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Al-Ustath Journal

The Theme of Child Abuse In Selected Fairy Tales By Brothers Grimm

Ansam Yaroub

Pages: 33-58


Brothers Grimm produced over two hundred fairytales that survived history to reach us in the twenty – first century. These tales, although condemned by most critics of Children’s literature, are still widely read and are competing with modern fairytales. For many years these tales have been subject to scrutiny due to the vast amount of violence, cruelty, cannibalism and other horrific elements in them. It was not until recently that very few critics, namely Maria Tatar and Jack Zipes, discovered a new horrific theme, the theme of Child Abuse, in many of The Brothers Tales. Maria Tatar has translated thirty – six of Brothers Grimm’s tales from German into English. In this research, the researcher studied all tales to trace Child Abuse theme. At the beginning the term Child abuse is defined as well as a brief clarification of the four types of child abuse are stated. There are four types of child abuse; neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse and in this collection of tales twenty – one out of thirty – six tales have one or more types of abuse. Many tales are about children who suffer from neglect like Hansel and Gretel. Their parents abandon them in the woods because they couldn’t afford to feed them anymore. Emotional abuse is another type of child abuse that prevails in the Brothers Grimm Tales. Cinderella, for instance, goes through emotional abuse the moment her mother dies and a stepmother and stepsisters enslaved her. She was abused for many years as long as it takes a branch to turn into a tree. Most of the tales have a physical abuse theme like Snow White in which her stepmother attempts to kill her stepdaughter out of jealousy, in Rumpelstilskin a father threatens his daughter’s life by telling the king that she can spin strew into gold. Some tales have one hero/heroin that is abused by more than one person for example the same girl in this tale is physically abused by the king who locks her up in a room filled with strew and she is condemned to death if she doesn’t spin it into gold. Some tales, like The Juniper Tree, physical abuse develop to the murder of the child, in which a stepmother chopped her stepson up and cooked him into a stew. To make things even more horrific, the mother fed the stew to the boy’s father. Although Brothers Grimm removed all sexual elements from the tales; yet some tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Furreypelt tackle the theme of child’s sexual abuse. In Furreypelt a father lusts for his own daughter and decides to marry her. The researcher concluded that the theme of child abuse prevailed in the tales simply because they prevailed in the time the Brothers Grimm collected the tales. The tales portrayed the reality of children’s abuse during that period of time thus they managed to live through many historical times and still capture the attention of the twenty first century reader for their realistic themes

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