A fairytale as we know it is meant to be an
entertaining story of incredible and supernatural
happenings. Its purpose is to stimulate the depths
of a young mind in such a way as to make us a part
of the environment, bound only by the limits of
our own imaginations. However, it is this very
wild fantasy land that yields a very real threat
to its intended audience. Both traditional and
contemporary fairytales experienced by children
can have harmful effects on a childs psyche. This
is especially true when children are exposed to
these fairytales during the early stages of
psychological development. Why do expose children
to fairytales? Most often we use these tales to
comfort young children or perhaps to calm them
down, in the form of bedtime stories.
closer analysis reveals some startling realities
regarding the messages delivered to a child
through the words of these fairytales. If one
really examines Snow White for example, we could
conclude that this fairytale advocates divorce and
black magic. There are also overtones of homicide
and cannibalism in Hansel & Gretel, rape in
the original Sleeping Beauty(Grimms Briar Rose),
as well as betrayal and pre-meditated murder in
the Lion King. Is it any wonder, then, that a
child comes to be afraid to be baked in an oven –
or learn to fear villains in made-for-child
movies. For centuries, fairytales have long been
criticized and praised by those at both ends of
the psychological spectrum. Dr.
Karl Oppel and Dr.
Bruno Bettelheim, both considered experts in child
psychology each have presented opposite views
about fairytales. Dr. Oppel presented his findings
in the early 1900s in his book, The Parents Book:
Practical Guidance for the Education at Home,
Oppel made his strong argument against telling
fairytales to children. He stated that we should
shelter children from the ugly, illogical, overly
violent, and frightening nature of fairytales
(Oppel). In the text, Oppel goes on to recount a
childhood story in which a young man is passing
the time away under the gallows, and is amusing
himself with several hanged corpses. Later, he
takes the corpses from their coffins and lays them
with him in bed.
Surely this is not the type of
image that we want to share with children. Nor is
that of the evil step-mom portrayed as being a
blackened sorceress, giants living in the sky that
are apt to eat you, or a little man that rips
himself in two when you guess what his name is.
Think about it: Its a warm summer night and the
children are all tired from the days events. Mom
comes in, hushes them, and begins to tell a story
of two young children who have become too
expansive for their parents to support. This,
therefore, justifies the stepmothers decision to
murder the two of them. She sends her husband to
carry this out; however instead, he abandons them
deep in the woods, where, by the way, they are
lured to a cabin made entirely of sweets. This
cabin, though, just happens to be the home of an
evil witch who savors human flesh and whose only
intention is to fatten the children, bake them in
the oven, and eat them for dinner! And what is the
moral of the story-? Stepmothers are evil, Daddy
is weak and corrupt, and the child needs to fend
for himself in an ugly wicked world! Why would we
want to recite this horrific scenario to children?
As entertaining as this fairytale known as Hansel
and Gretel may be, it seems that such a tale could
cause nothing but chaos for a childs fragile mind.
As people get older, they seem not to remember the
world as young children.
Children are dynamic
parts of every second of everyday. Nothing escapes
the attention of a child. Children experience
everything with a heightened awareness simply
because they are children (Brice, 73-75). They are
eager to learn about their world, leaving no
question unanswered. Everything that a child sees,
hears, touches, and feels affects how they
perceive the world that they are living in.
Children begin this process the moment that they
enter the world. Therefore, everything we present
to a child is seen as the truth.
Now, when the
child has recognized one set of supposed truths,
and then presented with a fairytale, what are they
to think? A child has no sense of fantasy and
therefore assumes fairytales are real-life
accounts. Then the fairytale truths are
incorporated into the childs current belief
system. So now we have a child being handed ethics
and morals from their parents, supernatural
beliefs, and grotesque images of how they might be
punished for wrong-doing. Lets take the story of
Jack and the Beanstalk; it is full of information
that could confuse a child. They are taught that
it is okay to give up friendships in the quest to
gain something superficial. This story also could
lead to a child generating supernatural beliefs.
Is it not true that a very large portion of
society bases a lot of their beliefs on
superstition? This is coming from people from all
walks of life, from the rich to the poor.
whom, can separate reality and fantasy. Clearly,
the images and messages like these have to affect
a child psychologically emotionally and socially.
Bettelhiem argues insistently of the reasons
children need to experience fairytales. He feels
that fairytales do not define or influence a
childs perception of reality, poking fun at
parents who claim that fairytales do not render
truthful pictures of life as it really is.
Bettelhiem even goes as far as to scold parents
for further watering down of these tales to make
them seem nicer or kinder, more child-friendly
(Bettelhiem, 117). He claims that the only truth
in fairytales is the truth of our imaginations,
which is quite a contradiction on his part. The
imaginations of children are limitless, and
because they do not yet understand the concept of
fantasy when they are young, their minds should
not be led in such a way as to frighten or mislead
them of the real world. In Bettelhiems book, The
Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of
Fairy Tales, he has this to say: [that a struggle
against severe difficulties in life is
unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human
existence but that if one does not shy away, but
steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust
hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the
end emerges victorious.
These are crucial issues
that these tales teach our childrenthe fairy tale
[fairytale]confronts the child squarely with the
basic human predicaments] (Bettelhiem, 9).
According to Dr. Bettelhiem, fairytales yield a
good contrast between characters in both
contemporary and traditional tales. The characters
are either all good or all evil never both at the
same time. He says this allows the child to easily
comprehend the difference between the two.
However, people in the real world arent always
just good or bad. After reading some of Dr.
Bettelhiems work, one would be inclined to
strongly disagree that the fairytales, with all
their negative influence, can help a childs
development in the grand way that he describes,
especially the parts where he calls the reading of
fairytales a necessity. Do we really want to tell
a child about Frau Trude, the woman who turns
disobedient children into logs and warms herself
as they burn in the fire? Can we expect them to
realize how odd it is for a woman whose husband is
a mass murderer to cry and beg for forgiveness for
opening the door that contains the evidence of his
crimes? Childhood is the most important time in a
A child is fascinated with every aspect of
each day that he experiences. This is the very
reason that time moves more slowly during those
childhood years. Think, for example, how long a
summer seems between one school year to the next,
or how long the actual school year seems compared
to the last. The routine experiences in childhood
are so vivid: when you were very happy, sad, or
angry, those emotions color everything and effect
how people, places, and events are perceived.
This, in turn, creates disillusioned memories and
misleads the childs view of what is real and what
is fantasy. Rie Nakayama writes that, When I was a
child, I experienced many fairytales in one form
or another and was often scared by their horrible
expressions (Nakayama, Our World). The moral
dilemma that one arrives at after examination of
the fairytale is a difficult one.
Many argue that
there have been millions of children that have
read fairytales and been just fine afterward.
There are also many who would examine the infinite
amount of fairytales that contain violence and
subliminal messages and say that these stories can
do nothing but utterly confuse a child and distort
and real perceptions of what the world is like. As
we have seen thus far, people such as Dr.
Bettelhiem, believe that nothing but a disservice
is being done to your child when you do not expose
them to the fairytale world. Certainly the
ultimate decision rest with the parent, however if
the fairytale is such supposed to be such at great
rouse; Why does society have to wrestle with the
moral implications and ambiguities that they so
often incur? That is something to think about.
Works Cited Bettelhiem, Bruno Dr. The Uses of
Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy
Tales. New York. Alfred A Knopf, Inc, 1975.
Sandra P. Child Psychology 101. London: Pullox
Press, 1996. Nakayama, Rie. Our World: Part Seven.
.htm> Oppel, Karl Dr.
Should children be told
fairy tales? Feb. 2002.
Research essay sample on Moral Ambiguity And Implications Of Childrens Fairytales