The Fisherman and His Wife: From a Tale About Humility to A Culture of Unquenched Greed

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” -Socrates

Socrates’ quote embodies what the Grimms’ tale, “The Fisherman and His Wife” seeks to teach. The tale tells a story of how one woman’s unbridled greed leads to dissatisfaction and, eventually nothing, a warning tale that doesn’t register with today’s American culture of consumerism.

In this tale, a poor fisherman and his wife live in a hovel by the sea. One day, the fisherman is performing his usual job, when he suddenly realizes he’s caught a flounder on his line. This isn’t any ordinary flounder (what fairy tale would be complete without some unusual creature); it is a talking flounder. The flounder reveals to the fisherman that he is actually an enchanted prince and convinces the fisherman he wouldn’t taste very good ergo he should be released. The fisherman does so, being the kind-hearted pushover (as is discovered as the tale progresses) he is.

Once he returns to his hovel, the fisherman eagerly tells his wife of his encounter with the enchanted prince/fish. The wife demands for her husband to return to the sea and ask the fish for a cottage (obviously if the fish talks, he must be magical and grant wishes). The husband does as his wife commands, and calls the fish. He makes his demand, and the fish replies that he should return home for his wife already has the cottage she desires.

Once he returns, the fisherman finds his wife inside a quaint cottage happily. The fisherman states, “Now we can live quite happily.”, to which his greedy wife replies, “That’s something we’ve got to think about.”

As her reply suggests, the wife is not satisfied by the simple cottage. She continues to ask her husband to go back to the fish and demand for bigger, grander things. Meanwhile, the fisherman continues warning his wife, suggesting that they should be content with what they have and not demand for more. His wife makes one final request toward the end of the story that completely backfires on her. While sitting on her throne as pope, she demands her husband to tell the flounder she wants to be like God. The husband does as he is told, and the fish responds, “Go back home. She’s sitting in your hovel again.” Thus, the wife is left with nothing once again.

The moral of the tale indicates that greediness and the thirst for more can never be quenched and will ultimately lead to nothing.

While this is a worthy lesson to be learned, today’s consumeristic culture drowns out any thoughts of humility in people its the bombardment of commercials and advertisements found in nearly every space. Children are no longer taught to be happy with what they have and appreciate the smaller things in life; rather they are taught to give in to that growing greed that the fisherman’s wife felt.

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Electronic gadgets are constantly being upgraded. The iPhone 5 will become old news in a couple of months when the iPhone 6 is created. The consumerist culture has people believe that they will never be satisfied until they have the latest technology, the latest fashions, etc. Humility goes out the door if you don’t own the thinnest laptop.

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The infectious greed (which should be called the “fisherman’s wife syndrome”) that has contaminated a considerable portion of the American portion translates to nearly every aspect of the culture. Aside from consumable goods, the greed to have more and be the best is very much present, for example, in academia. Students are taught since primary school to get the highest grades and have the best transcript, to apply to Ivy League colleges in order to be the top of the top, the creme de la creme. Somehow the thirst for learning and obtaining knowledge isn’t good enough; the greed to have the highest grades in your class are far more important.

Although humility is seen as an idealistic quality, it isn’t practical in the real world. Greed is ultimately a high-stakes race in this culture; if you don’t keep up, you’ll end up in the lower class and in a large amount of debt.

To whom much is given, much is desired.

How Some Children Played at Slaughtering: From Creepy Tale to RPG-like Murders

People often smile at the sight of children at play. In the Grimm’s tale, “How Some Children Played at Slaughtering”, that includes watching children murder children.

In one of the most twisted tales in their collection, this story is told as two separate tales; both, however, involve children, man-slaughter, and poor choices. The tale’s first part begins with a councilman witnessing a group of children playing butcher. One child played the actual butcher, one was the cook, another was an assistant, and one played the pig. The boy playing butcher proceeded to actually slit the boy pig’s throat and the assistant caught his blood in a bowl.

The councilman takes the butcher to the mayor’s house, who immediately summons a council. One of the councilmen, supposedly the wisest, advises to the chief judge a clever way of determining the boy’s guilt or innocence. He suggests for the boy to be offered two choices: a red apple and a Rhenish gulden (a gold coin). If the boy were to choose the red apple, he was to be set free without a punishment for the murder; if he chose the Rhenish gulden, he was to be killed (it’s amazing how the justice system has radically changed since then). When offered these two items, the boy took the apple with a laugh, and so he was set free. The moral of the story seems to be that if you’re a child, you can get away with murder as long as you know how to play the innocent.

The second part of the tale has a similar incident, except the three children playing slaughter are all siblings. The children’s mother sees one of her sons slit his little brother’s throat while bathing another child, takes the knife out of her younger child’s throat and stabs the heart of the boy who played butcher out of anger. When she goes back to the child she was bathing, she comes to find the child has drowned in the tub. She becomes so scared and desperate that she hangs herself, and her husband dies soon afterward. The moral of this tale still remains unclear.

Both parts of the this tale seem to offer the idea that children will imitate what they see. Somehow, in recent acts of violence committed by children and young adults, this form of reasoning is still used to attempt to explain such crimes. Video games and violent movies are often targets of blame by adults for the influence it has on young minds. Although this may seem a far stretch to many, it’s a noteworthy source to examine when reviewing mass crimes of murder that have occurred in the past few decades among young people. One murderer who made skeptics of this claim do a double take was Anders Breivik.

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For those who don’t remember, Anders Breivik was the mass murderer who killed 77 people, mostly teenagers, in Norway back in 2011. He dressed up as an officer after bombing a government building and slaughtered a multitude of teens at a sleep-away camp in Oslo. The ultranationalist right wing extremist admitted that he was a hardcore World of Warcraft player and fan, and that the game influenced his approach to his crimes. Breivik also stated that Call of Duty, another rpg, helped him hone his sharp-shooting skills before his shooting rampage in Oslo.

Although Breivik isn’t a child, many of those who play games such as Call of Duty are indeed children. If the violent video games managed to have such an incredible influence on a grown man, it’s frightening to think of  what effect it would have on the mind of impressionable young children. If tales like that of the Brothers Grimm isn’t enough of a warning, the number of gun crimes by minors and young adults since the rising popularity of shooting RPGs should be. The killings in Columbine, Colorado and most recently Sandy Hook Elementary, both committed by young men, were executed in a manner reminiscent of the shooting scenes in a lot of these violent video games and films. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two teens who massacred 12 people during the Columbine High School shooting, were avid violent-video game players. Adam Lanza, the 20-year old man who killed a multitude of young school children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut was also known to have spent hours playing Call of Duty.

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Clearly, the children in the Brothers Grimm’s tale have been replaced by gamers playing violent RPGs, but ultimately the tale remains the same; children kill other children while playing out what they see. Nowadays, children see violence all around them, whether it is on the news, in movies, or in the very video games they play in their recreational time. Somehow, the influence that witnessing violence has on children is still the same today. Perhaps it’d be wise to heed the warning set by the tale.

Snow White: From Sexist Tale to Feminist Film

Gender roles are constantly being changed and reassigned with each passing decade. What men and women were expected to do ten years ago is starkly different to the roles expected today. Back in the day, women were to be homemakers while men were the breadwinners. Nowadays, although women are empowered and have access to the same opportunities as men, there is still a disparage in gender roles, where females are expected to upkeep their looks and essentially satisfy the male gaze. This is especially evident in modern day cinema.

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There are, however, those few film exceptions that choose to keep their female protagonists fully clothed and powerful. One such film is Rupert Sander’s Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). Ironically enough, the film is based on the tale originally recorded by the Brothers Grimm. Their version of the tale adheres to a more “traditional” (or, bluntly put, sexist) female gender role when it comes to Snow White.

Snow White is, as is typical in most tales collected Brothers Grimm, a beautiful young girl who has a jealous stepmother. After asking her magical mirror who the fairest one of the land was one unfortunate day, it replies “You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, but Snow White is a thousand times more fair.” Had the mirror lied, and continued to satisfy the queen’s vanity by responding with the usual “You, my queen, are the fairest of all.”, poor Snow White would have been spared the cruel treatment that ensued. Shortly after receiving this utmost terrible news, Snow White’s stepmother hires a huntsman to take the young girl to the forest and kill her. If killing a child because of a mirror’s opinion isn’t outrageous enough, the stepmother also wants her lungs and liver to be delivered to her as proof of her murder.

Luckily, the huntsman had something close to a conscience and decided to let Snow White get lost in the forest and killed by some wild animal rather than killing her by his own hand. As for fulfilling the stepmother’s organ requests, he kills a wild boar and takes its lungs and liver to her (because a boar’s organs look identical to human’s). Meanwhile, Snow White falls upon the seven Dwarf’s cabin, forgets all common courtesy and eats their food, then proceeds to sleep in their beds. The dwarfs find Snow White and choose to let her stay in exchange for maid work. Snow White is to cook, clean, and sew and knit for the dwarfs in exchange for their hospitality.

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This is the point where the tale takes a hard left toward sexism and gender roles. Snow White is apparently so dim that the stepmother manages to dress up as two different personalities and trick her into her own death. The tale makes it clear that the female brain cannot process anything more complex than cleaning and knitting. The male hero sweeps in and saves the day by accidentally dislodging a piece of poisoned apple from Snow White’s throat and bringing her back to life (somehow, in fairy tale logic, being asphyxiated by a piece of fruit stuck in your wind pipe doesn’t permanently kill you).

Rupert Sander’s film changes Snow White to a modern day, intelligent and strong character which defies cinema norm even in today’s standards. In the film Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White’s stepmother, Ravenna, pursues Snow White to drain the youth from her and maintain her beauty. She hires a huntsman to track her down in exchange for the resurrection of his dead wife. However, upon learning that she did not have the power to bring his wife back, the huntsman helps Snow White to escape. After a series of close calls with Ravenna, Snow White eventually eats a poisoned and falls into a deep sleep, from which a kiss from the huntsman awakens her. Having nearly died, Snow White kicks into her empowered female role and makes it her goal to exact revenge on Ravenna. She trains in combat and takes command of the Duke’s army. Snow White leads them to battle with her evil stepmother, and, using one of the moves she learned from the huntsman, kills her.

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What makes this version of the tale satisfying is the new look being given to the female character. She is no longer completely dependent upon the male character to help her out of her predicaments, rather, she takes it upon herself to learn the skills others have to offer and help herself. In other words, Snow White can fight her own battles. The film, however, offers a fair balance between complete independence and co-dependency. While Snow White was the one to kill the enemy and save the land in the end, she still worked with her male counterparts and male and female battled alongside one another.

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Sander’s take on the tale is a welcomed change from the Grimms’ tale. Little girls and boys won’t be given the message that females are pretty but incompetent and males are the brains and power of any operation; rather, they will be told that males and females are equals that can empower one another by working together.

Hansel and Gretel: From Witty Children to Witch Slayers

The tale of Hansel and Gretel is one that many can tie back to their childhoods. The Grimms recorded version of the tale is ultimately one of the more popular accounts of the grim story. Two children were driven out of their homes by their father (coerced to do so by the children’s stepmother) due to the family’s poverty and lack of food. When led into the forest the first time around, clever Hans leaves a trail of pebbles which the children follow back home. The second time around, Hans had no resources to leave a proper trail for him and Gretel to follow back home except for the loaf of bread given to them by their parents. He leaves a trail of bread crumbs, but alas, his trail gets eaten by the birds in the forest (shocker!). The children walk aimlessly and get lost in the forest. On the third day, they fall upon a small edible house. Putting any morals they previously had about destroying someone’s property aside, the starving children proceed to eat parts of the home.

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Now, here is where the story begins to get interesting. The Grimm brothers’ account of the tale claims that the old woman who owned the house pretended to be friendly with the children but was really an wicked witch that lured children to her home with her edible home. Clearly, logic went out the window with this tale (how can the children’s breadcrumbs get eaten by animals but the witch’s entire home is left intact?). The witch proceeds to lock Hansel into a caged pen and fatten him up and subjects Gretel to “tough” housework (she cooked the food Hansel was fed and fetched water; it was all merely a slap on the wrist considering she was eating the witch’s home). When the time came to eat the children, the witch told Gretel to climb into the oven. Witty little Gretel tells the witch she doesn’t know how, so the witch shows her how (what can you expect from someone who makes an edible home?) and the young girl locks her in. With the help of a kind little duck, the children return to their father with stolen riches from the witch’s home and live happily ever after sans their stepmother, who died.

The morals of this tale is either unclear or completely irrational. If you’re starving, abandoning your children in a forest won’t work because they will continue finding their way back. If you’re lost in a forest and find an edible home, by all means, eat away at it, kill the owner, and steal her things; it will only bring you happiness and unbridled wealth. Be kind to little ducks because they can help you cross a river with your stolen riches someday.

Regardless of the questionable lessons the tale provides, the Grimm’s version of Hansel and Gretel still serves as a fairly useful warning for children to beware of strangers and food from strange places. However, remaining true to the violent and graphic nature of today’s cinema, a recently released film adaptation of the tale seems to toss any morals whatsoever out the window and plays with the idea that revenge is the sweetest medicine for any wound. Director Tommy Wirkola turns the clever children from the Grimm’s tale and transforms them into talented fighters in his film Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Wirkola’s version of the tale has the children successfully murder the witch, after which they deem themselves witch-killing professionals and go from town to town killing witches and saving the townspeople’s children. A grown-up Hansel and Gretel eventually discover that their mother, who was a white witch, sent them away in the woods to protect them from the black witch. Both parents were murdered by the witch-intolerant townspeople who discovered the children’s mother was a witch.

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The film has all the makings of a modern day blockbuster hit: action, bloodshed, gore, fighting scenes, a sexualized female, a troubled yet bravely heroic male, and guns. Somehow, the tale the Grimm’s recorded in their book is turned into a video game (which will probably be hitting the market soon) filled with the violence and horror that viewers enjoy today. What that says about modern day American culture is off-putting. With the advancement of technology, people’s attention spans have become seemingly shorter. What holds a person’s interest nowadays must, apparently, involve weapons and fighting. Perhaps it’s due to the new age of violence that has been created in the spirit of  “counter-terrorism”. What’s scary about movies like this is that tales that were once bedtime tales intended to scare children into obeying their parents and heed their warnings have been transformed into a message that violence solves everything. Children, start going to those shooting ranges and perfect your aim, you may need it one day to exact revenge on your enemies and their friends!

Rapunzel: Disney Makes It All About Looks and Merchandise Again

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”

It’s fair to say that the latter is the one line that sticks with people most when they read or hear the tale “Rapunzel”.  The Grimm brothers presented a tale of love, both maternal and romantic, in their book. Disney, however, sheds a different light on one of the key figures in the tale, Mother Gothel, in its film Tangled (2010).

In the Grimm’s version of the tale, Rapunzel is literally given to the sorceress by her parents in exchange for Rapunzel lettuce (parenting at its best!), hence the character’s name. The sorceress is presented as a lonely woman who genuinely cares for the child and wants to keep her for herself. When she discovers that Rapunzel has been sneaking the prince into her room (and most likely doing unspeakable things), she is upset. She cuts Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her. Although the sorceress’ actions were quite harsh, the poor woman only wanted to keep her daughter secure from the world and to herself, or so the Grimms made it out to seem in their account of the tale.

Now, Disney, in all of its fame and glory, took it upon themselves to take the tale and transform it into something marketable (so, the usual). In its film adaptation of the tale, Rapunzel’s long golden hair has magical healing abilities, which Mother Gothel wants to use to restore her youth and beauty. Gothel kidnaps the child and locks her away in a dungeon for her own selfish desires. Rapunzel escapes with Flynn (a substitute for the prince), is pursued by Mother Gothel, and eventually has her hair cut and loses all magical abilities.

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Suddenly, Disney turns Mother Gothel from a lonely woman seeking a selfish companionship from her daughter to a vane and evil woman. Looks becomes an overlying theme in the tale in the film adaptation of the tale, as Rapunzel’s blonde hair is considered magical. All of this, of course, is a clever ploy on the company’s behalf to create a marketable film. From this results the urge of little girls all around the country to dress up like the beautiful Rapunzel and buy the long golden wig so their hair can be magical as well (children’s imaginations have always been an easy target for capitalistic ventures). The tale the Grimms once told turns from a twisted yet heart-warming story to a superficial one whose moral is that young beauty is always the winner in the end.
Unfortunately, Disney’s monopoly is evident everywhere. Upon making a Google image search for Rapunzel, the first page of results is loaded with images of the film’s Rapunzel. Tangled merchandise, from backpacks to clothing, flood many of the stores frequented by younger children.

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The goal of tales today is no longer to entertain children or teach them any truly valuable lessons; it’s a capitalistic tool to transform even the youngest of children into consumers.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…or the wig you purchased at your local Disney store.