Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mythology and Fairytale

Hello all, this time we shall be comparing the story of Cupid and Psyche, written by Lucius Apuleius to de Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast. While doing so, it is important to note the difference between mythology and fairy tales. Cupid and Psyche would (at least as I see it) fall under the category of mythology, as the plot is generally driven by the actions of and dialogue with the gods. Conversely, Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale, driven by magic and fantasy. Categorization aside, the stories are clearly related, as will be shown.
            Both stories revolve around a beautiful, virtuous (by the standards of virtue of the time) young girl who has two less beautiful and sisters, who are jealous of her. The beauty in both stories is showered with attention, but reserves herself, not giving in to the overtures mad by her suitors. From here, their plots diverge, due to the inherent difference between a tale of mythology and a fairytale. In Beauty and the Beast, the beauty and her family go through a host of ordeals, from losing their fortune to the father’s imprisonment by the beast. This is the perfect opportunity, naturally, for the beauty to make the ultimate sacrifice by giving herself up for the safety of her father. Although she is not actually killed as she thought she would be, her willingness to go through with it is clearly virtuous on her part. In Cupid and Psyche, the beauty is somewhat forced to leave her family if she is ever to find a husband, thanks to the ire of Venus. The fact that it is the whim of a goddess causing this does not necessarily take away from the display of virtue, but the fact that she is not given the opportunity in this tale to make that sacrifice for others might.
            Both beauties go on to betray the trust of their new keepers, but both realize their mistake and return. This time, it is the beauty in Cupid and Psyche that is given the chance to demonstrate her virtue, by going through several trials to win over the favor of the gods. Though she is not successful without divine assistance, the intention was virtuous. The beauty in Beauty and the Beast merely has the thought that maybe she should be more grateful to her lover and has only to remove a ring from her finger and find the beast on his own grounds to be reunited. In the end, Psyche is made immortal to continue her love with Cupid forever while Beauty is granted a long, happy life with her new husband, who (by the way) is not a beast after all.
            Finally, we can look at just how the betrayal and transformation of the beast are carried out. In both, it is the sisters of the beauty that lead her to betray the “beast,” but in Cupid and Psyche the beauty does not even originally know if he is a beast, as she has not seen him. Thus, her betrayal and the “transformation” (if you can call it one) happen in the same instant, for as soon as she reveals his body in the light, she also reveals that he was never a beast. In Beauty and the Beast, the beauty is confronted long before her betrayal with the sight of the beast, and the transformation is both real and occurs a day after she realizes she was wrong to have betrayed him.
There is likely much that I missed, but I continue at the risk of further convolution of my ideas. Thus: until next week, my peers!

Picture sources:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Is there something you'd like to tell us...?

This cartoonist is likely poking fun at one possible conclusion as to the psychological reason for the wolf’s actions. As we discussed in class, the wolf can be seen as having womb envy, and the cartoon takes it a step further by questioning the necessity of dressing up as a woman. It is a valid point, I think—after all, it is not as though a young girl would be able to put up much of a fight. When one normally reads the story, one sees it as merely a ploy to fool the girl into coming closer, but if we question the need for this, then we can likewise question the conventional wisdom as to what is going on in this wolf’s mind. Of course, if the wolf didn’t attempt this, then other underlying interpretations that we have talked about, such as seduction and the potential to have a girl outsmart the wolf as a show of female equality would also be lost or altered, though the rape would occur, regardless. Thus, we see this cartoon as a commentary on the importance of looking at the means to understand the ends. I of course enjoy this cartoon—I would not post it otherwise! Just the way everything is portrayed in what I imagine to be a sort of Freudian psychoanalysis shows that the cartoonist may have some knowledge on the subject rather than just blindly mocking the story (not that there is anything wrong with blindly mocking something, humor is humor).

See you again next week, my fellow wanderers!

cartoon by Marty Bucella

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Psychology of Fairy Tales

Our class recently had the pleasure of having Dr. Mazeroff join us for a lecture on the way that psychological theories are applied to the study of fairy tales, and how psychology has been able to put this to some practical use.
First, we have Sigmund Freud, the Viennese father of psychoanalysis. His theory breaks the human mind into three areas: the id, ego, and superego. The id is what controls our basic animal drives and desires to act only to satisfy those drives, regardless of the situation. The ego is what reconciles what the id wants with reality, while the superego consists of the moral and societal constraints under which we choose to operate. Freud was very much interested in the way these three parts interact both consciously and unconsciously, and saw dreams as one form of the unconscious mind expressing itself. Similarly, Freud also saw fairy tales as stories that allow people to deal with their unconscious.
In contrast to Freud, Carl Jung divided the mind into the ego, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious. Jung’s ego was concerned with conscious thought rather than necessarily balancing out internal drives as Freud’s was. The personal unconscious is any information we can’t actively access, but is stored in our minds (buried past experiences for example). The collective unconscious is what is really applicable to fairy tales however, as this is the genetic history of all human experience. This is where we find archetypes that are present in any human mind, just waiting to be expressed. As universal human experiences, archetypes can be found embedded in fairy tales. Examples of this include the “shadow” which is the part of us that we are unaware of, and often partially embodied by some obstacle or enemy in the tale and the “animus” and “anima” which are the masculine and feminine qualities, respectively, present in everyone. Jung used fairy tales to treat patients simply by reading them a tale he thought pertinent, and allowing the patient’s unconscious to make sense of itself by understanding the interplay of archetypes already common to it. In order to allow the unconscious to reach its own understanding, it was important that the purpose or moral of the tale not be explained to a patient.
Due to the success of such treatments, this practice continues today. Though I suppose knowing all this, I’m rather out of luck if it ever needs to be done to me. Here’s hoping for my future mental health then!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What is a Fairy Tale?

It makes some sense to define that which this blog is based upon, no? Well then, a fairy tale has some things in common with other kinds of stories. It needs to have a plot, a setting (an image), and characters to name a few. What really sets a fairy tale apart is that it is a narrative of magic and fantasy which is superimposed upon those basic story elements. Thus, while the types and meanings of actions may be common to any story, at least some of the driving force behind those actions in a fairy tale is magical. Fairy tales begin as the whisperings of the general population as they talk and travel, and eventually get spun into something like a cohesive story, though by its nature and origin there is really no correct or incorrect way of retelling a fairy tale. If there is no proper way to retell a tale, then how can we have this discussion? How could we hope to contain such a loose collection of stories together within something as rigid as a definition?

Well, we find that although each fairy tale has its fair share of variations, we can find in all of them the common thread of archetypes, which exist in the minds of all humans and are thus present in all creations of the human mind (of which fairy tales are one, obviously). This leads us to looking again at the origin of fairy tales, which two theories attempt to explain. Mono-genetic theory holds that each fairy tale is the product of one culture (ultimately one individual) and spreads across the world via trade, just as physical commodities do. Poly-genetic theory says that, due to the commonality of the aforementioned archetypes, fairy tales sprout up in all corners of the world (not exactly the same, but structurally similar). The truth is likely some combination of the two, as while it may be true that all humans have some shared experience via the “collective unconscious” as Jung put it, it cannot be denied that merchants and travelers have influenced the distribution of one form of a fairy tale over another over the course of history.

Finally, such a non-essential part of living as fairy tales must have some meaning to us for its continued existence throughout the millennia. Fairy tales provide us with a fantasy setting to test and deal with our fears, questions, and morals, while also providing us with entertainment (which is essential at least for maintaining one’s sanity, I would think). So, if I were to summarize all that—the origin, characteristics, and meaning of fairy tales—I think I might get a working definition: Fairy tales are the product of both the individual and the collective unconscious in their attempt to entertain, enlighten, and enrich our lives. They are the manifestations of common archetypes expressed in a story driven by magic and fantastical events.

Sounds good to me, anyway. Until next time, my loyal and adoring fans!


Von Franz, Mary-Louise. The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston: Shambhala
Publications, Inc., 1996. Print.