Grimm’s Fairy Tales is the collection of stories published in the early 1800s by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The first edition was released in 1812 and contained 86 stories, while the second publication consisted of two parts released in 1819 and 1922 respectively. When Brothers Grimm were working in the library, they had a chance to collect stories. The brothers alleged that the tales could unite Germany as a state. Therefore, originally, the Grimm’s stories were written for the older audience (Connolly). Jacob intended to establish his own style of writing, whereas Wilhelm wanted to edit the existing folk tales. Even though the main target readers of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are children, the stories contain a diversity of symbols, allegories, exotic settings, and religious motives.
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
A symbol of Nature
A great number of fairy tales take place in castles. However, a vast majority of Grimm’s fables occur in non-civilized places, such as woods or wonderlands. The Red Cap talks to the wolf in the forest, the hunter captures the Snow White in woods, and the Rapunzel wanders trough the desert. Therefore, Nature embodies the special symbol in these fairy tales, and the majority of important life events happen with exposure to nature.
However, readers obtain the major perception of the natural surroundings in Grimm’s tales not from the description. Frequently, the brothers describe the landscape through the feeling of the characters (Isler). For example, when the Snow White is abandoned in the forest, the brothers describe how she runs over the sharp stones and through torn bushes, and how the wild beasts dart at her at times. Bruno Bettelheim, the author of the theory of fairy tales donations to child’s psychics, suggests that the fables should have detailed descriptions of nature. Moreover, they should be told orally in order to let the child’s imagination create the own characters and settings of the story (Bettelheim). Brothers Grimm have a plenty of descriptions in their stories. Therefore, Nature obtains the special place in the fables when is depicted through the feelings of the characters and not as a landscape, which mystifies the wildlife’s origin.
At times, Nature symbolizes not only the potential danger but can become a place of empowerment. For example, the prince from the tale “Iron Hans” releases the wild man into the forest and every time he needs help, the Iron Hans emerges from the woods with armor (Grimm, Zipes, and Gruelle, 136). Another hero in “Saint Joseph in the Forest” meets the saint in woods and experiences the majority of good things there. Consequently, the frequent depiction of nature reinforces the idea that the Brothers Grimm use the symbol of Nature as an independent representation of power that can assist the characters or offend them.
The Grimm’s fables not only contain the nature description, but also describe the variety of dishes. Even some names of the fairy tales, such as “The Sweet Porridge”, which describes the table that covers itself, or “The Knapsack, the Hat, and the Horn”, which tells about the constant supply of meat, bread, and wine, assures that food had a special place in their fairy tales (Grimm, 54). Even the poisoned apple in “Snow White” and the gingerbread house in “Hansel and Gretel” were foods.
The various cultural aspects triggered the preoccupation with food. In many cultures, meals represented social networks, family relationships, and well-being. For example, when in the “The Magic Table, the Golden Donkey, and the Club in the Sack" one of the sons returns home with a magic table, he immediately suggests his father invite all their relatives and friends to provide them with the fine meal. Accordingly, the lack of food symbolizes hardship. When the character of the "One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes" is starving, a magic figure gives her a goat that magically feeds her. Thus, in Grimm’s fairy tales, food has become a symbol of prosperity and happiness.
The description of food also has a historical background. The majority of tales originated from the peasants’ stories. At those harsh times, the fine food was an identification of the well-being of the family and the level of life satisfaction, because people not always had enough nutrition. Therefore, in “The Crumbs on the Table,” a rooster urges hens to pick crumbs from the table (Grimm, 190). This is an allegory between the inequalities of the society, as some folks have plenty of food, whereas others are reduced to risking their lives when seeking crumbs.
Moreover, eating process is more than food; it is also a ritual of a social act. The families feed each other as an expression of love and care. In addition, people celebrate holidays and special occasions with food. Therefore, the magic tables and pots are one of the key elements in the symbolic description, as the major aim of fairy tales is to wish fulfilment.
The religious and philosophical aspects were analyzed on the basis of the third tale “Mary’s Child,” as it is full of Christian elements. When reading the story, the reader encounters the Blessed Virgin Mary, angels, God, and the Holy Trinity. Moreover, the fable tells the proper meaning of Christianity. The story explains the notions such as sin, death, and condemnation. It suggests that forgiveness follows admission of the fault. However, the fairy tale does not only suggest the successful conclusion because the line between the good and evil is blurred in this fable. The main character is a young girl whose bliss is the appreciation of a confession, because only after she apprehends that she opened the forbidden door, her mother redeems her (Grimm, 3). Therefore, Brothers Grimm provide the reader with a religious story, a fairy tale mixed with a moral Cristian demand, which claims to more understanding of already forgotten virtues.
Frequently, the fairy tales happen “once upon a time.” However, many of them have another real of a magical place. Since there mostly were queens, kings, princes, and princesses in the stories, the castles became the most common places in Grimm’s fairy tales. Besides, numerous stories happened at a specific time and in exotic places. For instance, in “The Three Languages,” the count comes from Switzerland, and in “The Three Black Princesses”, the actions take place in India (Grimm, 137). The fact that very few people could travel and see other lands at that time explains their favor to creating legends about the exotic places. Consequently, people described them in their stories.
The cultural aspect was the main feature that triggered the decidedly European atmosphere of the fables. Whereas the fairy tales had unspecified settings, the context in which they were told had definite qualities. The first feature was the geographical separation of the German regions. At the time, when the Brothers Grimm were gathering the fables, Germany was divided into regions and had not established as a country yet. Moreover, the entire population hardly spoke German. The pending of the new concepts, such as industrialization, democracy, and capitalism also influenced people’s lives. In addition, the French Revolution and the hegemony of the United States undermined the stability of the region. Thus, the majority of stories of that time took place in the medieval period, when people felt safer and where the magic made all the wishes come true.
In conclusion, Grimm’s Fairy Tales have become more that stories. They incorporate the culture, tradition, and the variety of symbols into simple stories for children. Moreover, their fairy tales are full of moral demands and teachings. As the stories were gathered all over the Germany and Western Europe, the tales have now become not only fictions or legends; they are an encyclopedia of culture, history, and tradition of entire Europe.