Archive for March, 2014

Hansel n Gretel

Posted: March 6, 2014 in NOTES OF TEACHERS

Hansel and Gretel: Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
Hansel and Gretel lived with their stepmother and their father. Hansel was a boy and Gretel was a girl. Their father was a woodcutter and they lived near a forest. The family was very poor and did not have enough to eat. One night Hansel and Gretel heard their parents planning to leave them in the forest to save food. The woodcutter did not want to leave his children in the forest, but his wife persuaded him.
When they went into the forest the next day, Hansel dropped shiny pebbles on the path. The children were left by themselves. However, when it was night, the moon made the pebbles shine brightly. Hansel and Gretel followed the trail of pebbles back to their home.
Some time later there was again no food. The woodcutter and his wife took Hansel and Gretel into the forest again. This time Hansel did not have any shiny pebbles, so he dropped small pieces of bread on the path. However, the birds ate the pieces of bread so Hansel and Gretel could not find their way home.
They were lost in the forest for 3 days. They became very hungry. Then they saw a house. It was made out of bread, cake and sugar, so they began to eat it.
An old witch lived in the house. She gave Hansel and Gretel lots of food, but then she locked Hansel in a small shed and made Gretel do lots of work. The witch wanted to eat Hansel and she was waiting until he got fat. However, Gretel pushed the witch into the oven. She rescued Hansel and the witch was burnt to death.
Hansel and Gretel tried to find their home. They came to some water but there was no boat to take them across it. However, they were carried across the water by a large white duck.
When they got home, they discovered that their stepmother had died. They gave their father lots of jewels that they had taken from the witch’s house and after that they were all very happy.

Some +2 questions (short)
How did the witch receive the two children in their first night at the witch’s house?
When the witch saw the two children eating her house, she didn’t show anger. She came hobbling up to them and told the frightened children not to be afraid of her as she would do them no harm. She took them by the hand and led them into her house. She provided them a fine meal of milk and pancakes, sugar, apples, and nuts. And then she made them sleep in two little beds that were so clean and white that the children thought they were in heaven.
How did Hansel and Gretel free themselves from the witch?

Long questions
Briefly narrate the story of Hansel and Gretel. (2062)
Narrate the story of Hansel and Gretel. (2066)

Differences between Hansel and Gretel and The Little Brother and the Little Sister
The Little Brother and the Little Sister and Hansel and Gretel are both written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. They contain the same story, but the Little Brother and the Little Sister is an earlier version. This version of the story seems to be essentially working notes that the Grimm brothers later changed into the story Hansel and Gretel so that it could be published. There are no major differences between the two stories. Hansel and Gretel has more details and descriptions, which make it a more interesting story to read. This story is almost similar to ‘Hansel and Gretel’ although it has some differences. In fact, ‘The Little Brother and the Little Sister’ is the story on which ‘Hansel and Gretel’ has been modeled. Hansel and Gretel is a longer story that has made abundant use of dialogues. It is a more detailed version, whereas ‘Little Brother and Little Sister’ is a plain short story. In the latter story, the children’s name is not mentioned; it refers to their relation, i.e. brother and sister, however, in the latter story, they are given names: Hansel for the boy and Gretel for the girl.
In the original version there is a dove sitting on the roof saying goodbye to Hansel, but in the second one it is the pigeon. In ‘The Little Brother and the Little Sister’ the children didn’t a song in response to the Witch’s song but ate bread and cake ravenously, but in Hansel and Gretel, the children responded with a song: wind child …. child.’
After their bitter struggle with the witch, the brother and sister returned home with jewels to their father’s house and they got there without much trouble or difficulty. On the other hand, Hansel and Gretel had to cross a river that had no bridge. Fortunately, a large white duck took them across the river one after another. All in all, Hansel and Gretel has more adventure, drama, details and suspense which are conspicuous by their absence in ‘The Little Brother and the Little Sister’. That is to say, Hansel and Gretel is a detailed longer version of ‘The Little Brother and the Little Sister’.

Hansel and Gretel: Bruno Bettelheim
This text is an essay about the hidden meanings of the Hansel and Gretel story. It is a story of hope and victory. One message is that poverty makes people selfish.
According to Bettelheim, the story is really about the things that go on in children’s minds.
For children, the Mother is the source of all food. When they grow up, children must learn to live separately from their mother. This is why they are left in the forest. But they return home because they are not yet old enough to live apart from their mother.
The children are left in the forest a second time. They try to solve their problems by concentrating only on food. They do not act like human beings but like hungry animals. This is why they eat the gingerbread house instead of using it for shelter.
The gingerbread house is also a symbol for the mother because the mother gives food to children. A mother’s body (milk) is the source of food. A child wishes to have a child once the mother has finished milk-breasting it. The sight of gingerbread house fills the two children with joy of shelter, but the witch’s evil plan makes them substitute their id with ego. The gingerbread house also gives children idea about two aspects of the home: parental home and witch’s home, and the latter home is the hardened form of a mother that makes children mature intelligently.
Another message is that greed leads to destruction. The witch wants to eat the children who acted like greedy animals. It is only when they think and act like human beings that they manage to escape from the witch. In this way, the witch is also a symbol for the mother. Then the witch’s behaviour forces the children to start growing up and acting like adults. Thus, the witch is the destructive aspect of orality. To be greedy is to invite trouble. The travails of the two children give them a wonderful lesson of not being greedy.
The white duck that helps Hansel and Gretel get home is a symbol of a new beginning. The duck can only carry one child at a time and this shows that children must learn to live without their brothers and sisters.
Birds play an important role in the story. A snow white bird directs them to the gingerbread house. A white Duck help them cross the water. Children who read the story will believe that birds were controlling what happened to Hansel and Gretel.
When Hansel and Gretel return home, they have grown up. They can now help their father. The help they give is symbolized by the jewels. The family is not rich because they have money but because Hansel and Gretel have learnt to think and act like adults.

Hansel and Gretel: Jack Zipes
This text claims that Hansel and Gretel is a political story. Zipes says that it is really about the struggle between the poor and the rich. The woodcutter and his wife are poor people who are forced to do bad things because they are poor. The witch represents the rich people. It is because she is greedy that Hansel and Gretel have to suffer. Hansel and Gretel realize this. They are not angry at their parents. The children know that their enemies were the social forces, not their parents. That’s why they still loved them. Even the existence of stepmother was common in the society. Women died young during child bearing and fathers had to remarry. But the step mothers were not abused. The children did not know that their step mother was dead. Gretel acts to change her bad situation by killing the witch. Zipes says the message behind the story is that poor people must attack rich people if things are going to get better for them.

Marxist Explanation: Zipes has made a Marxist interpretation of the story. The witch in the story represents feudal system and its death in the story represents the victory of the poor over the rich who are the unshakable movers and shakers of the society. In the same manner the duel between Hansel and Gretel and the witch also stands for class conflict: plebian/peasantry versus aristocrats. The story shows the transformation of a society from the feudal society into early capitalism. The biasness and cruelty of the feudal society is exposed. Gretel is the unlikely hero. She killed the witch, a symbol of aristocracy and feudalism. The story proves that poor people could change their conditions if they acted. They had to struggle with anticipation.

Comment on the political and social factors in the story? Do those factors have any relevance in the present Nepali society?

Jack Zipes makes a political and social interpretation of the story, Hansel and Gretel. The perspective of the story is one of the ordinary people. Hansel and Gretel is a story of hope and victory. It is the story of a poor woodcutter and his family who have difficulty finding food, which forces them to abandon the children. They did it not out of enmity or hatred but because of the social forces, which are beyond their control. Even having a stepmother was the outcome of the social force – mothers died young and men had to marry again so that the woman could look after children.

The children struggle in the jungle and kill the witch with ingenuity, and then return home with jewels. The struggle depicted in the story is against poverty and against feudalism and aristocracy. Peasants and lower-class people at the end of the eighteenth century had to struggle against widespread famine and poverty because of the war, which ultimately led to the breakdown of the feudal patronage system. Ordinary people at that time were forced to banditry, migration or abandonment of children.
The witch signifies the entire feudal system and aristocracy. As becoming of a feudal she had a house made of bread, sugar and cake, and she was cruel enough to live on the flesh of ordinary people. She is a hoarder and oppressor. The children ultimately kill her, and thereby put an end to the cycle of exploitation and miserable life that feudalism put plebeian into.

Jack Zipes also highlights the transformative impact of the class conflict from feudalism to early capitalism. The apathetic condition meted out to the poor people is very nicely depicted in the tale. The prejudices and injustices of the feudal ideology are forcefully exposed. Feudals pretend to be kind. The witch acts very kindly with the children on the first night of stay at her extraordinary house, but later she wants to eat them. However, the children see what the witch was after, and hence trick her to death. The emphasis is on hope and action. The poor people can learn that they can change their awful condition if they struggle actively. The children’s return home with the jewels signifies the rise of the poor and an expression of the victory of the poor over an unjust society.

Nepali society is blighted by caste system. The dalits are languishing in darkness whereas the Brahmins and chhetris have privileged position in the society. The dalits live in the periphery of social system. They are discriminated and exploited. They don’t have access to good food, education, health. The constitutional rights given to them have no societal endorsement.. The society is unjust and indifferent towards them. Social evils like dowry system are rampant. Many places in Western Nepal has the kamaiya pratha that has seriously affected the social rights of the kamaiyas. The landlords keep large stretches of land and make poor people work for trifle. Unless such discriminatory and feudal practices stop, Nepal cannot be a socially equitable society.

Gretel by Garrison Keillor

This text is Gretel’s version of the story but it is put into a modern setting. Gretel complains that Hansel and her father did not tell the true version of the story. She says that Hansel was really very weak and that she always had to help him (she carried him on her back and she cried not out of fear or hopelessness but because of carrying her “wreck” brother. She says her father was an unpleasant man (he would get drunk) who wanted to leave them in the forest. Gladys could not do anything without his permission. It was his idea to leave them in the jungle.
Gretel says that leaving children in a forest was not necessarily evil. She says that many parents did it because they believed that animals, fairies or people who lived in the forest would rescue them. She says this is usually what happened. Although leaving children in the forest seemed harsh and selfish, the experience made such a child a better person afterwards. But not Hansel. After the publication of the book, Hansel and father lived in “luxurious” manors while she lived in an ordinary “condo” located above an alchemist’s shop (she didn’t have a house of her own, neither did Gladys). Gladys was not given anything as a settlement property.
Gretel says that she has sympathy for her step mother and the witch. She says she doesn’t know why she killed the witch. She had pushed the witch into the oven. The witch wasn’t after her anyway! She was after Hansel and she (the witch) wanted to make a new statement which shel was unable to understand. The witch’s “militance” had validity and meaning which she didn’t understand before, and which she regrets now.
Keillor’s language is presented in the form of statement. It’s very persuasive in style as he wants readers to really believe that the female characters have been demonized by the male characters. Hansel and her father have tricked Gretel of the profit which she was supposed to get after the publication of the story by the Grimms brother. Gretel puts forth series of arguments revoking the story told to the Grimms. For example, it was Hansel who was weak character, not she. She slapped him to teach him lesson; also father was not a kind person as narrated in the published story. Thus, both male characters are critically exposed. However, the female characters are spoken of in a positive way. Gladys, her stepmother followed the orders father gave her. The idea of sending Hansel and Gretel into the forest was father’s idea, not Gladys. Thus, Keillor has very cleverly tried to manipulate reader’s reason, emotions in favour of her point of view. Keillor clearly comes across as a strong feminist who is strongly opposed to male superiority. She tries to prove that male characters are not strong and resourceful. Keillor is supporting for proper justice and end to discrimination against women. She regrets killing the witch, so she says was not after her at all. Keillor’s persuasive style has lot of sarcasm and humour embedded in the clever use of language.

Character of Gretel
Gretel is a female character and she supports the females of the tale. She raises her voice for the sake of feminism. She goes against the social unjust of male dominant society. She claims that the original version of the tale is distorted by trick and deception. She is critical, logical, and objective and demands equal rights and justice for females also. She says that male deceives and changes the reality. According to her, for better result, female must be part of the conversation and her point of view must be considered. Truth should not be accepted in a given form rather than be changed by male. She claims that males are violent and on the basis of violence they want to win the competition. In the male dominant society, females are treated as helpless and so females are exploited. She raised her voice against the exploitation of females. In this way, she plays a very active and major role in the story “Gretel”. Her character is ideal and she is admirable for her bold and courageous step.

Bruno Bettelheim: psychological explanation of the tale ‘Hansel and Gretel’.
This version of Hansel and Gretel is a psychological story. It is an essay about the hidden meaning of the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” on the basis of human psychology.
According to Bettelheim, the story describes children psychology. Children are anxious when they are deserted in the jungle first time. When they grow up, they must learn to live separately from their mother. This is why they are left in the forest and they returned home because they are not old enough to live separately.
The second time these hungry children try to solve their problem by concentrating only on food. Another message is that greed leads to destruction. In this story, the witch becomes over greedy and she wants to eat Hansel like an animal. So, she represents the destructive aspect of human consciousness. The children recognize the greed and they manage to escape from the witch. The witch is also a symbol for mother. At the beginning of life, children get food from their mother. The witch’s behaviour forces the children to start growing up and acting like adults.
The white duck that helps Hansel and Gretel get home is a symbol of a new beginning. The duck can only carry one child at a time and this shows that children must know to live without their brothers and sisters. Birds play an important role to control the events that occur in the life of Hansel and Gretel. When Hansel and Gretel return back to their home, they have grown up in age and they can now help their father. The help they give is symbolized by the jewels.

Some Qs & As

1. What does the bird and the expanses of water symbolize in the fairy tale ‘Hansel and Gretel’?

The expanse of water symbolizes a transition, and a new beginning on a higher level of existence for the two children, Hansel and Gretel. It symbolizes transition from immaturity to maturity and from dependence to independence. Siblings can’t live together forever. They have to develop their personal uniqueness; individuality. This consciousness comes only after having a near-death experience in the jungle where the two children were nearly killed by the witch and while crossing the expanse of water.

2. What are the roles of the birds in the story?

Each bird has an important role in the story. In the beginning of the story, Hansel looks back at the dove, which symbolizes the superior kind power. It means the kind of trial Hansel and Gretel go through will ultimately teach them the essential power of god’s kindness. It is a snow-white bird that leads the children to the gingerbread house suggesting that this is the right place for them to arrive at. The white duck guide the children back to safety across the expanse of water. Even the birds that ate the bread crumbs play a great role in the story. Had these birds not eaten the crumbs, the two children wouldn’t have gone through a transformative experience. Because the children risked their lives in the forest – encountering and killing the witch – they are changed individuals whom every parents would be very proud to have. Thus, the different birds offer a clue to the path the children must follow to gain their reward. These birds have a purpose, they would not first prevent Hansel and Gretel from finding their way back, then take them to the witch, and finally provide passage home.

Raj Kumar Gautam, Assistant Teacher, Arniko HSS,; February 26, 2014