Decoding the Grimm Brothers Essay

“Once Upon a Time” is a very common introduction to a fairy tale. Many fairy tales are well known by people throughout the globe. People may know these tales but they do not actually know what they mean. The Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales contain much symbolism and unique stylistic trends which have the ability to drastically change the meaning of each story that the brothers wrote. Some of these symbolic aspects include childhood innocence, justice and vengeance. A common stylistic trend would be the authors’ lack of inner character description along with advanced character development.

Childhood innocence is something that every one only has once in their lifetime. In many cultures children are depicted as pure and natural beings who are untainted and completely innocent. Young children especially because they have yet to be tainted by society, and have not yet learned the ways of the wicked. This symbolic trend relates to the controversy of “is a child born wicked or does a child learn to be wicked by society? ” This is a common theme in the Grimm Brothers’ stories. In a typical Grimm story, such as “The Juniper Tree” a child is considered completely untainted and pure.

This is symbolized mainly by shades of color relating to the characters and outward appearances. Different cultures colors have many different meanings. For example: in China red exhibits gladness and celebration but in India it can relate to sadness and mourning. In the story “The Juniper Tree”, the mother of a young boy wishes for a child that is “as red as blood and as white as snow! “(Grimm “Juniper” 16). This example depicts the innocent symbolic aspect of the color white. The color white represents “chastity and purity” (Vanka “Color” 9).

This passage describes the innocence and naiveties of the boy because he is pale skinned and very young and pure of wickedness. Shortly after the mother gives birth to her child, she dies, and is buried beneath a juniper tree. This can relate to the color white as well because white also represents “death and burial . . . . for a woman who dies during childbirth” (Vanka “Color” 13). As the story continues, the boy’s father remarries, and has a daughter with his new wife. Throughout the children’s childhood, the stepmother realizes that because the boy is older he will receive all of his father’s inheritance, leaving his sister with nothing.

Realizing this predicament, she plans to dispose of the boy by decapitating him and cooking him for dinner. The boy’s younger sister then feels so horrible that she gathers her brother’s bones and buries them beneath the juniper tree (the same that the boy’s mother was buried beneath). The boy’s spirit then becomes a bird which continually haunts the stepmother, to the point where she becomes insane. Once the stepmother becomes vulnerable enough, the spirit drops a lime stone upon her head which kills her. He then returns to his normal human form and lives once again with his father and sister.

In the story, the boy is also described to be “as red as blood”(Grimm “Juniper” 16). However, the color red, as described by Dr Surya Vanka, “is a male color that also represents livery” (Vanka “Color” 18) can be related to the boy’s youth and the fact that he is male. Besides color, purity can also be depicted by an individual’s relationship with nature. A child’s purity is symbolized through a keen relationship with nature. For example, in the story “Little Brother and Little Sister”, two young children in the story are wandering through the forest in search of safety from their abusive, wicked stepmother.

The fact that they trust in nature to keep them from harm shows their purity because they are reuniting with nature by using the forest as a safe haven. As the story continues, the two siblings come across a magical stream. The brother drinks from it and is turned into a fawn. This fawn is an example of purity and innocence, because it is a part of nature. The tale itself “is a visionary union of rude vigor and domesticity of reassimiloation to wild origins, return to childhood and sympathy with animals”(Harbison 230). The story continues when a young king discovers the two siblings and takes them home with him.

The sister eventually marries the young king and they have a son. When the wicked stepmother hears that her step children are happy, and living a wonderful life, she becomes jealous, and plans to destroy their happiness and kill them. The stepmother murders the sister and replaces her with her own daughter. For many nights the spirit of the sister comes back into the castle to visit the fawn and her young child. During one of those nights the young king happens to be awake and catches a glimpse of her and realizes that she was his actual wife, and that the other queen is a fraud.

The spirit of the sister then comes back to life, and the fawn becomes the human brother once more. The abusive stepmother and her hideous daughter are revealed and disposed of by the king. The mother was burned alive and the daughter was eaten by wolves. The ending of this story is also a great example of justice and cruel fate of the antagonist. In the Grimm Brothers’ writings, justice and vengeance is a common theme. In many of their stories, characters seek vengeance against their enemies using cruel and interesting ways of punishing them, such as the step mother and daughter in “Little Brother and Little Sister”.

In some of the Grimm Brothers stories, haunting is a form of vengeance. By haunting the enemy, the protagonist has the ability to harass the antagonist by either taunting or threatening. When the protagonist taunts an enemy, it causes the foe to lose much of their confidence making them weaker and less of a threat to the protagonist. In the story “The Juniper Tree” the young boy taunts his stepmother with a song: “It was my mother who slaughtered me, It was my father who ate me, But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones, and laid them ‘neath the juniper tree” (Grimm “Juniper” 22).

Christa Kamenetsky also states” the spirit of the dead mother appeared in the shape of a white bird to avenge the murder of the little boy”(Kamenetsky 232) This further displays the vengeance of the previous occurrences (the murdering of the young boy). By singing this song, the boy causes the stepmother to become delusional and afraid. While she is distracted, the boy then drops a lime stone on her, ultimately ending her existence, and she control over him.

In the story “Little Brother and Little Sister”, the wicked stepmother and her hideous daughter are punished in the most severe of ways. The mother is burned alive at the stake, and the daughter is sent into the woods to be eaten alive by wild wolves. These cruel forms of punishment are meant to prove justice toward the problems that the antagonist caused the protagonist. According to Maria Tatar, the author of the introduction to Grimm’s Grimmest, ” The similarities across cultures undermine the notion that violent endings for fairy tales are peculiar to the Grimms’ collection . . . . . y overdoing the realm of storytelling, these narrators were able to alleviate- if only temporarily-some of the tedium that marked the daily life of their audience, allowing them to indulge in fantasies of wealth, success, and empowerment”(Tatar “Introduction: Grimms Grimmest” 8) By alleviating some of the characters qualities, such as power over their enemies, the Grimm Brothers were able to give the audience a sense of accomplishment and leave them with a fulfilled thought at the end of the story. Although the characters in the Grimm Brothers’ stories may have alleviated qualities, they are lacking in direct description.

On the stylistic aspects of the Grimm Brothers writing there seems to be a lacking in direct character description. According to Arland Ussher and Carl von Metzradt “the characters fall naturally into specific patterns”. Within the stories the characters are in fact very organized and in just the right order “like a hierarchy of chess or playing cards” (Ussher and von Metzradt 224) This may be true however, the characters lack in direct description. It is difficult to predict the characters decisions and actions, because their personal inner characteristics are not advanced.

An example would be in the story “The Girl Without Hands”, which is about a young girl, whose hands are removed to save her father from being taken by the devil. In the beginning of the story, a poor old farmer has an encounter with the devil. The devil offers him wealth in return for whatever lies behind his mill. The poor farmer thinks that the devil is speaking of the apple tree that lies behind the mill but does not realize that he actually means the farmers flawless daughter. The poor naive farmer makes the deal, then suddenly realizes his mistake, and begs that the devil change his mind.

When the devil next appears to claim the young girl, he is unable to control her because she is too pure. The devil commands that the father take away all water from her to prevent her from cleansing. Out of fear the father does so. The next time the devil appears, he still cannot control her, for she had wept upon her hands leaving them spotless. The devil immediately commands that her hands be removed. The father surprisingly acquiesces and cuts off the hands of his daughter, forcing her to have a noticeable flaw so that the devil no longer wishes to take her.

In this particular story it seemed shocking that a father would cut off his own daughter hands to save his own skin out of fear. Most parents would die for their children but not him. Because of the lack of inner character description it is difficult to tell why he made the decision in the first place and the outcome was completely unexpected. Having no background knowledge about the father made it very difficult to predict his decisions. The inner characteristics and background may be lacking but the character development and growth however are extremely detailed.

The Grimm Brothers are very detailed in their character development. A great example of this would come from the story of Rapunzel. In the Grimms’ version of “Rapunzel”, Rapunzel herself goes through a very drastic period of growth and change. In this particular version of the story Rapunzel is locked in a tower from the time that she was a small child until a period of time that she is about eighteen years of age. Even though Rapunzel is about eighteen years old, her mind set is that of a child’s because she is hidden from society in a tower.

One day the king’s son discovers her and he calls for her to let him up into the tower. Rapunzel, thinking that it was her mother, allowed the stranger to come into the tower. “At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man, such as her eyes had never yet beheld, came to her, but the kings son began to talk to her quite like a friend, and he told her that his heart had been so stirred that it had let him have no rest, and he had been forced to see her” (Grimm “Rapunzel” 118) In this particular portion of the story, Rapunzel developed the most.

Almost instantaneously she changes from child to adult as result of this encounter. At this point in the story she also takes note of her gender because being locked in a tower for over eighteen years, she seemed completely unaware of genders. This can be shown in her surprised reaction toward the prince’s physical appearances. It is interesting to see this development happen so quickly and so clearly within a story. Just within a matter of minutes a character is able to blossom in character and develop a sense of sexuality.

The decoding of the Grimm Brothers will certainly continue for years to come, from their unique symbolism to their interesting stylistic trends. The Grimm Brothers have been able to present their unique style through many of their well-known stories such as “Rapunzel” and “The Girl Without Hands”. As for their symbolic nature, the Grimm Brothers’ have touched many aspects of symbolism throughout many of their historic folk writings including childhood innocence, justice and vengeance. It is difficult to portray the Grimm Brothers’ exact meanings but with good interpretation a reader can get a pretty good idea.