The Sting in the Fairy Tale

Article excerpt

The sting in the fairy tale

AT one time or another,' says Bruno Bettelheim, "every child dreams of being a prince or a princess.' Yet what child of the tropical plains or plateaux of Latin America would ever have dreamed of such a thing if these (fairy tale) images had not been imposed upon him, images made much more concrete by Gustave Dore's at times gruesome engravings and Walt Disney's cloying cartoons, and made superficially more real by the stage versions of these tales in which schoolchildren are obliged to take part?

Given the authors and the immediate audience for whom they were writing, the kings and queens, princes and princesses who figure in these tales were inevitably generous and charitable, beloved of their subjects and respected by their peers. They had neither armies nor police forces (at most a few kind-hearted gamekeepers) and they never declared war. Only rarely were their subjects sent to prison or to the executioner's block, and then only through the spiteful machinations of a wicked stepmother. The queens and princesses, moreover, were all remarkable for their beauty. The young Latin American was not slow in recognizing that, in comparison with the realities of his life, all this was nothing more than a huge adult lie.

In European fairy tales, which draw on Scandinavian, German and Slav traditions, the characters are naturally white-skinned, blue-eyed and fair-haired (with the sole exception of Snow White whose hair was "as black as ebony'). Yet in Latin American society, where economic discrimination almost always goes hand in hand with discrimination of a racial nature, the tacit identification of this type of beauty with goodness may have undesirable repercussions. Young indigenous and mixed-race Latin Americans who, quite naturally, reject this discrimination may tend to develop a sense of inferiority, especially since at school and in daily life they are already set aapart by the more or less white children whose servants they often are.

In the Grimm brothers' version of Cinderella this identification is quite deliberate: "This woman (the stepmother) had brought with her two daughters who, though beautiful and fair of complexion, were nevertheless evil and black-hearted. …