Fairy tales have existed from the ancient times as the primary method of entertainment of children and simultaneously the help in their education. Being the folklore that presents the basis of the narrative art, they can be considered as an essential part of people’s cultural heritage. It is only some time ago that the tales have been examined so attentively and a question has risen whether all the tales are equally useful and instructive for unsophisticated children’s minds.
Analyzing the opinions of two writers Kari Gold and Bruno Bettelheim we can say that they both are worried about the education of children and highlight the fairy tales as its basis.
Personally, I believe that we cannot deny the significance of fairy tales and their cultural, aesthetic and moral value, but certain problems still exist. It is known that nowadays many fairy tales are being rewritten, for example, new versions of tales by Walt Disney are widely spread among children. Unfortunately, this so-called new interpretation frequently bereaves the fairy tales of their precious subtle implication and oversimplifies the idea of the fairy tales given them by the original author. Here we should agree with Kari Gold who states: “Children need to hear beautiful language if they are to speak and write beautifully… They need to hear the language of Rudyard Kipling, the whimsy of A. A. Milne, the sorrow of Oscar Wilde, the mystery of Hans Christian Andersen, the wisdom of E. B. White, the terror of the Brothers Grimm, the wildness of Dr. Suess … there is no shortage of magnificent children’s literature.” (Gold, 19)
Unfortunately, today we can trace the tendency of diminishing the importance of classic literature in the education of children. Even more sad fact is that parents and teachers, the most significant people for a child, encourage it. You cannot accuse parents of scant attention to their children as they often try to plan their lives and succeed in doing it, but sadly, children’s minds and souls are left behind the fixed schedule of their everyday life, while without building up the vivid thinking and firm moral principles it is impossible to educate a strong personality.
Bruno Bettelheim affirms that not all fairy tales fulfill this function as only the tales with strict differentiation of good and evil, for example, such as “Tattercoats” or “The Little Mermaid,” can influence a child’s subconsciousness and leave a mark on his mind. Those, which “show no polarization or juxtaposition of good and bad persons” (Bettelheim, 10) are amoral and teach children that “even the meekest can succeed in life.” (Beyer, 10) Among such tales, he mentions “Puss in Boots” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Let me disagree with this opinion, as I believe that every fairy tale is suitable for a certain age. Elder children can better understand those few tales that describe complex characters and show different contradictory traits of a person. All fairy tales teach a lesson, but it can be presented in various forms.
In general, fairy tales affect children’s subconscious. Children do not analyze the stories but remember good characters and frequently associate them with themselves. Thus, fairy tales contribute a lot to the child’s comprehension of life. The majority of positive characters evidently live in bad conditions, and often they do not have a full family. They suffer and go through numerous difficulties, but due to their strong character and morality, they can overcome all problems and destiny usually reward them with a happy life in the end. Thus, to my mind, a child gets to know the severe reality of our life and learns that people are not equal, that there are misery, poverty, and death in the world. Since tales create a fairy world, this fact does not seem so terrible, but it stays in the child’s memory.
Thus, you can find the confirmation of these words, having analyzed nearly any fairy tale. For instance, the main character of the tale “Tattercoats” is a poor granddaughter of a rich lord. Everybody hates her and the only her entertainment is the time spent with a herd of geese. Nevertheless, several kind people, the old nurse and a herder, and a good nature help her to live.
“And so she grew up, with little to eat or wear, spending her days in the fields and lanes, with only the gooseherd for a companion, who would play to her so merrily on his little pipe, when she was hungry, or cold, or tired, that she forgot all her troubles, and fell to dancing, with his flock of noisy geese for partners.”( Jacobs, 55). I’m sure that any girl will sympathize with Tattercoats and worry about her life, and when in the end Tattercoats, at last, finds her love and becomes rich and happy, the girl will remember that only people with kind soul and golden deeds will benefit in this life and evil will always be punished.
For children, the fairy tales, which are almost the only literature they read, is a sort of a source of the solution of nearly all questions, as they see how this or that problem is solved. They learn new feelings, such as love, sacrifice, the difficulty of choice.
The fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” shows the great power of love, even unrequited, the ability of a loving mermaid to sacrifice her life to save the life of her darling. Again, in the end, it is obvious that in spite of all her sufferings she receives happiness. She does not die but finds the rest in the heavens. “You, poor little mermaid, have striven with all your heart. You have suffered, and endured, and have raised yourself into the world of the spirits of the air. Now, by three hundred years of good deeds, you can make yourself an immortal soul.” (Hersholt, 70) The little mermaid is rewarded for all the good she has done, for her love for life, which is the trait worth of special attention. Her admiration of life can be a good example for everybody. She enjoys life in all its manifestations and appreciates every moment. “And she thought it was nice that the woods were green, and that the fish you saw among their branches could sing so loud and sweet that it was delightful to hear them.”(Hersholt, 70)
Considering everything mentioned before, we can say that the significance of fairy tales in the education of a child and the developing of individuality is obvious. Having analyzed several fairy tales, as “Tattercoats” and “The Little Mermaid,” you can make sure that the fairy tales do value much for children and their life and always teach a great lesson.
Gold, Kari Jenson, Grim Tales. First Things 106 (October 2000): 17-19.
Reprinted with permission of First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, NY 10010.
Bettelheim, Bruno, The Uses of Enchantment, Introduction: The Struggle For Meaning, 1977: 3-11
Jacobs, Joseph, More English Fairy Tales: 55-60
Hersholt, Jean, A translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Den Lille Havfrue”: 57-70
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