have enabled children and adults to conceive strategies for placing themselves in the world and grasping events around themselves. They are a beloved addition to any childhood, and it is almost inconceivable for modern audiences to imagine a time when they did not exist.
But in their primitive existence, these folk tales did not always have a happy ending. On the contrary: it was quite rare indeed to hear a fairy tale that did not include commentary on society and the current government, as well as graphic, sexual content. These components had their functions, though educated audiences preferred to rule them out as unneeded vulgarities. “The violence and conflict in the tales derive from profound instinctual developments in the human psyche and hence represent symbolical modes by which children and adults deal with sexual problems” (Zipes 16). The removal of these components gave fairy tales an unrealistic rose-colored-glasses view of the world, which it consequently passed on to children, who, rather than dealing with the realities as they come and having a reference point from these tales, are given over to disillusionment and heartbreak when the world turns out to be a less-than-friendly place.
The Grimms, who stood up to monarchs, worked tirelessly and diligently to attain their social status and prestige, cannot be given the credit which has handed over to them so nonchalantly: the credit of preserving German folk tales in their untainted form. The brothers worked like tailors, for they kept mending and ironing the tales that they collected so that they would ultimately fit the patriarchal and Christian code of bourgeois reading expectations and their own ideal notion of pure, natural German culture. By tailoring the stories they intervened in their cultural heritage and actually projected their own present and futuristic hopes onto the past. Work Cited
Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1988.