Just recently I was to find a fairy tale to analyze and present in my English class. I wasn’t really creative in choosing my fairy tale topic, so I just chose the first fairy tale that came into my mind: Hansel and Gretel. Before my research, I just saw this tale as somewhat fascinating and creepy. After I did my research, now whenever I think of this tale, I just think of sex. Below is my Freudian analysis/ speech text:
I remember when I was in sixth grade, my class was watching a movie, when suddenly popped a nude female. Before the teacher could cover it, all the boys just stood up from their seats with wide eyes and hanging tongues and started panting. Well, almost all the boys, because I was smart. I didn’t just stand up- I went up to the screen and got the HD view. Oh, baby, the view was good! Of course, the teacher came up to me and told me to sit my butt down, but it was after that moment that I realized something- I used my brain! The only problem is that like all boys, my high-IQ, biologically advanced, super large brain is not up in my head, but down in my genitals. So do we see this in the short story ‘Hansel and Gretel’, where through the many sexual references throughout the story, the Grimm Brothers reveal the belief that women have power, particularly when it comes to the domain of sex.
The story of “Hansel and Gretel” involves a poor woodcutter, his wife, and his two children named Hansel and Gretel. Since the family is poor and have barely anything to eat, the wife plans on ditching the children in the woods, and the husband reluctantly agrees. The first time, they bring the children out to the woods to ditch them, but the children still come back because Hansel, who overheard the wife’s plan, put some rocks the night before in his pockets and thus left the rocks out to form a trail back. The second time, the wife leads the children deeper into the forest, and Hansel uses bread crumbs. The problem is the crumbs are eaten by the birds, and thus they are lost. They later stumble upon a candy house, and start eating to their delight. Then, a witch comes out and entices them to come in. However, the witch is a cannibal and seizes Hansel and locks him up. She tells Gretel to start feeding Hansel so once he gets fat, she can eat him. However, the witch has poor eyesight, so whenever she checks upon him, Hansel just offers a bone to feel and thus the witch thinks Hansel is still thin. The witch after a few days gets irritated and decides to eat him anyway. She tells Gretel to go inside an oven to see if it’s hot, but Gretel plays dumb and says she doesn’t know how. The witch then demonstrates how to do it, but right then Gretel kicks the witch in and cooks her in the oven. She frees Hansel, gathers up the rich gems in the witch’s house, and they go back to the woodcutter’s house after crossing a river on a duck’s back. Thus, they live happily ever after, now rich with the gems. So one might ask, where is the sex?
The archetypes in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ present the children’s sexual awakening and the role women play in it. The biggest archetype occurs when it is mentioned that the family had “very little to bite or sup” (Grimm 1), and when Hansel and Gretel devour freely from the witch’s house “built of bread… [decorated with] sugar” (Grimm 2). Eating is the archetype of having sex; thus, the family is actually not hungry for food, but hungry for sex. The fact that the stepmother is dominant over the male in this sex-needy situation indicates that females are in control when the drive for sex takes over. The witch’s house is made of bread, which symbolizes the body, and thus when the children are having the time of their lives eating this bread house, they are in essence going to an all-you-can-have-sex buffet. However, behind the beauty of the house, behind the beauty of sex, lives a witch, or the evil female. Just as the witch owns the house, so do women own sexuality. In the stepmother’s second attempt to rid the children, something the husband does not want to do, the “woman [who is the sole mastermind behind this plan] led the children far into the woods” (Grimm 2), to which the children this time get lost because “the birds of the woods” (Grimm 2) ate the bread crumb trail that Hansel had left on the ground to follow back. In contrast to the woodcutter’s house, which represents society and its constraints and the lack of food or sex, the woods is an archetype of a newer, darker place of their sexual awakening in which the laws of society do not follow. By venturing deeper into the woods, the children are venturing deeper into the new realm of sex. The bread crumb trail is in a sense their only way back to society, but since the birds- an archetype of sexual freedom because of their ability to fly- eats the trail up, they are now lost, and free, in this forest of sexuality. Since it is only the wife not the husband who can bear herself to get the children lost into sex, it shows the author’s belief that only females have the power to do such an evil deed of sexual corruption.
Not just the archetypes but also the alluded historical events help emphasize the power that women have. We see a class conflict, in which Gretel, who lacks bread, kills the witch, who owns tons of bread, and proclaims, “The old witch is dead!” (Grimm 3) The witch represents the rich, and Gretel represents the poor, as seen in the amount of bread, and thus sex, that each has. Rich people have more time for sex; poor people don’t. The event that is alluded here is the many revolutions that have occurred throughout history, most notably the French revolution, in which it was a mob of angry poor women who were the ones who marched into the king’s palace and took both the king and the bread that he owned. This was a turning point in the revolution; thus, it implies the political power that women can yield against the evil rich. However, by associating this with the fact that bread equals body and sex, the Grimm brothers show that it is not just political power, but sexual power that women such as Gretel can yield. Another historical event emphasizes not Gretel’s power, but the witch’s power, which can be seen when the family has nothing to eat and when the witch plans to “kill and cook [Hansel]” (Grimm 3). The whole story originates from a great famine in medieval history called the Great Famine. During this famine, there were cannibalism, families giving up children, and of course hunger. Hansel and Gretel’s family are living in this time period, yet the only person who seems to be not affected is the witch. Whereas everybody else is lacking bread and suffering to the extent of cannibalism, the witch stands out by having tons of bread and living a wealthy life. Thus, because of this stark contrast, the witch is ever more enticing to the many hungry people out there; she is like ice-cold soda in the middle of a desert. Of course, taking in the fact that bread symbolizes sex, one Great Famine can say the witch is ever more seductive, and thus her sexual powers are ever stronger.
By having men be in helpless situations, the Grimm brothers show how dependent men must rely on women in the domain of sex. When Hansel and Gretel are in the witch’s house, the witch locks Hansel up “behind a grating” (Grimm 3), and when she checks on how fat Hansel has become after feeding him “the best kind of victuals” (Grimm 3), Hansel tricks her in offering her a bone, a symbol of excitement; all the while, “Gretel got nothing but crab-shells” (Grimm 3). The bone reveals that Hansel is enjoying sex, which is further proven by the fact that he is getting fatter and fatter. However, he is in a cage, unable to grapple free and lost in the evil lust of sex, just like any man could be. This is in contrast to Gretel, who remains thin, symbolizing that she has lost enjoyment of this kind of sex. All of this shows that the witch, or sex, only serves to fulfill a man’s sexual needs, not a woman’s. Thus, the women, or Gretel, does not fall prey to sex, serving to emphasize women’s control, whereas men are all dependent on whatever the sex does to them since they are now ‘trapped’. Later, Gretel intelligently kills the witch, frees Hansel, and when going back home, she shouts out to the duck to help them cross “over its nice white back” (Grimm 3). By killing the witch, Gretel in essence frees Hansel from the lust of sex, showing yet again the helplessness of men. By killing the witch intelligently however, it shows how women know their way around sex, whereas men like Hansel have no clue and are hopelessly trapped. Just as the witch has power to trap men like Hansel in the cage of sex, so do women have the power to free them from sex, and transform them back to society, as when it was Gretel who called the duck to help transport both of them across the river, signifying renewal. Again, note that Hansel is dependent on Gretel, a woman, for saving him.
Ladies and gentlemen, once in your life I can guarantee that you will enter the realm of sex. You will enter into a new world, full of new pleasures, new excitements, and new knowledge. However good they may seem, please be aware that behind it all is a dirty little witch. And men, if you don’t watch out, this witch will come after you and eat you, and he will find it very delicious. So you better watch out.
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Check out the last work cited. It has a very good Freudian analysis. Anyway, have fun reading Hansel and Gretel again! This time, when you read it, you will look at it more differently ever than before.