Sunday, February 26, 2012

Comparison of Two Beauty and the Beast Stories

Cupid and Psyche by Jean-Baptiste Regnault
In both the Greek tale “Cupid and Psyche” and de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast”, the female protagonists, Psyche and Beauty, incur the wrath of another by no fault of their own. The goddess Venus is jealous of the mortal Psyche’s beauty, and so, essentially dooms her to marry a beast. In the other version, Beauty is condemned to live in the beast’s castle forever because her father “stole” one of his roses. In these two versions the woman’s fate is determined by others, not by herself. In both versions Psyche’s and Beauty’s sisters also cause conflict in their relationships with the beasts. Psyche’s sisters convince her to sneak a peak at her husband by candlelight and determine if he is in fact a beast, although he has instructed his wife never to do so. As punishment, Psyche is banished from the heavenly palace and forced to prove her worth to Venus by completing nearly impossible tasks. In de Beaumont’s version, Beauty’s sisters convince her to visit for longer than her allotted week, despite her promise to Beast that she would return in a week. This leads to Beast nearly dying from self-starvation, brought on by his broken heart. The sisters’ actions lead to negative consequences for Psyche and Beauty in both of these stories.   

Although “Cupid and Psyche” deals explicitly with the divine while “Beauty and the Beast” does not, both versions incorporate the idea of a higher power. In the former, the goddess Venus and her son Cupid determine Psyche’s fate, and Psyche spends a good part of the tale trying to please Venus and win her forgiveness. Ultimately, she is transformed into a goddess. In the latter, it is a fairy who breaks Beast’s curse and rewards Beauty with a handsome and intelligent prince.  In this way, both stories convey the idea that a supernatural power controls one’s fate. 

Along the lines of transformation, in “Beauty and the Beast” it is the beast who is transformed, while in “Cupid and Psyche” it is the beauty, Psyche, who is transformed. This brings up another point: by transforming into a prince, Beast is now the equivalent of Beauty—he is beautiful on the outside, and intelligent on the inside. Psyche also gains equal footing to her husband Cupid, a god, by drinking a potion and transforming into a goddess. I found this fascinating that in the end, both spouses transform into a type of equal to the other. 

Beast's transformation

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Little Red Riding Hood

Scott Hilburn,

This cartoon uses the story of Little Red Riding Hood as a framework to poke fun at the issue of whether overweight passengers should have to buy two seats on an airplane.  The airline­, Red Riding Air, is forcing the wolf to purchase two seats (someone has eaten one too many little girls), and in turn the wolf is considering changing his diet.  Beyond this ticket desk, you can also see a sign for “3 Pigs in an Airplane”, which also references the idea of children’s stories.  I read up a bit on the issue, and found that currently most airlines’ policy is that a passenger must fit into the seat with the armrests down and with their seat belt fastened.  Some companies try to accommodate overweight passengers by placing them next to an empty seat when possible, but if not, they must buy another seat.

This cartoon mostly drew my attention because it made me laugh, unlike some of the other ones I looked at.  The artist, Scott Hilburn, takes a comic approach to the matter, and makes it the wolf’s (or overweight passengers’) priority to change his diet.   

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Psychology and Fairy Tales
Psychology can be useful in finding a deeper meaning in fairy tales.  The ideas of two prominent psychologists, Freud and Jung, can be applied to fairy tales.  From the perspective of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, the conflicts the characters struggle with in fairy tales are seen as conflicts between the id, or the pleasure principle, the ego, or reality, and the superego, or morality.  For example, in Hansel and Gretel, the children’s id drives them to eat greedily away at the witch’s house, while they ignore their superego, which tells them that it is the wrong thing to do.  On the other hand, Jung had different ideas, including that of the collective unconscious—shared memories that all humans have.  Along with this is the idea of archetypes, or universal models of types of characters.  For example, as Dr. Mazeroff mentioned, in Hansel and Gretel there is the archetype of the primeval forest: mystery and evil abounds, and death threatens Hansel and Gretel unless they succumb to temptation and eat the witch’s house in the forest.  Each psychological theory provides a new insight into a fairy tale.

Dr. Mazeroff also mentioned the idea of using fairy tales in psychotherapy.  When a patient reads a fairy tale that applies to what they are struggling with, it can be easier for them to accept, recognize, and deal with their problems.  This is not the case all of the time, but it can be useful to help the patient confront their problems through the more subtle form of a story, rather than directly.

For me, much of this interpreting raises the question—Did the authors write these fairy tales with symbolism and hidden meaning in mind, or are we just reading into something that isn’t there?  One could say that the most important part of the story is the reader interpreting it for herself.  As we get older, it’s likely we see the story less for its face value and more for what individual parts of it may mean.  It’s interesting to see how far you can go with interpretations, but I’d maintain that it’s still nice to read a fairy tale for what it is once in awhile.
Just a little bit of humor

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Definition of a Fairy Tale

A fairy tale is a written story with a universal theme.  It is simpler than other stories, allowing the reader more room for interpretation.  In every fairy tale there is a conflict that a character must overcome.  Some of the characters may represent an archetype such as the villain, hero, helper, or princess, among others (Vladimir Propp).  Fairy tales also contain the element of magic, whether it is a talking wolf or a fairy godmother, there is some supernatural aspect to them.  No one is quite sure where fairy tales come from, but there are two prevailing theories: monogenesis and polygenesis.  The first says that a fairy tale came from one, specific place and spread from there; the second says that any given fairy tale came from multiple places in the world at the same time.  Whatever the origin, we know that there are many versions of each fairy tale, adapted by different authors to fit the times and motives of the present.  

Friendship Cottage by Thomas Kinkade