What Makes a Woman "Pious and Good": The Function of Several Grimm Brothers' Cautionary Fairy Tales
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Justine Van Meter
This thesis explores how several of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, “Little Snow-white and the seven dwarfs,” “The Juniper Tree,” and “Cinderella” exhibit patriarchal expectations of women that fairy tale protagonists strive to uphold, while female villains feel driven to violence and artifice because of their inability to fit into this role. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published these stories in nineteenth-century Germany, which was predominantly Protestant and held the belief that women should be nurturing homemakers who took care of their husbands and children. These cautionary tales instruct women on how to behave and appear physically, likely because these stories aimed to help young women secure husbands. In these three of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, evil women — typically stepmothers but also evil stepsisters — are classified as witches who mistreat the child from the man of the home’s first marriage. These witches are portrayed as jealous of beautiful young women who are subservient to men and children, compelling them to compete with the angelic figure. The husband/father abandons their biological child, allowing their new wife to physically and/or emotionally abuse the son/daughter, but they never face repercussions for this negligence. At the end of these tales, protagonists who are dutiful and pious are rewarded by natural motifs, leading to their happy endings, while evil women are punished violently in a public display. Female protagonists are always saved from the villainous witch by a male character – commonly a suitor, but also male family members.
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Montante, Hannah. What Makes a Woman “Pious and Good”: The Function of Several Grimm Brothers’ Cautionary Fairy Tales. 2023. Chapman University, MA Thesis. Chapman University Digital Commons. https://doi.org/10.36837/chapman.000465
Children's and Young Adult Literature Commons, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Commons, German Literature Commons