Fairy Tales 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

Extrapolating Manhood from Iron Hans and The Wild Man

In the Iron Hans stories, the boy learns a series of lessons, and grows from a child to a man. If we were to extrapolate the lessons he learns to a general view on those values which were construed as masculine at the time, we would assume that society admired men who were physically able, capable of self-restraint, extraordinarily brave, and humble about their deeds. The descriptions of beauty in the story are absent, so it would be difficult to infer what qualities were considered physically beautiful (as opposed to in a story like Snow White where we are told lots of features which would have been considered beautiful). The stories promote the pursuit of physical ability by having the boy prove his muster in battle before finally achieving his ultimate success. For showing his worth as a warrior, he is ultimately rewarded. However, he must first deny being the able warrior. It would be unbecoming for him to boast about his feats. He is instead expected to deny them, until everyone finds out by their own accord. The understated hero is the more worthy hero. It's also interesting that the boy finds success from freeing the wild man, but in order to do so he must defy his mother. In both cases, the boy steals the key from his mother's possession, from under her pillow in Iron Hans and from her pocket in The Wild Man, and this seems to be the correct action. The boy is taught that defying its mother, aside from its immediate threat of punishment, can be a rewarding venture. This a far cry from the stories with female heroines (Red Riding Hood stories for example) where the defying of the natural mother seems to always be punished. It's surprising that this mother is not called a step-mother to suggest some amount of evil about her. The call for a man to have self-restraint, as evidenced by the punishment the boy receives for dipping his hand in the enchanted pool, might hint at a common problem of indulgent men at this time. While this idea certainly hasn't completely dissipated, I can imagine that in an agrarian society where populations were far further spread, as well as a society that was extremely patriarchal, abusive husbands and fathers were more common. Without proper means of policing, it would have been accredited to the man's self-control for him to resist sexual deviance and physical violence. Violence is only to be dealt in time of war or self-preservation. It's also interesting that the Wild Man's identity in terms of good and evil is not immediately expressed in Iron Hans. In the Wild Man, the story begins by calling him a "wild man who was under a spell" but in the Iron Hans story we have to deduce the character of the Wild Man as we go. In this way, it's much more literary.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Iron Hans

Iron Hans clearly reflects a male educational process because throughout it displays frequent references to our discussions of what 'manhood' and masculinity were supposed to be when the Grimms were writing these stories. For example when the gruff manly huntsman says to the king, "I'll go at my own risk. I don't know the meaning of fear", men are not supposed to be afraid of anything, they are supposed to be brave and courageous. However, the story is meant to distinguish between bravery and foolhardiness for instance when the boy "threw all caution to the wind" to get his ball back from the wild man's cage. He wasn't being brave, he was being foolish and didn't know what he was getting himself into. Likewise, when he stuck his finger in the spring and accidentally let his hairs fall in he was not being brave, instead it was impulsive, childish acts that got him in trouble because he could not restrain himself as a strong adult male should be able to. However, Iron Hans told him that "because you're not bad at heart" that he would continue to help him. Clearly a virtue of masculinity is being good at heart. As the boy grows up and learns to work in accordance with the governing Protestant work ethic of masculinity he also shows humility and unusual wisdom as when he brought the princess wildflowers instead of rare flowers because he knew, very practically, that they had a stronger scent that she would like more, and when he gave the ducats she gave him to the gardener for his children. Such displays of generosity are of course also part of what makes him turn into a 'man'. Similarly when the boy wants to go to war, his bravery is rewarded by Iron Hans' magnificent horse and army. It is here that the boy is starting to be called "a young man" as well, because he has learned to face and prevail against real danger, as he "did not stop until there was no one left to fight". Furthermore, after the war the young man returned the 3-legged horse to the gardener and did not say that he was the knight that saved the battle, instead he just replied, "I did my best, and without me things would have gone badly" a simple, truthful statement without boasting. In the end, he only tells his stories of bravery really in exchange for a wife and is also rewarded when Iron Hans is returned to his normal state as a king and gives him all his treasure. As usual in a fairy tale the education of the male comes through tales of hardship and bravery in which he must prove himself cunning, human/ handsome, extraordinary in some element, brave, and humble.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Iron Hans

The story of Iron Hans is that of a boy learning what it takes to become a man. At the beginning of the story he is a boy in his truest form, only focused on getting his ball back and not being punished by his father. He follows Iron Hans into the forest where he is given a charge. He is instructed to protect a stream. He acts childishly in regards to his duty, failing them three times, but he learns his responsibilities along the way. He ends up with golden hair that somewhat signifies his approach into manhood. This is only further exemplified when he takes up the manly acts of wooing a princess and slaying the enemies of his king. As he matures more and more with his actions, he also acts more and more maturely. His humility is so great that he constantly tries to keep his cap on and refuses any recognition or money. At the very end he is rewarded for his humble actions and receives not only the princess, but also all the treasure of iron hans.

Learning the Creeps

Even though we already talked about the story "The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was," I think it was one of the most interesting stories for the week, and I do see its relevance to the male education process. In fact, the whole reason that the boy has to leave home is because his father doesn't believe that the boy has any potential to earn a living. Everyone believes that he is too stupid to amount to anything, so of course he has to try and prove himself. I'm surprised about the fact that everyone thinks he's so stupid though. I mean, ok, not knowing what the creeps are is a little weird maybe, but I wouldn't think that a boy couldn't amount to anything just because he doesn't get afraid. What's probably most fascinating that the boy recognizes that a main part of his development will involve trying to learn how to get the creeps. That's exactly how the boy wants to earn a living. He thinks that knowing this will give him a "trick or two" so that he can earn a living. I think it's really interesting that the entire story would revolve around something that is presumably inherent. Learning how to be afraid is something that you wouldn't find in any other story (aside from fairy tales) because it is so out of the ordinary in terms of development. I also think it's amusing that he doesn't even learn what the creeps are (or thus earn a living) before he lives a comfortable lifestyle by marrying the king's daughter and living in a castle. To the outside world, it would seem that the boy had fully grown and developed, but even still, he is not completely satisfied with his own manhood until the minnows are thrown onto him. 

Iron Hans

In reading Iron Hans, there is a great transformation in the golden haired boy. This transformation represents the process of male maturity and education. From the beginning, we see the boy represented as very childish. He is playing with his ball, and it gets into the cage of Wild Man. Like all young boys, he responds in the childish and most immediate way to get what he wants (the ball) without really thinking about the consequences. He goes and retrieves the key from under his mother's pillow. After taken to the forest by the wild man, he is told to watch over the water. However, no matter how many times he is told not to do this he childishly and immediately responds to the first stimuli, whether it is his hurt finger, a lock of hair or his reflection. He is then sent off to go find work and ends up with a gardener. Here it is clear that he is becoming educated and learning to become a man. He starts showing signs of being a provider, and a courter as he brings the princess wildflowers and he gives the ducats to the gardener's children. He then goes to war, the ultimate test of manhood, and is quite brave and successful but remains unidentified for his good deeds. Finally, with the help of the Wild Man he catches the three golden apples for the princess while still remaining anonymous. Here the ideal man is represented as brave, strong, humble, a provider and courter. Throughout the process we see this movement from a childish boy only concerned with the immediate to a humble man that is not just looking out for himself but for others, and he ultimately ends up with the best prize, the princess and all of the treasures of the Iron Hans.

Iron Hans

Iron Hans is a story follows the life of a boy. First, he is childish and plays with a ball that he can't even keep track of. He lets it fall into the cage with the wild man in it. Then, we see the boy trying to be obedient by not letting the wild man out. Yet, he is still easy to convince because he is a child, and he lets out the wild man by going behind his parents backs. He does not think for himself at this point - he either listens to his parents or to the wild man. Then, he is afraid of punishment when the wild man escapes. We do not know if he wanted to go with the wild man or not, but the fact that he goes with the wild man without putting up a fight shows me that he did not mind because he was afraid of his parents. The only bad thing the boy knows about is punishment from his parents, so that is what he is most afraid of. Then, in the forest, he must learn self-control. He fails, but he learns of a new consequence and he is changed forever, which he clearly does not like because he tries to hide his golden hair. After being sent back out into the real world again, he learns hard work. He hides his identity and works in the gardens. If somebody were to discover him, what would happen? He tries to play it safe. He receives gold, but gives it away. He is content with the way things are because there are no other consequences. He doesn't know what other consequences are out there if he strays from the path. Yet, then he hears about the war, and he wants to help. He has learned that he cannot do everything by himself and it is okay to ask for help. Then, he saves the kingdom and truly learns how to be a man because he can fight and lead an army and is still humble about it. Once he finally recognizes that the consequences are not always bad, he owns up to his actions and everybody lives happily ever after. A lot of growing up for this boy was to look ahead at the consequences to decide if they are good or bad. Once he can do this, he is no longer a boy anymore.

Masculinity and The Wild Man

(I forgot to write it down, but I’m pretty sure the prompt was “wild man stories as a metaphor for the masculine growth/education process," so that’s what I’m going off of)

It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think of the “Wild Man” from the story who bears his name as a stand-in for some sort of masculinity rather than an actual character (like a father or father figure). From a very general perspective, then, the story involves the boy: 1. learning how this trait is socially maligned (man in cage), 2. beginning to express the trait himself but sensing the social repercussions (freeing man, running off), 3. struggling with how to live with this masculinity (living out a “secret marriage” in the garden), and 4. embracing the trait to vindicate his social worth (saving England). I’m no psychologist, but hopefully those four stages sound at least a little close to certain identity-development theories—I know I’ve heard a somewhat similar framework for how we come to identify ourselves racially.

Even with this framework in mind, though, the tricky question is what this sort of masculinity actually is, and why it would be somehow “unpopular” in a thoroughly patriarchal society. The first quality that jumps out is the difference between how others see it and how it interacts with the boy: it is captured and displayed as an unkempt drunkard, but its influence on the boy’s life involves cleanliness and hard work (keeping the garden). Other somewhat at-odds qualities include being altruistic (passing on money, saving England) without being entirely moral (stealing the key, stealing meat, bragging about martial exploits), and being both independent (fleeing from home, living in forest at start) and involved in the affairs of everyone around it.

The only way I see of reconciling these differences is by looking at how the boy grows increasingly more proactive and less dependent on others (not counting the wildness itself, of course); that is the masculinity the story wants to promote. The contradictions we see come from the tension of forcing a society-endorsed model into a story about a social outsider; for example, his two thefts may seem to be transgressions in the context of the story, but to the reader they are evidence that the boy is becoming resourceful. I think it’s clear that the masculinity the story wants to foster is, however “ruggedly individualistic” on the outside, ultimately one that acts for the benefit of existing institutions. Still, if we guys are going to have to adopt this masculinity one way or the other, we might as well think we’re being a rebel while doing it.

Masculinity Ideals Extolled

Amidst the variety of fairy tales that we are reading this week, it is clear that they all are teaching males what a man is composed of. Traditional values or characteristics like curiosity, bravado, adherence to authorities of greater supremacy and cunning ability are all examined. Curiosity proves to be detrimental for many female protagonists but for males, it is encouraged because it will yield positive results. In the Godfather variations, it is clear that you should not push the limits of your cunning ability or you will be a happy soul for your godparent. Risk is, naturally encouraged especially in The Devil and His Grandmother variations since risk ends up being the saving grace for the young men. We also understand that a male is needed to maintain order since a woman cannot be held responsible for such precious order-keeping items. Even the Wild Man variations allow for redemption. The stars align for the males and teach the necessary skill sets through different tests what is honorable and what is not.