Saturday, May 4, 2013

Class Reflection


           This class was very interesting and I think that I learned a lot from it.  In addition to the common Western fairy tales I was familiar with, mainly due to the Brothers Grimm and Disney’s adaptations, I also was introduced to Jewish, Native American, African, Indian, and Spanish versions of folk tales.  This was interesting to me because it helped me understand cultures and places I might not ever have known about without the lectures and readings we had in this class.  One author I didn’t expect to like, but actually have become interested in is Oscar Wilde.  I’d heard of him before this class, but I’d never read any of his work before.  I loved the Christian motifs and symbolism in his work and now am interested in reading some of his other writings.
 
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            I enjoyed reading all the typical Western tales.  It was interesting to read some of the lesser known versions of the same stories.  I also liked many of the modern comparisons we were able to make with the tales.  It is neat that many of them can still be made relevant in today’s world.  For instance, I liked comparing the Pretty Woman movie to Cinderella.  I always knew they had connections, but I’d never really thought about which characters paralleled those in the animated version. 


            I found all the material challenging and appropriate for the class.  Some of the non-western works were a bit hard to read and understand since the writing style was a bit different from conventional Western manners of writing.  One of my favorite aspects was being able to compare the original Grimm stories with the Disney versions.  We didn’t touch on this a whole lot in class, but it spurred me to think about it on my own.  Having now discussed the hidden meanings and symbolic motifs in many of the tales, it will be hard for me to watch and see the Disney versions in the same way.  I enjoyed the Jack Zipes article we read about Disney, the man.  It gave me some background into his life that I never knew before.  I read additional Zipes writings in my research for the term paper and I really enjoy the way he interprets the tales in relation to Disney’s ways. 

            It was very interesting to analyze the stories from a variety of viewpoints, including psychological, feminist, and social.  These ways introduced me to think about the tales in ways that I never had before.  I think I’ll always be interested in this genre of literature, so it’s nice to have new ways to think about it.  We covered a good variety of fairy and folk tales throughout this class and I really enjoyed taking it.   


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kenyan Folktales


           The lecture about Kenyan folktales by Dr. Ochieng was very interesting and informative.  It was much more interactive than any other guest speakers we’ve had previously.  We all had to stand and sing and dance to a song.  This makes sense as many African folktales are told in a communal setting, probably similar to the circular layout of our classroom.  I really enjoyed the way that Dr. Ochieng told the various tales within his presentation.  He seemed to just know them and exactly the right tone and intonation to rely on to convey the stories and their meanings.  He also told us that most Kenyan folktales were told in the evening.  I found this very interesting, because the voice of the storyteller would become the most important aspect of a tale told at night if that sound is all a listener has to rely on. The storyteller must learn to paint a picture and convey a message just with the sound of his voice.    

(http://teacher.nicholas.k12.ky.us/ejohnson/Humanities/images/griotstoryteller.jpg)

            He also discussed the various aspects of Kenyan folktales.  Called orature, meaning oral literature, the tales have evolved and been passed down over time through being spoken.  This is different from almost every other folk or fairy tale we have discussed so far.  Most of those have been written down, but African culture differs from Western culture in that it is much more orally based. 

            Some of the things that these oral tales do for a community include describing or explaining the origin of some event or occurrence, enforcing social foundation, telling the meaning behind present beliefs, or affirming who the people are as a culture or group.  Many of the tales focus on the celebration of wit and other quick thinking characters.  Some African examples include the spider and the hare.  This seems to parallel the idea of trickster characters in various Western tales we have looked at before.  These tales also help parents to teach their children the values, beliefs, rules, and taboos of their people. 

(http://winstonsdad.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/hare_and_moon.jpg)

            We sang a song in an African language at the beginning of the lecture.  Song is important to these folktales because it helps to emphasize certain elements and ties the whole story together.  This also makes the story telling experience more participatory and involved for all the listeners. 
           
           African cultures have been sustained by their oral story traditions.  People have to pass on tales and other knowledge if they want to educate the next generation.  In using these stories as a tool to educate children, it is essential in ensuring a common understanding of certain phenomena.  This parallels nearly every other culture in which parents must creatively devise answers to the questions that their children pose.  And like many other tales we have studied, sometimes African tales are told simply for their entertainment value.  This seems to be the case with many European tales today.  Their morals and messages can be a bit outdated in modern society, but they remain timeless and are told and retold for many generations.      

            In conclusion, this lecture was very good at providing me with information on a topic and culture that I am very unfamiliar with. 


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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jewish Folktale Traditions


            Jewish folktales are unlike all the tales formed in the Western tradition.  Although Judaism is monotheistic like the basis of Christianity, the common religion in most of Europe, the influence of the tales is different.  The Rabbi is the central figure that teaches people what they need to know from the Torah, the Jewish holy book.  This interpretation from the Rabbi is called the Talmud.  This is an obvious difference from the start, as the Torah is also known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.  To Jews, it is complete and finished.  Rabbis take the stories and laws contained within it and interpret them in a way that their community of followers will understand.  Nearly all of these tales have a Rabbi as a central or important character.  They preserved these tales to pass down important information to future generations.  Many local legends from Eastern European countries (today Romania, Ukraine, Russia, etc.) become mixed with the Torah.  These tales are also primarily religiously based, and although God or other higher powers may be mentioned in other Western European tales, it is typically not the focus of any story. 

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            A unique aspect of these tales is their often teaching purpose.  Many times these stories end with a question that causes listeners or readers to think deeper and attempt to gain a better understanding of the meaning.  They also tend to display Jews as clever or smart characters.  For instance, in “The Rabbi and the Inquisitor” the idea of a trickster is displayed in the actions of the Rabbi as he swallows the other piece of paper.  There are also morals sometimes stated or displayed through the brief plot of the tales.  These tend to be more helpful than their Western counterparts that are fraught with gender bias and unusual wordings.  “It Could Always be Worse” is a tale that focuses on the simple message of valuing one’s own blessings and realizing that there is always somebody out there that has worse problems that you do. 

            Overall, Jewish folktales are pretty unique from any other type of tale we have read thus far.  The emphasis is on teaching and promoting the laws of the Torah.    

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pretty Woman and Cinderella


            Pretty Woman is a modern film that tells a Cinderella story.  Many motifs from the original story are seen repeated in the movie.  Vivian Ward and Edward Lewis are the main characters in the film.  Vivian is a prostitute in Los Angeles and Edward is a wealthy businessman. 

(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/b/b6/Pretty_woman_movie.jpg/220px-Pretty_woman_movie.jpg)

            From the start of the film, Edward sees Vivian on the street and he hires her to be his escort for the week as he attends several important business meetings.  This is the start of his ‘saving’ her from her life of degradation.  With his help throughout the film she transforms and become a ‘princess’.  This supports the ‘rags to riches’ storyline.  Vivian is very insecure and vulnerable at the beginning.  She wants to come, be paid for, and perform and then leave as quickly as she can.  One of the first things Vivian tells him after they arrive at his penthouse suite is “When people put you down enough, you start to believe it”.  She feels degraded and worthless in her work, since she is merely paid for her sexual services.  As she becomes more friendly and comfortable with Edward, she begins to tell him what her mother thinks of her chasing after “bums” and how she feels working as a hooker.

            Like the Cinderella character, Vivian is kind and pretty, when she is not trying too hard in her hooker clothes and makeup.  She wears a blond wig at the beginning, probably to boost her clientele; however after discovering that Edward doesn’t want to sleep with her the first night, she returns to her natural and long red hair.  When she visits the clothing stores, she clearly stands out both in her attire and her physical appearance.  This is why the saleswomen judge her and refuse to help her when she comes alone.  She later tells Edward they were “mean” to her, thus likening them to the ugly stepsisters in the story and Disney film versions.  The hotel manager and Edward both help Vivian to find suitable clothes for all the meetings.  This likens them to the fairy godmother (godfather, in this case) and prince, respectively.

(http://www.newlywedsonabudget.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/pretty-woman-1.jpg)

            Her kind and bubbly personality is able to break through Edward’s seemingly rough exterior.  She gets him to face his own problems and work through them too.  She teaches him about kindness and eventually he decides to not overtake Morse’s company, as he had originally planned.  He also mentions his fear of heights to her as they are talking the first night.  By the end of the film when he goes to rescue her and profess his love, he conquers that fear by climbing the fire escape to get up to her apartment. 

(http://www.thesinglepartyofone.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/prettywoman.jpg)

            The ending is romantic and typical of a fairytale, but it is also slightly different from the original Cinderella tale.  The prince (Edward) does not seek out Cinderella (Vivian) by a lost shoe; rather their relationship develops from time spent together.  This is actually much more plausible than the Cinderella tale where they spent one evening together dancing and they know they are destined to be together.  That seems typical of a fairy tale, but the story in Pretty Woman is much better developed.  Overall, Pretty Woman is a re-telling of the quintessential fairy tale.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bluebeard


           Overall, I didn’t really care for any of the Bluebeard tales.  However if I had to choose one version I liked best, it would probably be “Mr. Fox” by Joseph Jacobs.   This tale had the most poetic composition and it read in an almost rhyming fashion.  In this tale, I especially liked the way Lady Mary was portrayed and the “Be Bold” phrase that was repeated multiple times.  Obviously, this tale was modeled on the Brothers Grimm’s “The Robber Bridegroom” since the plot is nearly the same.  The major difference is that the robber and bridegroom become named as Lady Mary and Mr. Fox in Jacob’s version.

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            In this tale, Lady Mary is at first enamored by Mr. Fox.  This is unlike all the other versions where the woman enters into something resembling an arranged marriage.  This also gives this version a slightly more whimsical feel and makes it more like a fairytale than any of the other versions.    

            I think the name Mr. Fox is clever and fitting for the male character.  Foxes generally are considered to be sneaky and cunning.  This mirrors the pattern of the male Bluebeard figure as he hides the bodies of the women he kills in his secret small room.  The ‘Lady’ title before Lady Mary’s name seems to suggest that she is both brave and cultured.  Other tales in the Bluebeard category are considered to be more folk related and not of the “happily ever after” variety.  This tale is certainly as gruesome as all the other versions with the various cut up bodies. 

            The phrase “Be Bold” first appears to Lady Mary when she arrives at the castle to visit Mr. Fox.  I think it suggests to her that she should be curious and brave, but not let it get the best of her, as it has Mr. Fox.  It also empowers all female readers that they should be cautious and curious.  Mr. Fox’s boldness is demonstrated in his willingness and apparent pride of keeping the women’s corpses in his own home.  His greed of the lady’s diamond ring is what leads to his eventual undoing.  I like how Lady Mary is able to provide exact evidence of the woman’s hand to Mr. Fox when he denies the claims she makes from her ‘dream’.  This shows both her bravery and her intelligence.  She knew that without physical proof she would likely have met the same fate as all the other women.  For someone who so carefully hid all the past ladies he had slain within his home, it was really careless of Mr. Fox to not search for the woman’s hand after he cut it off and couldn’t quickly locate it. 

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            The Bluebeard tales are certainly violent and unlike many of the commonly known fairy tales, but it does teach important lessons of being brave and confronting evils.  This version does not put the woman in as large a position of temptation and great curiosity as in most of the other versions; rather she is shown as a strong and admirable character. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sonne by Rammstein and Snow White


 

 
The music video, Sonne, by the German band, Rammstein makes symbolic references to the story of Snow White.  There are many similar repeated motifs and characters.  All of the band members are representations of the 7 dwarfs.  They are dirty and dressed as miners, much like the characters from the Brothers Grimm version.  The character of Snow White is much larger than the ‘dwarfs’.  She has to squeeze in their narrow doorway is visibly taller than all of them.  She is dressed in the colors and costume of Snow White from Disney’s interpretation of the story.  She has a long yellow skirt, a blue and red bodice, and a red bow in her hair.  She also has the quintessential ebony hair, as well as the white skin and ‘beautiful’ quality. 
In the music video, Snow White appears to be taking care of the dwarfs and doing much more than simply being their housekeeper.  She is seen spanking some of them.  At one point, she is seated and is admiring herself in a long mirror while one of the dwarfs brushes her hair.  They all visibly fawn over her by stroking her clothes at a later part.  She seems to be vainer and more concerned about her obvious beauty than either the Brothers Grimm or Disney’s Snow White character.  One of the dwarfs is also polishing apples at one point in the video.  This is a key reference to the Brothers Grimm and Disney versions of the story.  This Snow White also appears wilder than in the stories.  Her skirt has a long slit in it and she has on seductive high heels.  Also, when she joins the dwarfs at the table, there is a reference to the use of some gold powdered drug.  This is a far cry from Basile and Disney’s sweet and innocent young slave girl or Snow White. 
Snow White appears to be stabbed by one of the dwarfs, which causes her to fall into the sleep coma.  It was difficult for me to understand the German, but at one scene the dwarf has a sharp object in his hand and in the next they are carrying Snow White in her glass casket.  Soon after that scene a large apple falls on the casket, breaking the casket and waking Snow White up. 
After finding and translating the song lyrics from German to English on Google, I think there could also be some other alternative meanings to the song aside from the Snow White imagery.  The song itself is called Sonne, which means Sun.  I believe this could mean that the dwarfs treat Snow White as their Sun.  She is much larger than them and they do appear to revolve around her, much like the planets and the sun in our solar system.  Additionally, the sun could be connected to gold, which is what the dwarfs are mining for and also the color of the drug powder that Snow White uses.  The lyrics reference a sun coming and they count down numbers.  This could mean that the dwarfs knew Snow White was coming to them and that she would somehow become the center of their world.  The line, “She is the brightest star of all” could be a reference to Snow and the idea of her being the “fairest of them all”, as named by the Brothers Grimm and Disney. 
Personally, Snow White is my least favorite Disney movie and fairy tale in general, so it is difficult for me to choose a favorite.  I think I preferred the stories over this music video simply because there is more of a backstory provided and a clear conclusion.  This video only has Snow arriving at the dwarfs’ house and then being awakened at the end by the fallen apple.  It is certainly a unique interpretation of the story. 
 
Here are the translated song lyrics:
One, two, three, four, five,
Six, seven, eight, nine, from
Everyone is waiting for the light
Fear, fear not
The sun shines out of my eyes
You will not go down tonight
and the world counts loudly to ten
refrain:

One-Here comes the sun
Two-Here comes the sun
Three-she is the brightest star of all
Four Here comes the sun
The sun is shining out of my hands
It can burn, can dazzle you
If it breaks out of the fists
He lies down on the hot face
You will not go down tonight
And the world counts loudly to ten
refrain:

One-Here comes the sun
Two-Here comes the sun
Three-she is the brightest star of all
Four Here comes the sun
Five Here comes the sun
Six-Here comes the sun
Seven-she is the brightest star of all
Eight, nine, here comes the sun
The sun is shining out of my hands
It can burn, can blind you
If it breaks out of the fists
Sets are hot on your face
He lies down on his chest aching
The balance is the loss
Lets you go hard to the ground
And the world counts loudly to ten
refrain:

One-Here comes the sun
Two-Here comes the sun
Three-she is the brightest star of all
Four-and will never fall from the sky
Five Here comes the sun
Six-Here comes the sun
Seven-she is the brightest star of all
Eight, nine, here comes the sun

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jungian View of Fairytales


            Fairy tales can be analyzed from a number of viewpoints, one of which is psychodynamics. 

            Carl Jung was a psychologist that followed Sigmund Freud.  His ideas varied from Freud and dealt with the main ideas of the collective unconscious and archetypes.  The collective unconscious includes all the shared experiences of the human race.  These sorts of experiences become manifested as archetypes and these archetypes are portrayed in their most pure form in countless fairy tales.  Some examples of archetypes include a mother, a trickster, a beast, or a wise old man. 
 Carl Jung (http://www.nndb.com/people/910/000031817/carl-jung-1-sized.jpg)

            Jung believed that as people grow, they are able to reconcile the opposite forces within themselves.  These forces include their consciousness and ‘shadow’ (the parts of oneself that one is unaware of). 

            Jung was also interested in alchemy- the process of attempting to turn base metals into gold.  Alchemy is associated with the colors of red, white, and black.  These three colors are manifested as key symbolical colors for characters or events in tales such as Snow White or Little Red Riding Hood. 

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            The various tales related to the original Beauty and the Beast can be connected to Jung’s ideas as well.  In The Frog Princess, the brides are chosen unconsciously.  The location of the arrows was random and not something the king or prince could have anticipated.  The frog (and the swan, beast, or tiger in the other related tales) is a symbol of transformation.  The monster must encounter a more virtuous person (usually female, but occasionally male) and transcend their experience as a beast after growing into a relationship of love with the other person.  The forest that the prince enters also is a symbol of the collective unconscious.  The deep, dark forest is within each human and must be dealt with.  It could include messy issues or aspects of one’s ‘shadow’ that they have yet to discover.
(http://www.theburningear.com/2011/10/)

            Jung’s ideas of archetypes even transcend beyond past fairy tales.  They can be seen in many modern stories such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games.  A Jungian view of fairytales encompasses many collective events that are part of the human experience.  Similar characters and personality types will arise again and again as a way to educate readers.