I’ve taken up an online class at Coursera.org, which is a pretty neat online class deal with interaction and homework and all kinds of stuff. The class is Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, taught by Eric Rabkin, and is offered by the University of Michigan. It’s a 10-week course with an essay and 4 peer reviews due each week.
This week, the first week, naturally, I couldn’t figure out where to post and since I had struggled with this essay from the beginning (starting when I found every single story unpalatable) to its end (you try cramming your thoughts about psychopathic cats and princesses into 270-320 words!), I missed the deadline and did not get to turn it in. I was kind of PO’d, largely because I don’t wake up early in the mornings for anything but I was determined to get this thing finished and turned in. Finished, yes. Turned in, nope. After moping for a while that I wasn’t going to get an A in the course, I found a thread in which a fellow student who also missed the deadline, posted her essay for open peer review. I have joined the foundling essay club, and here is my essay, alongside which I will also be posting any peer review I receive (anonymously, because I don’t wish to post my classmates’ names on the internet like that). The book we’ve used is the Lucy Crane and Walter Crane edition of Children’s and Household Tales. Lucy Crane did the translations and her brother, Walter, did the illustrations, which are lovely. All the stories I discuss can be found at that link. I might expand on this essay in the future, because I kind of like the idea and it’s the #1 thing that came of me reading all the stories. Many thanks to my G+ friend SS, for engaging me in a brilliant conversation yesterday which helped crystallize my thesis statement.
Textbook Psychopathy in the Characters of Grimm Brothers Stories
A reading of the Children’s and Household Tales by the Grimm Brothers exposes a striking quality shared among many of its characters, protagonists or antagonists: many exhibit the traits of textbook psychopathy. These traits include glibness and superficiality, egocentricity and grandiosity, a lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, deception and manipulation, and an inability to consider long-term consequences. These characteristics are present in a multiplicity of stories.
In “Six Soldiers of Fortune”, the protagonist and his cohort cheat in a footrace. His reasoning for this behavior is that he is owed more than he was given for his service to the king. When the race is won, the king and his daughter then scheme to kill the men in order to avoid paying their due. Both parties are willingly deceitful to serve their own ends.
Similarly, in “The Frog Prince”, the princess is willing to promise, deceitfully, to do as the frog asks, if only he will retrieve her ball. When the deed has been done by the frog, the princess immediately turns away and only keeps her promise when compelled by her father. In the end, she is rewarded with marriage to the frog prince.
In “Cat and Mouse in Partnership”, Cat lies to Mouse repeatedly, thinking nothing of the future or Mouse’s feelings when he gets a craving to consume the pot of fat they have stored for winter. When circumstances reveal that Cat has consumed all of the fat, instead of an apology to his wife whom he has harmed terribly by his actions and perhaps even sentenced to starvation, Cat snaps her up and consumes her.
These stories are far from the only examples of psychopathy in the universe of Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, but they serve to prove that the behavior, combined with the continued success of many of these characters, is shockingly antisocial.
I have already received some peer review, and will update as it comes in.
This is an interesting thesis and your ideas are well-presented considering the constraints. I think I’d argue that the character traits are more sociopathic than psychopathic, though. And while I give you credit for stimulating thought (I feel like I still need to consider your thesis more deeply and doing so will inform my further reading), I can’t help but think that your interpretation of pathology implies a missing, or disregarding of the deeper themes and metaphors.
Thanks for the insights and thought-provocation.
Thank you for sharing! I laughed out loud when I read the title: “Textbook Psychopathy in the Characters of Grimm Brothers Stories”! You were very stern in your condemnation of these characters and who can blame you? They are amoral and antisocial and I was as shocked as you were by these “Children stories”. However, once I started thinking of these tales more as folk tales and as an examination of life and human character, my initial shock subsided. Many of these stories are insolent or tongue-in-cheek just as the oral tradition of story-telling usually is. I enjoyed reading your essay and your thesis was well-argumented and illustrated by specific examples. All the best
Thanks for posting this. Your thesis is provocative but so too are the stories and I’m glad that I am not the only one to find the behaviour of the characters shocking. (Please excuse my Australian spelling, I have a nasty red line under “behaviour” but that’s how we spell it down here!) Getting back to the point, in many of the stories I was expecting “justice” to be served, and it plainly wasn’t. I found many of the tales subversive to say the least. There are a few paths that we could go with this: Are the characters psychopaths/sociopaths, or are they reflecting the society they live in? To what extent has modern society corrected these defects? What is justice and how is it served? What is our relationship as humans to animals and how should we place ourselves within the ecosystem as a whole?
The answer I see from Grimm’s Tales is that the darker aspects of humanity / nature / the life, universe, everything / can be revealed and laughed at, and by doing this, we can live with the darkness.
Hi there! CONTENT: I like your approach of actually looking at the psychological aspect linking Grimms’ tales. However, I felt that it would have been useful to check out the actual definition of psychopathy, which I don’t think matches well enough to carry the argument true. For example, characters suffer badly emotionally (the cock for his chocked hen), feel compassionate (help from the swan in Hansel and Gretel), feel loss and fear. So I think you could explore more there in terms of: how do they react to society, does the environment perceive them as abnormally cold, would the reader /listener have? Are they shocked? A 2 here for originality of argument but too little tested.
As to the FORM: well done, good read, good examples! A 1 from me.
Hope this was useful :) Keep it up
Thanks for sharing. I too found the behavior of many characters in the stories reprehensible and immoral–possibly psychotic. I think though that your thesis may be a little too inclusive for the examples given. Perhaps limiting the traits to a few, which correspond to your examples could help clarify the paragraph. I like the examples and agree that their actions are totally antisocial and wonder why any families would pass these stories on to their children. My only idea is that they are warning tales alerting children to the dangers of adulthood.
Wow! I love how you took the psychopathy angle. I agree with L. that sociopathy might be a better route. Still, this is well-written with an insight I had never considered.
I only would like to see a tighter connection between the sociopathic tendencies in the stories for “Six Soldiers of Fortune,” and “The Frog Prince.”
I would give 3 for Form and 3 for Content.
Love the title, BTW.