Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman's Life

By Raufman, Ravit | Marvels & Tales, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman's Life


Raufman, Ravit, Marvels & Tales


Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal about the Transformations in a Woman's Life. By Joan Gould. New York: Random House, 2006. 342 pp.

Gould's book is a praiseworthy contribution to the manner in which fairy tales provide us with an understanding of women from both an existential and a developmental perspective. In addition to a discussion on fairy tales and myths, the book presents a wide variety of characters-heroines from modern literature, movies, and television programs, as well as real women, both famous and anonymous. All of these come together to form a corpus of rich and diverse narratives through which Gould presents the transformative nature of women. The in-depth treatment of women's daily experiences is integrated with an expansive knowledge of the fairy-tale genre.

One of the book's central arguments maintains that women's developmental path is essentially different from that of men's. Therefore, fairy tales with female protagonists differ from those that focus on the hero's narrative. For example, the discussion of "Snow White" emphasizes separation from the mother. Whereas heroes leave home for adventure's sake, when the heroine leaves home one central developmental challenge is related to attachment issues. In these cases, it is the evil mother who serves as a trigger that encourages the heroine to achieve the next stage of sexual development.

In the discussion of "Sleeping Beauty" Gould presents the different functions of sleep. While for men, being asleep represents a potential danger, for women, sleep, like pregnancy, represents quality time, which replenishes the heroine and allows her to go on. Regarding continuous sleep, Gould rejects feminist claims that it symbolizes passivity and rather describes it as part of women's multifaceted existence. This claim is a connecting thread, which runs through the entire book. Moreover, Gould rejects the idea that marriage, as the ultimate solution, is a purely masculine claim. She suggests viewing marriage the way one views heaven: we cannot be sure that it truly exists, and yet we must believe that it can.

By presenting examples from daily life and related to women's experiences, Gould maps out the complex process of the development of the feminine consciousness. She avoids the trap of perceiving fairy-tale characters as if they were simply characters. Instead, she invites us to perceive them as also representing different aspects of the heroine's psyche, thereby accurately conveying the symbolic nature of fairy tales.

Gould's work effectively integrates literary, gender-o rient ed, and psychological as well as historical approaches to fairy tales, taking into account the existence of stepmothers during a time when women were married off at a young age to older, widowed men. This results in a compelling integration that touches upon the great relevance of fairy tales in the real lives of actual women.

Certain feminists see Cinderella, like Snow White, as being a passive heroine who fails to take charge of her own life and expects to be saved by a prince. According to Gould, quite the opposite is true-Cinderella is much more independent than her stepsisters. It is not the prince who saves her, but rather the way in which she becomes aware of her own femininity, with the help of her fairy godmother. …

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