Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

The Affinity between Incest and Women's Mutilation in the Feminine Druze Versions of "The Maiden without Hands": An International Motif in a Local Context

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

The Affinity between Incest and Women's Mutilation in the Feminine Druze Versions of "The Maiden without Hands": An International Motif in a Local Context

Article excerpt

Incest in "The Maiden without Hands"

The subject of incest in "The Maiden without Hands" has long been a controversial one. Whereas in some versions the possible affinity between the chopped-off hands motif and the subject of incest is only hinted at, in various versions found around the world, the maiden is dismembered when she refuses the sexual advances of her father or brother.1 Among the attempts to address the question "Why the hands?" Alan Dundes suggests viewing the father/brother who cuts off the maiden's hand as being associated with the idiom "to ask for her hand": the father who cuts off his daughter's hands "enacts" a marriage proposal ("To Love My Father All" 61).2 However, whereas Dundes acknowledges the incest theme in the tale, he suggests viewing it as a projection of the daughter's Oedipal desires rather than the father's crime: "If it is not the father who wants to marry his daughter but, rather, the daughter who wants to marry her father, then it is appropriate that it is the daughter who is punished for her incestuous wish" ("Projective Inversion" 387).

The question of whether the incest theme reflects the daughter's desires or a social situation has preoccupied scholars for decades. In this article I suggest that the Druze feminine oral versions of "The Maiden without Hands" may shed additional light on this question. Comparing these versions to Palestinian and Israeli Arabic versions, the article examines the relations between metaphoric expressions and realistic aspects of the tales, suggesting viewing the maiden's mutilation as being associated with women's status in Druze society. Whereas incest is a taboo in most cultures, in Druze society, women who are victims of incest are religiously forbidden to marry and pay heavy social prices. Reading the Druze versions in light of Druze women's social situation enables the creation of a link between incest and disability (the image of the handless maiden), as reflected in the widespread motif of the chopped-off hands (Motif Q451.1: Hands cut off as punishment) in tale-type ATU 706.

I argue that Dundes's suggestion to understand the chopped-off hand motif as a realization of the incest theme does not contradict the possibility to view the image of the handless maiden as reflecting her vulnerability in society, which, under certain circumstances, may lead to disability and mutilation. On the contrary, identifying the incest theme and acknowledging its deep implications on maidens' lives clarifies why an incest victim/maiden becomes "handless," regardless of whether the incest is born of her own desire, her father's desire, or her father's/brother's crime. The feminine oral Druze versions discussed in light of women's status in Druze society validate this view, especially when compared to the printed collections written and edited mainly by men, from which this tale type is routinely (and glaringly) absent.

Scholarly Ignorance of the Father's Crime in "The Maiden without Hands"

Dundes's suggestion to view the incest as the daughter's wish rather than the father's crime is in line with the much earlier suggestion raised by Otto Rank, who discussed the incest theme in medieval literature. Rank suggests that, in a much earlier form of the folk tradition, the daughter was in love with her father and received the punishment of genital mutilation for her masturbatory desires (Inzest-Motif 348).3

Dundes and Rank were not the only ones to ignore the father's crime in this tale type. Henry Carsch attributes the father's behavior to external circumstances. In reviewing the figure of the devil in the Grimm's tales, he presents the fathers who do not think about their children, and claims, "The children themselves do their best to protect themselves" (491). He explains this dysfunctional parental behavior in terms of the father's weakness, attributing the source of evil to an external origin. He further emphasizes the differences between the bad devil and the good family, freeing the father from any sense of guilt besides that of being weak. …

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