Mirror, Mirror: Fairy Tales as Reflection and Subversion of Social Vision
Folktales and fairy tales entertain and teach their audiences about culture. They explain taboos, model ideal behaviors, and demonstrate the punishments for violating the collective and its prescribed social roles. These tales pass on vital cultural and social histories via metaphoric language. In this course, we will examine a variety of classical and contemporary fairy and folktale texts from German and other European cultures, learn about approaches to folklore materials and fairy tale texts, and look at our own culture with a critical-historical perspective.
We will explore relevant topics, values, and fears of Western society across a span of time ranging from 1400 to the present. These aspects of human life include arranged marriage, infanticide, incest, economic struggles, boundaries between the animal and human, gender roles, and class antagonisms. Among the tales we will read and learn to analyze using various interpretive methods are those collected by the Brothers Grimm, by the Italian authors Basile and Straparola, by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French writers such as D‘Aulnoy, de Beaumont, and Perrault, by Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. We will also read 20th century re-workings of classical fairy tale motifs. The course is loosely organized around clusters of Aarne, Thompson, and Uther’s tale types, providing a framework for our examinations. We will learn about the history of both oral and literary fairy tales as we examine reworkings (including films) from different periods. Various interpretive approaches and critical lenses will be modeled and critiqued in class. Students will have the chance to apply these models in their discussion sessions, in a written paper, and in a group project.