Why Children Need Fairy Tales: A Psychological Breakdown (Major)

Why Children Need Fairy Tales: A Psychological Breakdown

My parents never read fairy tales to me. They were two hardworking parents and didn’t really have too much time on their hands. I often wonder if they had read fairy tales to me, if I would’ve been a different person. Maybe I would’ve made more friends, maybe I would’ve been smarter, or maybe I would’ve viewed the world more optimistically than I actually did. For context purposes, psychoanalysis is defined as “a systematic structure of theories concerning the relation of conscious and unconscious psychological processes” (“Psychoanalysis”). Many pieces of literature have hidden meanings that can be explained through the psychoanalysis of their characters and their plot. This is especially true for many children’s books. In children’s stories, like fairy tales, there are major plot points that hold deeper meanings that work to teach children important lessons. Literature analysts often use ideas from Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Bruno Bettelheim, to show how fairy tales can be used to benefit the development of children.

One of the many purposes of fairy tales is to teach children to look at unconscious ideas. The development of the child’s psyche is positively influenced by what they see and what they read. Author of Once Upon A Time, Marina Warner, illustrates how children begin to see symbols in the tales they read; they learn to see the forest as the unknown, the palace as classism, and the poisoned apple as the concealed truths (Warner 114). Furthermore, the development of the psyche is how children learn about hidden ideas; it’s a stepping stone for everything else that fairy tales try to teach them. Without the child’s ability to deduce symbols and hidden meanings in stories and the world, children would not be able to learn unspoken lessons. Walter Odajnyk, a Jungian analyst, writes an article revolving around the violence in Bluebeard by Charles Perrault; he wants to change the parent’s perspective on the violence within the fairy tale. He makes the argument that looking at the story in-depth allows the reader to see that human psyche is not at all destroyed by violence, but instead evolved and matured from the lessons that caused the character in the story to experience violence (Odajnyk 271). The child’s psyche, to many parents, seems fragile; they believe that it needs to be coddled, however, this is not true. He expresses that by allowing the children to see these events, it will let them see the consequences of their actions and mature their thought processes and understanding of the world. The development of the child’s psyche is very easily persuaded by the psychoanalysis of the fairy tales that children read; it allows them to develop their understanding of how the world works.

All fairy tales work together to alter children’s view of the world. The development of the psyche can also change children’s pre-existing view of the world around them. Charles Swartz, an expert in fairy tales, declares that the connection between the fairy tales and the psyche use motifs to demonstrate how fairy tales develop one’s view of the world, child and adult alike (Schwartz). As a result, the psyche is developed, not necessarily from the beginning, but also throughout life. He proves that not only can children use fairy tales to develop their knowledge of the world, but adults can also change their perspective on the world based on these stories with hidden meanings. For example, in Hansel and Gretel, both Hansel and Gretel learn the idea that not everything is as it seems. They see that the beautiful house made of bread, sugar, and cake, is actually the home of an evil witch (Grimm). In this case, Hansel and Gretel both learn the harsh reality of the world, a vital lesson many kids need to be learning at an early age. Going back to the idea of psychoanalysis, James Heisig says that “…Using the psychoanalytic model of the psyche, fairy tales can be seen to communicate to the child an understanding of universal human problems…” (Heisig). Therefore, it is well known that fairy tales don’t just preach ideas of peace and love to children, it shows them that humanity can be evil and cruel, without the promise of a “happy ending”. Both authors explain that the psyche of the human being can be changed anytime from birth to death, by the smallest influence, like fairy tales, to alter the way an individual perceives the world.

Fairy tales serve to teach children how to behave. As children read the most popular fairy tale stories, they begin to imitate some of the ideas portrayed in the plot and the characters. The author of a German article that analyzes fairy tales says, “In addition to serving as models of happiness and expressions of wish fulfillment fantasies, fairy tales engage tellers and listeners in communal meaning-making and encourage the development of empathy” (Knox). Here, Knox states that those who read and those who listen begin to see the deeper meaning and feel empathy for the characters within the story. He wants parents to understand that reading even the most violent fairy tales to children will influence them to use important skills, like empathy, in their socialization. In a book written by Jack Zipes, he says that fairy tales are constantly defending the spirit in children; it shows them how rationalization can be detrimental to one’s childhood (Zipes, Fairy Tales as a Myth, 160). To conclude, it is evident that the playful spirit in children should remain this way, and fairy tales help influence the joyousness in children’s hearts. The authors of these fairy tales demonstrate in their stories that children are meant to run, climb, and explore. In every instance where this is not true, the children are forced to fight monsters, which may even reside in themselves. This concept is hidden deep inside the meaning of each story. Children, unconsciously, learn that it is their responsibility to be hopeful about the world and empathetic to the people around them through the fairy tales that they read.

Children’s stories, such as fairy tales, are constantly influencing kids’ behavior by presenting new ways to live. An online article written by Inaad Sayer, says that fairy tales can be used as an effort to hone emotions and foster the imagination to carry out an educative mission (Sayer). Fairy tales help develop the imagination, which allow children to see themselves living in the story, going on all sorts of crazy adventures. They begin to understand that they need to have an imagination because it will help them throughout their life. Written by J.R.R.Tolkien, the popular novel, The Hobbit, tells the story about Bilbo Baggins who goes on an adventure to get treasure protected by a dragon (“The Hobbit: Plot”). The Hobbit has sold over 100 million copies and been translated into approximately fifty languages (Shippey). One of the major reasons that The Hobbit has grown so popular is because children envy the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. The overall success of children’s adventure stories shows the desires of children to see their wildest dreams played out. In a piece of literature explaining how fairy tales can be useful in psychotherapy, Ruth Bottigheimer says, “There have always been reports in the psychoanalytic literature of fairy tales that become organizing schema for an individual’s life course” (Bottigheimer 209). Bottigheimer, an expert in fairy tales, illustrates that these different fairy tales let children plan out their lives and it allows them to know that even if they are going through a difficult time, they need to keep their head up and keep pushing through. Children’s behavior is easily persuaded by seeing many different stories play out their biggest concerns; it’s imperative for children to watch these characters conquer their imaginary demons to teach children how to conquer their real demons.

Fairy tales are a big part of childhood; a lot of the lessons that children learn such as fighting things that are difficult and staying motivated are taught through these stories. In a different piece authored by Jack Zipes, he uses some of Freud’s ideas to justify how helpful fairy tales are by teaching children to overcome their conflicts and anxieties that have been pushed even to the most unconscious part of their memories (Zipes, The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, 491-492). Freud’s idea that Zipes alludes to articulates that fairy tales are relative to the dreams that children have — a manifestation of all their fears and worries — and plays out how these problems can be solved. Zipes wants parents to see that fairy tales will not just show children empty, magical plots; it shows them that they can learn how to conquer some of the smallest problems in their life, even if the problem is unconscious. Expanding on this idea, Nilanjana Sanyal writes:

“An important aspect of these stories is how they present protagonists that children can relate to, and show how those heroes overcome the problems they face – the problems children are afraid of having to face themselves. Hearing these stories allows the children reassurance that even though the situation seems desperate, the clever and dexterous child can take care of himself” (Sanyal).

Later in her essay, Sanyal explains that the archetypal character in fairy tales is an underdog. To summarize, children are seeing how their problems can be fought even if the child feels like a “weak link”; they know from the stories that they’ve read that being “weak” might not necessarily be the worst thing. The stories that children read have always, and will continue to, teach them important lessons, like fighting your own battles and staying motivated, that go on to help them throughout their everyday life.

The ideas of world renowned psychologists help explain how fairy tales show children patterns and lessons that they’ve never seen before through the hidden meanings of stories. D.L. Ashliman describes his concept as passing down fairy tales through “countless generations” to imbed these ideas into everyone. His idea is backed up by evidence from Carl Jung when he says that the fairy tale, “…reveals itself through archetypes – patterns and imaged experience” (Ashliman 144). The unconscious is the main focus. Evidence from Carl Jung, an expert in his field, agrees that children are able to see the smallest details that are written in the story. Ashliman uses this argument and shows that not only are fairy tales not hurtful to the children’s growing mind, but it shows them that things are not surface deep and that everything we see or hear has layers beyond immediate comprehension. Warner, in her novel, doesn’t just imply this idea, she wholeheartedly supports it. She points out that the motifs in fairy tales are abundant and that they do an amazing job of addressing unacknowledged thoughts and desires (Warner 117). Warner supports this idea that fairy tales go into the unconscious mind of a child and plant roots there. Children will not immediately notice these ideas or concepts, but they’ll have a foundation for understanding how the world operates. Fairy tales are vital to the mind of a child because it allows them to see different morals and meanings of the world, even if they don’t understand these ideas at the time that they learn them.

Psychology is a complicated subject. There are so many different uses for it, but a major goal is to better the development of children. The saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” rings true here. The sooner that these ideas are instilled in children, the better understanding they’ll grow to have about the world around them. The mind of the child is very complex too, but if society allows children to read stories, like fairy tales, they’ll be able to see a difference in the rising generation. The world needs to be able to see a more empathetic generation. So much in our world do we see parents telling their children to “suck it up” or “walk it off”, well no more. We want our children to grow up being sympathetic. Perhaps eventually, they’ll be parents who know how to support their children and help them through their development. In a digital age, everything is in subtext. Teaching our children to understand hidden meanings is a major skill that must be taught in order to see progress in our world.

Works Cited

Ashliman, D. L. Folk and Fairy Tales: A Handbook. Greenwood Press, 2004.

Bottigheimer, Ruth B., editor. Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion and Paradigm. Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1989.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. “Hansel and Gretel.” The Classic Fairy Tales, edited by Maria Tatar, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp. 236-241.

Heisig, James W. “Bruno Bettelheim and the Fairy Tales.” Contemporary Literary Criticism,edited by James P. Draper and Jennifer Allison Brostrom, vol. 79, Gale, 1994. Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1100002067/LitRC?u=newpaltz&sid=LitRC&xid=6ddce113. Accessed 7 Oct. 2019.

Knox, R. S. “Wie Kommt Man Ans Ziel Seiner Wünsche? Modelle Des Glücks in Märchentexten.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 24, no. 2, 2010, pp. 355-358,369. ProQuest, https://libdatabase.newpaltz.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/763263248?accountid=12761. Accessed 6 October 2019.

Odajnyk, V.Walter. “The Archetypal Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Bluebeard.” Psychological Perspectives, vol. 47, no. 2, July 2004, pp. 247–275. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00332920490920665. Accessed 5 October 2019.

“Psychoanalysis.” Dictionary.com. www.dictionary.com/browse/psychoanalysis. Accessed 5 October 2019.

Sanyal, Nilanjana, and Manisha Dasgupta. “Fairy Tales: The Emotional Processors of Childhood Conflicts in Dynamic Interpretative Lens.” SIS Journal of Projective Psychology & Mental Health, vol. 24, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 39–47. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=121809595&site=ehost-live. Accessed 6 October 2019.

Sayer, Inaad M., Muhammad Kristiawan, and Mediarita Agustina. “Fairy Tale as a Medium for Children’s Character Cooperation Building.” Al-Ta’Lim Journal, vol. 25, no. 2, 2018, pp. 108. ProQuest, https://libdatabase.newpaltz.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/2164441560?accountid=12761, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.15548/jt.v25i2.458. Accessed 6 October 2019.

Schwartz, Charles, and Barbara Wharton. “Twice-Told Tales: The Psychological Use of Fairy

Tales.” Journal of Analytical Psychology, vol. 33, no. 1, Jan. 1988, p. 89. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=12260408&site=ehost-live. Accessed 6 October 2019.

Shippey, Thomas. “The Hobbit: What Has Made the Book Such an Enduring Success?” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 20 Sept. 2012, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9555838/The-Hobbit-What-has-made-the-book-such-an-enduring-success.html. “The Hobbit: Plot.” SparkNotes, https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/hobbit/summary/. Accessed 27 October 2019.

Warner, Marina. Once Upon A Time. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Woolley, Jacqueline D. “Foundations of the Mind: Children’s Understanding of Reality.” Science, vol. 262, no. 5135, 1993, p. 926+. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A14541610/OVIC?u=newpaltz&sid=OVIC&xid=98fec652Accessed 6 October 2019.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tale as Myth/myth as Fairy Tale. University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

—. The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Source: https://hawksites.newpaltz.edu/agaffordeng170/major-project/