Thursday, February 11, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Interestingly, however, not all the stories in this tale type operate in the same way. Sometimes the boy’s song is sung by a whole group of birds (The Girl and the Boy), and the boy himself is never transformed or resurrected. Other stories (like The Milk-White Doo) mention the bird coming from the boy’s bones but ascribe no conscious thought to the creature, ending abruptly with the (step)mother’s death. At the root of all the stories is the idea that the bird is in some sense a manifestation of the boy’s (and the reader’s) cry for justice against the wrongdoer, but only rarely is this link spelled out as “the boy’s mind was reborn into a bird’s body.” The fact that the bird’s song is always from the boy’s perspective is only incidental—for one, a bird’s song is more associated with identification than communication, and no one seems to understand the song’s story anyway.
The boy’s birth, death, transformation, and resurrection (the last of which, as we have seen, is not too common outside of The Juniper Tree) are all heavily tied to the women in his life (“birth” might seem obvious, but the story gives it a magical emphasis), but ultimately his own efforts in killing his stepmother are what allow his rebirth. Given the boy’s rather complicated life history, then, it’s difficult to say which gender comes out on top, so to speak. We could point to the violent death of the stepmother as just another example of patriarchy in action, but so much of the boy’s existence and the story’s plot is owed to the actions of women (2/3 of which are positive figures!). I’ll call it a draw.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Perhaps the point of fairytale stories, and part of their intrigue, is that one can never be completely certain about definitions. Yes the morals are strategic and outlined fairly clearly but the characters are meant to be ambiguous, particularly the men. The brother who is turned into a bird is, I believe, still mostly human since he is able to transform back, he just has a spiritual and physical for a time connection with the heavens and the supernatural realm. So he is not entirely animal but his animal form gives him a connection with the fantastical realm of fairytales while he retains his human sensibilities as displayed by his song. Although the brother sings, “tweet tweet! What a lovely bird I am!” I think it is meant as a kind of joke because of the tragedy and horrible circumstances he describes in the previous lines of the song about how his mother killed him and his father eating him.
The brother can come back from the dead because he is a brother, a virtuous figure who can overcome the horrible things the evil woman in the story does to him. If male virtue and strength cannot overcome the evil nature of the woman it overthrows the hegemonic traditions and the moral of the story. This transformation is different because when he returns he is able to physically crush his captor, the woman who put the spell on him, with the millstone and transforms himself rather than his sister completing the process for him.