A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Rapunzel
The familiar story of Rapunzel, as told by the brothers Jacob Ludwig Carl and Wilhelm Carl Grimm, takes on new meaning with a psychoanalytic interpretation. It is a complex tale about desire, achievement, and loss. The trio of husband, wife, and witch function as the ego, id, and superego respectively to govern behavior regarding a beautiful object of desire, especially when a prince discovers this object.
The story begins in a rural house where a man and woman live without children, near a walled garden tended by a frightening witch. The first line of the story tells us that they yearn for a child. It is clear that there exists in this house an almost tangible feeling of desire to produce offspring. The Freudian concept of the libido or the life force explains this desire as a product of the unconscious id(Guerin 129). To show further the prevalence of the id in this house, which in itself is a symbol of the human mind, the wife covets a vegetable, rampion, which she sees in the neighboring garden from her tiny window to the outside. "I shall die unless I can have some of that rampion to eat."(Grimm 514) The wife comes to represent this selfish element of the mind, and this is her primary function in the story. When she speaks, both times she is only asking for something that she wants. She has no name, as she does not function as a full character.
Her husband must take on the role of mediator to weigh her selfish desires against laws and morals that condemn stealing. This role represents the ego, which regulates the selfish id and the strict moral superego to reach a decision (Guerin 130). He decides that his wife's urgent need for the rampion outweighs the moral and social restrictions against it. He leaves the house, or the unconscious mind, and steals the rampion in the conscious world outside, under the cover of dusk. If the unconscious mind is obscure and dark, and the conscious mind is clear and sunny, then dusk is where the two blend briefly. This tendency to act at dusk further confirms the idea that this man represents the ego, which is the reconciliation of both id and superego. He too is nameless.
When the witch who owns the garden discovers the trespass, she brings down a harsh verdict. If the woman must continue to have the rampion, then the witch will receive their child. The witch represents laws and social constraints, corresponding to the repressive superego. The husband must again play referee and weigh his wife's desires and the witch's rules. He is not strong enough to overpower the id element of his household. He hastily agrees to the deal, and the witch transforms the desirable root from her garden into a child.
The girl who results from this ordeal takes a new form as the popular object of desire, but little has changed. Her name is Rapunzel, meaning rampion, the radish that her mother sought. A childless woman wishes for rampion, receives it, and...