Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall… Which Is The Scariest Of Them All? Essay, Research Paper
?In children you should never let such angry passions rise; their little hands were never made to tear each other?s eyes.? ~ Isaac Watts
The fairytale is often an entertaining story of miraculous and supernatural happenings. Its purpose is to galvanize the depths of our minds in such a way as to make us a part of the landscape, bound only by the limits of our own imaginations. However, it is this very ?free-for-all? fantasy land that poses a very real threat to its intended audience ? children. Both traditional and contemporary fairytales experienced by children can have harmful effects on a child?s psyche. This is especially true when children are exposed to these fairytales during the early stages of psychological development.
When do we most often expose children to the fairytale? More likely than not, we use the tales to ?comfort? our children, perhaps to calm them down, in the form of bedtime stories. But, have you ever really thought about the messages we give to a child through the words of these fairytales? ?Snow White? advocates divorce and black magic. There?s justified homicide and cannibalism in ?Hansel & Gretel?, mass murder in ?Blue Beard?, as well as betrayal and pre-meditated murder in the ?Lion King?. Is it any wonder, then, that the child comes running or sits screaming and crying because he?s afraid to be baked in the oven – or maybe he feared that since Cruella DeVille is so persistent to skin those little puppies, that she might be apt to do the same to little boys! We try to reassure them that it was just a fairytale ? that it was just make-believe. But how can we expect a child to take our word that it?s not real? Especially since we constantly portray ourselves as hypocrites when we threaten that we will ?get the boogie man after you if you don?t eat all of your peas, young man!?
Since the early 19th century, many fairytales have been the center of stark criticism causing heated discussion among the world?s leading personalities of the time. Each having opposing views, Dr. Karl Oppel, a German psychologist, and Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychologist from the United States, were two of the most voiced fairytale experts. Though theses two men were three generations from each other, Dr. Bettelheim drew most of his protests from Dr. Oppel?s most publicized findings and opinions in a 1903 debate. In his book, The Parent?s Book: Practical Guidance for the Education at Home, Oppel made his strong argument against telling fairytales to children. He states that we should ?shelter children from the ugly, illogical, overly violent, and frightening ? All of which are carelessly portrayed through the fairy tale [fairytale]? (Oppel, Should children be?). In the text, Oppel goes on to recount a childhood story in which a young man is passing the time away under the gallows, and is amusing himself with several hanged corpses. Later, he takes the corpses from their coffins and lays them with him in bed! Surely this is not the type of image that we want to share with our children. Nor is that of the evil step-mom portrayed as being a blackened sorceress, giants living in the sky that are apt to eat you, or a little man that rips himself in two when you guess what his name is! Think about it: It?s a warm summer night and the children are all tired from the day?s events. Mom comes in, hushes them, and begins to tell a story of two young children who have become too expansive for their parents to support. This, therefore, justifies the stepmother?s decision to murder the two of them. She sends her husband to carry this out; however instead, he abandons them deep in the woods, where, by the way, they are lured to a cabin made entirely of sweets. This cabin, though, just happens to be the home of an evil witch who savors human flesh and whose only intention is to fatten the children, bake them in the oven, and eat them for dinner! And what is the moral of the story-? Stepmothers are evil, Daddy is weak and corrupt, and the child needs to fend for himself in an ugly wicked world! Why would we recite this horrific scenario to our children? As entertaining as this fairytale known as ?Hansel and Gretel? may seem, I feel it is causing nothing but chaos for the child?s delicate mind.
As people grow up and mature, they seem to forget what the world was like for them as young children. Children are active participants every second of the day. Nothing escapes the attention of a child. It?s true that something may not hold the child?s attention for very long, but rest assured, nothing in a child?s world goes unnoticed. Infact, children experience everything with a heightened awareness simply because they are children (Brice, 73-75). They are learning about their world, leaving no stone unturned, if you will. And everything that they see, hear, touch, and feel affects how they perceive the world that they are living in. Children begin this long process the moment that they enter the scene. To a child, there is only one state of being, that of reality. Therefore, everything we present to the child, in their eyes, is the truth ? it?s real. Now, when the child has established one set of perceived truths, and then handed the fairytale, what is he to do? He has no sense of fantasy and there is no doubt in his mind that the fairytales are true-to-life accounts. Therefore, the fairytale truths are incorporated into the child?s current belief system. So now we have 1.) those are my parents, 2.)oh, I?m supposed to use the potty, and 3.) these are my magic beans ? just like the ones Jack got for selling his best friend, the cow. Granted, in most cases the child will not grow up thinking that magic beans will grow into giant beanstalks, but who?s to say this won?t lead to believing in the supernatural? Is it not true that a very large portion of society bases a lot of their beliefs on superstition? And this is coming from people of all walks of life? everybody from the rich and the poor, the street urchins and the high society aristocrats. Most of whom should be able to separate reality and fantasy.
I am reminded of a song titled ?The Son of Superman? (Dion, Le Fils de Superman). In it, there is a little boy who has just turned eight years old. To celebrate his birthday, his parents take him to see New York City, the city of Superman, because their son is such a fan. The first day there, the boy?s father comes across a superman costume and purchases it for him. That evening, the boy decides that he wants to where the costume as pajamas. This is where the harm fairytales has on young children comes into play. Wearing his superman costume, the little boy believes he can ?fly like a bird?, fly like his hero, Superman. He quietly moves to the view window, without waking his parents, and jumps from the fiftieth floor of the hotel, plunging to his death. Though the song is fiction, it is a very real possibility, and all because of the incapability of the child to draw a line between fantasy and reality.
Another point about the fairytales that we tell our children?, could they be an underlying factor in youth violence? Sociologists have conducted hundreds of studies to determine if there is a relationship between violence presented through media and real-life juvenile violence. Over 217 studies performed from 1957 to 1990, indicate ?a positive and significant correlation between [media] violence and aggressive behavior? in youth (King, 483). The following is an excerpt from ?Blue Beard?.
[She threw herself at her husband?s feet, asking pardon with tears?but Blue Beard had a heart harder than any stone. ?You must die, madam, and at once!??Seizing her by the hair with one hand, and with the other brandishing the sabre aloft, he made as if to cut off her head?They plunged their swords through his body and left him dead. The poor women?had not the strength to rise?] (Blue Beard).
Clearly, violence like this has to affect a child psychologically as well as emotionally and socially. In an interview with college English professor, Erik Simpson, he shared the feeling to some extent that ?Blue Beard? is an overly violent story for children. Siding with Dr. Bettlehiem however, Mr. Simpson pointed out that ?one theory about this [the violence] is that children need ways to understand the things they fear,?stories provide a harmless way of making sense of the world.? Bettelhiem argues insistently of the reasons children need to experience fairytales. He feels that fairytales do not define or influence a child?s perception of reality, poking fun at parents who claim that fairytales do not render truthful pictures of life as it really is and those who feel that they are lying to their children by telling them these fantastic and miraculous events in fairytales. Bettelhiem even goes as far as to scold parents for ?further watering down of these tales to make them seem nicer or kinder, more child-friendly? (Bettelhiem, 117). He claims that the only truth in fairytales is the truth of our imaginations, which is such a contradiction on his part. The imaginations of children are limitless, and because they do not yet understand the concept of fantasy when they are young, their minds should not be led in such a way as to frighten or mislead them of the ?real? world. In Bettelhiem?s book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, he has this to say:
[?that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence ? but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious. These are crucial issues that these tales teach our children?the fairy tale [fairytale]?confronts the child squarely with the basic human predicaments] (Bettelhiem, 9).
According to Dr. Bettelhiem, the polarity that fairytales offer also is a major plus in telling both the contemporary and traditional tales. The characters are either all good or all evil ? never both at the same time. He says this allows the child to easily comprehend the difference between the two. Again, people in the real world aren?t always just bad or just good; looks deceive.
After reading Dr. Bettelhiem?s work, I have to strongly disagree that the fairytales, with all their negative influence, can help a child?s development. Especially it being a so-called necessity. Do we really want to tell our children about Mother Trudy, the woman in the Grimm?s Kinder und Hause Marchen who turns disobedient children into logs and warms herself as they burn in the fire? Can we expect them to realize how odd it is for a woman whose husband is a mass murderer to cry and beg for forgiveness for opening the door that contains the evidence of his crimes?
Childhood is the most important time in a human?s life. A child is fascinated with every aspect of each day that he experiences. This is the very reason that time moves more slowly during those childhood years. Think, for example, how long a summer seems between one school year to the next, or how long the actual school year seems compared to the last. The routine experiences in childhood are so vivid: when you were very happy, sad, or angry, those emotions color everything and effect how people, places, and events are perceived. This, in turn, creates disillusioned memories and misleads the child?s view of what is real and what is fantasy. Rie Nakayama writes that, ?When I was a child, I experienced many fairytales in one form or another and was often scared by their horrible expressions? (Nakayama, Our World).
In finishing my research, I find that telling young children fairytales, with very few exceptions, is not acceptable. The images that are continually projected through the words of the fairytales are too often misleading and destructive to the healthful development of the child psychologically as well as emotionally. I don?t mean to say that we should keep fairytales from our children altogether. Perhaps when the child reaches the age of 11 or 12, then should he decide to experience the numerous fairytales available, that right would be his. I feel however, that in this case, the child will see how silly and strange the stories are and would dismiss the tales. In any case, the fairytales would be taken as just that?a fairytale.
Works CitedBrice, Sandra P. ?Child Psychology 101.? Pullox Press. London.1996.73-75
Bettelhiem, Bruno Dr. ?The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.? Alfred A Knopf, Inc. New York. 1975. 9, 117, 123-135.
Dion, Celine. ?Le Fils de Superman.? Dion Chante Plamondon. CD. Sony 1991.
King, Stephen. ?Now You Take Bambi or Snow White ? That?s Scary!? Elements of Literature(fouth course). Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Austin. 1997. 483.
Nakayama, Rie. ?Our World: Part Seven.? 1998 URL:http://www.netlaputa.ne.jp/~gaigo/ourworld98p7.htmOppel, Karl Dr. ?Should children be told fairy tales?? Summer 1998. URL:http://www.socsci.kun.nl/ped/wbp/histeduc/disc01.htmlSimpson, Erik. ?Re: Blue Beard.? E-mail. 7 February 2001.