Who’s Afraid of the Brothers Grimm? Socialization and Politicization Through Fairy Tales
More than two hundred years ago, the Brothers Grimm began collecting original folktales in Germany and stylized them into potent literary fairy tales.
Since then these tales have exercised a profound infl uence on children and adults alike throughout the Western world. Indeed, whatever form fairy tales in general have taken since the original publication of the Grimms’ narratives in 1812, the Brothers Grimm have been continually looking over our shoulders and making their presence felt. For most people this has not been so disturbing. However, during the past thirty-fi ve years there has been a growing radical trend to overthrow the Grimms’ benevolent rule in fairy-tale land by writers who believe that the Grimms’ stories contribute to the creation of a false consciousness and reinforce an authoritarian socialization process. This trend has appropriately been set by writers in the very homeland of the Grimms, where literary revolutions have always been more common than real political ones. 1
During the post-1945 period West German writers 2 and critics gradually came to regard the Grimms’ fairy tales and those of Hans Christian Andersen, Ludwig Bechstein, and their imitators as “secret agents” of an education establishment that indoctrinates children to learn fi xed roles and functions within bourgeois society, thus curtailing their free development. 3 This attack on the conservatism of the “classical” fairy tales was mounted in the 1960s, when numerous writers began using them as models to write innovative, emancipatory tales, more critical of changing conditions in advanced technological societies based on capitalist production and social relations. What became apparent to these writers and critics was that the Grimms’ tales, though ingenious and perhaps socially relevant in their own times, contained sexist and racist attitudes and served a socialization process that placed great emphasis on passivity, industry, and self-sacrifi ce for girls and on activity, competition, and accumulation of wealth for boys. Therefore, contemporary West German writers moved in a different, more progressive direction by parodying and revising the fairy tales of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially those of the Grimms.