Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Birth of Fingerling as a Feminine Projection: Maternal Psychological Mechanisms in the Fingerling Fairy Tale

Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Birth of Fingerling as a Feminine Projection: Maternal Psychological Mechanisms in the Fingerling Fairy Tale

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Tale Type AT 700, named "Tom Thumb," is presented as an expression of maternal psychological mechanisms and of experiences that relate to the early mother-son relationship. The underdeveloped figure is presented as an expression of maternal-symbiotic needs, as well as of the experience of maternal immaturity, projected through the child. KEYWORDS: folk tale, Tom Thumb, psychology, mother-son relationships

In this paper I discuss Aarne-Thompson Tale Type 700 (AT 700), Tom Thumb, as an expression of maternal psychological mechanisms and of experiences that emerge from and relate to the early mother-son relationship. The small, underdeveloped figure who never leaves home, never gets married or separates from his parents, is presented as an expression of maternal-symbiotic needs, motivated by the desire to preserve the mother's symbiotic relationship with the infant. The immaturity and smallness characterizing this figure may also be understood as the experience of maternal immaturity, projected through the child.

These claims are based on different theoretical disciplines. The psychoanalytical-feminist approach helps to understand the psychological, as well as gender-related, mechanisms developed in the early developmental stages of the mother-son relationship in a way that differs from the mother-daughter relationship and its potential outcomes. This perspective helps to recognize gender identity issues and addresses the question of why the small hero never achieves a masculine identity. Derived from object relation theories, the psychoanalytical-feminist approach gives central importance to the term separation-individuation, first coined by the infant researcher Margaret Mahler, to describe the ongoing process of achieving an independent identity. Another theoretical orientation is the hero pattern model, as formulated by different scholars, which presents the circumstances surrounding the birth of heroic protagonists of legends and myths as sharing some common characteristics with those of the tiny heroes in AT 700. The major difference is that in legends and myths, the heroes grow up to be heroic characters, which achieve their own separate identities. This difference raises the possibility that the tales belonging to AT 700 express a female, maternal, pre-Oedipal point of view, in contrast to the legends and myths used in the hero pattern model, which deals with the same issue of separation-individuation, but expresses the possibility of achieving a masculine identity.

Different versions of this tale type from different cultural regions reveal the close affinity between the tiny hero and his mother. In some of them, he is neglected by his father, similar to what befalls the hero in the hero pattern model, but still fails to achieve a masculine identity. Some of the versions also emphasize the fact that the mother herself suffers from early childhood deficiencies. Her small son serves to replace her original family, which was lost too early.

PSYCHOANALYTICAL STUDIES OF AT 700

The widespread nature of AT 700 can be seen by the number of versions listed in the Aarne-Thompson index (Aarne 1961), as well as in Kurt Ranke's Enzyklopädie des Märchens (1981). Other classifications-such as Ranke (1962), Delarue (1956), Delarue and Tenèze (1964), de Meyer (1968), van der Kooi (1984), and Camarene and Chevalier (1995) - support the popularity of this tale type. The tale, which sets up a tiny hero at its core, attains various studies, which have attempted to address the question of what the story is about. Some of them related several episodes from the tale with initiation rituals that relate to passing from childhood to adolescence (Saintyves 1923; Pape 1981). Most of the studies emphasized the child's point of view, claiming that this tale is told to small children (Thompson 1946 [1977] :87), and that children identify with the hero who has a strong relationship with the sheltering mother and the direction-giving father (Scherf 1987:116). …

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