Fairytales are heard from childhood to adulthood and have a big impact on a person’s life, most importantly during their childhood. In Bruno Bettelheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment”, he claims that fairytales help lead children towards a more independent life, and that they must face all problems that confront them. He also says that fairytales are genuinely good for children’s development, and have positive effects on children’s behavior. Bettelheim wants them to be able to decipher good from evil, and know what to do in each situation.
I agree with the ideas about fairytales that project strong, independent children, however, there are many underlying notions that give them a bad, or mislead, idea for their future. In every fairytale there is always a problem or conflict that arises. Bettelheim claims, “The fairy tale simplifies all situations” (161). He believes that fairytales help to break down the complex problems into smaller, simpler ideas that children can understand.
There is a lot of truth in this since many conflicts eventually become basic problems such as being able to identify evil versus good, helping with morality in actions and choosing a path or way of life. With underlying principles of problems taught at a young age, children are able to grow up with these ideas in mind, helping them to learn lessons from these problems, and therefore become better people. Another benefit that fairytales can have is teaching young boys to become tough and independent men.
In many fairytales, there is a strong, tough male character that is around to help save the woman, or damsel in distress. In Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the female, Aurora, has a spell cast on her and her kingdom, which causes everyone to sleep for 100 years. The only way the kingdom can be awakened is if a prince from another kingdom kisses the princess. During the 100 years, many princes came and tried to free the princess from her tower, but they were all too weak and were not brave enough.
However, one who was strong and brave enough, finally fought through all the evil magic, and kissed the princess. The kingdom awoke, and the prince and princess married, and lived happily every after. In this fairytale, the prince is a strong heroic figure that leads by example, and gets the hand of the beautiful princess. This story teaches young boys to be independent and strong, and this is good for society. In many ads, videos, and even video games, you see examples of men fighting hard to save our country, protect people from fires, and maintain peace in the world.
Such influences need to be popular so that young boys have people to look up to as heroes, and strive to become them in the future. These role models are what children need to be like and it is good that fairytales influence boys in this way. However, for the opposite gender, these same ideals are not taught. As told in Sleeping Beauty, while Prince Charming fights for Aurora, she is just lying in her tower waiting for him to show up. This is an incorrect way to teach young girls to become dependent on a male, rather than becoming an independent person on their own.
I know first hand of this being a problem because nowadays I hear a lot of girls saying that they want to marry rich, meaning that when they grow up, they marry a man that makes a lot of money, while the women are just housewives that do nothing. Fairytales can give women false hopes and dreams. Many women wait for the perfect man to show up, like Prince Charming, but this never happens, so they waste their time and ambitions expecting this perfect guy who never appears. They settle for a different “loser” man, and live an unsatisfied, and unfulfilled life, which is different from what was supposed to happen, like in a fairytale.
Also, fairytales give children a sense of false hope. In these stories, the hero always beats the villain, rescues the pretty lady, and saves the day. Many kids love to dress up and act like Batman. They want to fight crime, beat up bad guys, and save people. However, like all superheroes, he leads to a negative future that kids strive for. A person cannot just put on a costume and fight people for a living. In reality, to fight evil, it takes a more complex and thoughtful mind. These situations are not as easy as they look. They much more tense, and require more than a sword or gun to win.
In verbal debates, you cannot just pull out a gun on someone; you will be arrested. With fairytales, they teach kids more of an aggressive mindset rather than a half aggressive, and half passive mind that can help in a lot of situations. Another negative that comes from fairytales is the idea that all challenges can be conquered. This is a good mindset for children at a young age, but as they grow up, they face conflicts that cannot be conquered such as: conflicts such as war, fights with superior authorities, and other problems like that.
In life you can’t just stand up to your boss and not expect a punishment or some reprimanding. There are always punishments in life, and a child cannot go around doing whatever they like and not be in trouble. Additionally, in some fairytales, they start off with the death of a parent, or both parents. This leads to a life of conflict from an evil stepparent. In Cinderella, the mother dies first, the father remarries, and then he dies. The only parent left is the stepmother, and she just wants the money so she treats Cinderella like a worthless person.
With the death of a biological parent, much trauma and hardships can arise for a child. The constant fear of meeting a new, evil person that controls their life is a daunting thought as a child. As a child, when my friends would talk about stepparents, word “step” would immediately scare me. I think by watching and reading fairytales, I would get the context of having that feeling of being scared of a stepparent. Along with this is the fear of one parent. Bettelheim says, “One parent is all good, the other evil”(162).
In fairytales there is one evil dominant parent, and one submissive parent, like in Hansel and Gretel. The father is forced to obey the mother and cast the kids away into the forest to die. This teaches kids to have a fear of that dominant parent, and to be submissive to them also. This is how fairytales can create a sense of fear towards older figures. Fairytales as a whole are a negative representation for children. They teach some baseline ideas that can help children when they grow up, but they end up teaching negative ideas that lead to a false future and lost of ideals.
They are fun to read for fun, or casual reading, but for a real thought process or future, fairytales should have more concrete ideas for children to grow up on. They should help children develop into strong, independent people who can function in society without the help of others, and live a good, happy life.
Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Uses of Enchantment. ” Write it. Linda Strahan, Moore, and Heumann. Kendall Hunt. Dubuque, IA. Eight Edition (2008) Page. 160-162. Print.