Favourite fairy tales as a script for life


“…while fairy tales are not inherently sexist, many readers receive them as such. This study indicates that many females find in fairy tales an echo of their own struggles to become human beings.” (144)

Psychologist Eric Berne has suggested that one’s favourite fairy tale, reinforced by other aspects of culture, could set a lifelong pattern of behavior. ‘The story will then be his script and he will spend the rest of his life trying to make it come to pass’ (Berne 1973: 95).” (138)

Berne might be exaggerating in suggesting such a firm connection between stories like ‘Cinderella’ and later behavior, but it would be a mistake to pass fairy tales off as ‘child’s play’. If one agrees that childhood is a critically impressionable time of life, especially in terms of forming sexual identity, and if popular fairy tales consistently present an image of heroines that emphasize their beauty, pateince and passivity, then the potential impact of such tales cannot be ignored. Certainly some who once favored Cinderella will later find her irrelevant, but many others will continue unconsciously or consciously to strive for her ideal femininity – or will be annoyed with themselves for failing to attain her position.” (138)

“…many adult female informants felt that fairy tales in particular had definitely affected their lives to some degree, and ‘Cinderella’ in particular was the story remembered best. Why ‘Cinderella, and why such a materialistic interpretation of a stoy in which the main point is that Cinderella is not materialistic or even man-hungry? Judging by the comments of these respondents, Cinderella seems to present the clearest image of our idealized perfect woman – beautiful, sweet, patient, submissive, and an excellent housekeeper and wife. She also represents the female version of the popular rags-to-riches story that can be found at all levels of North American culture, one which assures us that the small can become the great and that we all have a [-140] chance to do so.” (139-140)

“Thus fairy tales, as they are presented through popular collections in which passive heroines outnumber more active heroines or heroes, do not continue to function in the problem-solving manner ideally [-143] suggested by Girardot and Bettelheim. For many females they become instead problem-creating as ‘purveyors of the romantic myth’ …. In this myth love conquers all, and one who is not loved is incomplete. While there are certainly male versions of this ‘myth,’ fairy tales generally do not figure in them. Thus gender does indeed seem significant in terms of readers’ reactions to fairy tales. …” (142-143)

“But,” Stone writes, “if women remember fairy tales, consciously or unconsciously, they can reinterpret them as well. It is the possibility of such reinterpretation that gives hope that women can eventually free themselves from the bonds of fairy tale magic, magic that transforms positively at one age and negatively at another.” (143)

Ref: Kay F. Stone ‘The misuses of enchantment: controversies on the significance of fairy tales’ pp.125+ in


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