Biblical Imagery in the Story of Rapunzel
Ostensibly, the story of “Rapunzel” is the tale of a young girl, locked up in a tower by a wicked witch, the real concern of the story, however, being lust and the dangers it represents to girls as they enter the rites of passage of puberty. Symbolism pervades the story of “Rapunzel”, as in all fairy tales, giving rise to diverse interpretations. While a great deal of the symbolism is commonly found in fairy tales, the Grimm’s infuse the tale of “Rapunzel” with much from the biblical stories with which their audience would most likely be familiar. In the final version of “Rapunzel,” the Grimms add a moral message, based primarily on stories taken from the Bible, in order to demonstrate the importance of female purity.
The Grimms alone can not be given credit for all biblical references contained in the tale of “Rapunzel.” Numerous cultures have tales that resemble this particular Grimm brothers’ story, containing many of the same elements, such as the garden, the stolen vegetables, the hair, and the tower (Luthi 109-119). The Grimms’ version of “Rapunzel was based largely on the French fairy tale, Persinette, composed by a lady in waiting at the court of Louis XIV” (Luthi 118). Only in the Grimms’ versions, however, does Rapunzel give birth to twins, is the prince blinded, and Rapunzel’s tears restore his vision (Luthi 118).
For their second edition of fairy tales, the Grimms and their publisher deemed their original version of “Rapunzel” to be inappropriate for children for “what proper mother or nanny could tell the fairy tale about Rapunzel to an innocent daughter without blushing?” (Tatar 18). The Grimms, in fact, changed details of “Rapunzel,” ridding the story of even the most oblique reference to anything sexual. In particular, the offending line from the 1812 edition, “Tell me, Mother Gothel, why do you think my clothes have become too tight for me and no longer fit?” was deleted from future editions (Luthi 73). Within the collection of stories as a whole, the brothers took “pains to delete every phrase unsuitable for children…hoping that their collection could serve as a manual of manners” (Tatar 19). Most significantly, the Grimms “eliminated erotic and sexual elements…added numerous Christian expressions and references, [and] emphasized specific role models for male and female protagonists according to the dominant patriarchal code of that time” (Zipes, Dreams 74).
“Rapunzel” itself is the classic story of a mother’s attempt to protect her young daughter from the dangers she must face in order to successfully navigate the rites of passage of puberty. The Grimms’ version of “Rapunzel” also presents a strong moral message to young women in order to maintain the patriarchal nature and moral code of 19th century Germany. The question which most Grimms’ tales ask is: “how can one learn –what must one do to use one’s powers rightly in order to be accepted in society or recreate...