There are almost innumerable ways to examine culture and cultural change. Perhaps one of the most interesting of these studies is determining the cultural influence on literature. This specific type of study can be valuable when looking at all types of literature, but a specific branch of literature, fairy tales, offers an intriguing outlook. Fairy tales are some of the oldest stories in literary text; in this scenario the question becomes the following: How and to what extent does the given cultural situation affect the status of fairy tales in that time? Fairy tales are the center of constant analysis by literary scholars and psychoanalytic experts alike. The stories are probed, analyzed and examined time and time again for they offer themes and ideals that provide realistic application of and interpretation on society and the way people think and act. It is engrossing to contemplate the differentiation of a fairy tale story among dissimilar societies.
Modern day scholars such as Maria Tatar and Bruno Bettelheim claim that fairy tales explain the complexities of reality as a subconscious level and provide comfort and lessons that are of upmost value to impressionable minds. But it is interesting to see that over time and across culture the actual provisions of fairy tales vary significantly in nature.
It is most beneficial to first look at fairy tales from the modern perspective. In his article “Fairy Tales and Modern Stories,” psychologist and author Bruno Bettelheim analyzes the importance of fairy tales and how they have such a universal and powerful effect on youth. Bettelheim believes that children use fairy tales as a vehicle in which to offer an escape or distraction from their real world problems. Bettelheim shows this with an anecdote that involves two girls. One of these girls read “The Little Engine That Could” and “became convinced that one’s attitude indeed affects one’s achievements- that if she would now approach a task with the conviction that she could conquer it, she would succeed” (304). He then explains that modern stories give small children unrealistic goals and are not an effective way of handling tough situations. On the other hand, another young girl that read “Rapunzel” “recalled that she felt akin to Rapunzel because the witch had ‘forcibly’ taken possession of her, as her stepmother had forcibly worked her way into the girl’s life. The girl felt imprisoned in her new home, in contrast to her life of freedom with the nursemaid. She felt as victimized as Rapunzel, who, in her tower, had so little control over his life” (305). What Bettelheim proposes through these examples is that fairy tales offer an escape from reality that modern stories simply do not allow, leading him to his conclusion that the fantasy themes of fairy tales are beneficial to children.
To extend the modern perspective of cultural impact, Maria Tater in her article “An Introduction to Fairy Tales” explains the cultural link to fairy tales....