An Analysis of Hansel and Gretel in Fairy Tales

Categories: Fairy Tale

Fairy Tales

And they lived happily ever after! This is the classic ending to the majority of fairy tales that children listen to growing up. For those that heard these tales, few can deny that their visions of the future and reality were not, at least in part, influenced by fairy tales. Young boys dream of when they will slay their first dragon or monster, while young girls envision the prince charming that will one day ride in and whisk them away.

Although much of this influence is quite innocent, there are some stereotypes imbedded in fairy tales that have been passed through the generations.

Specifically, there has been a tradition of portraying women in a negative fashion. The Grimm Brothers' version of Hansel and Gretel exemplifies some of these portrayals including the stereotypical role of the evil stepmother, the role of the wicked witch, how children are easily victimized, and the role of passive female heroines. Rare amongst fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel, also demonstrates the active role of female heroines, but only under restricted conditions. These stereotypes are seen throughout the story.

Evil Stepmother

One of the stereotypes perpetuated by Hansel and Gretel is that of a controlling, selfish, jealous and "evil stepmother." When there is not enough food or money for the whole family to survive, the stepmother in this story orders their father to take them to the depths of the forest and leave them. When the father resists, she mocks him and convinces him that by keeping the children all four would soon perish.

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The dominating personality of the stepmother is clearly observable. Despite the father's initial cries of "to desert our children like that! Never, never, NEVER!" he does cede to his wife's demands showing she is clearly in control (Jones 34). In this case the stepmother's motivations for her actions are openly selfish.

The children are willingly sacrificed to ensure her personal survival. The natural instinct of parents to protect and sacrifice for their children is overcome because the stepmother lacks the biological tie to them. Part of the reason the stepmother so willingly sacrifices is because she lacks and can never develop this intimate tie. This lacking manifests itself as jealousy of the children in relation to their father as well as their absent mother. The role of stepmother is often associated with the rejection of the stepchildren. Instead of trying to create another type of bond, the stepmother openly avoids one through this rejection. She is "intent on forcing the children to learn to shift for themselves [and] to become masters of their fate" (Metzger 14). Again, the callous stepmother portrayal is strengthened by this rejection. The Hansel and Gretel portrayal of the stepmother clearly coincides with the stereotype, but why is this attitude so universally accepted?

According to Marina Warner in "The Absent Mother, or Women Against Women in the 'Old Wives' Tales," there is a need for seeing stepmothers as wicked. She feels that children fear losing their special ties to their biological mother. They internalize the image of an "all-good mother [even] when the real mother is not all-good, which permits anger at the stepmother" (31). There are multiple reasons for this anger. First of all, the stepmother is often associated with regulating their daily lives which constitutes punishing and disciplining them. Many children resent discipline, but especially when they see it as coming from an "outside" source. Also, the stepmother is often replacing the real mother in the father's lives.

Children fear that if their mother can be replaced, they are equally dispensable. Furthermore, viewing the stepmother as wicked prevents children from becoming so close that they do begin to have positive feeling towards her. By exemplifying stepmother in this light, fairytales encourage children to see their own stepmothers as wicked. This serves as the emotional barricade that they feel they need to preserve themselves and their relations to their true mother (30-31). Since good tends to overcome evil in fairy tales, the evil stepmother is usually absent in the happily ever after portion of the story. This also coincides with many children's desire to have their family "back the way it was before" (Tatar 224). It is probably another reason why the stepmother is so easily associated with evil.

Wicked Witch

Evil is not isolated to associations with stepmothers, fairy tales often portray old women as wicked witches and, conversely, witches as old women. Hansel and Gretel assume that simply because they encounter a woman who is physically "wizened, ancient, and bent from her years... with harsh features . . . and poor eyesight" that she must be a witch (Jones 39). They are initially leery of her, though her maternal gestures appeasethem. In this story it is true that "she was really a wicked witch on the lookout for children" (Tatar 196), but why must she be old to be considered a witch? It is easier to classify the elderly as suspicious because they often live in isolated conditions and have little contact

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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An Analysis of Hansel and Gretel in Fairy Tales. (2022, Dec 13). Retrieved from

An Analysis of Hansel and Gretel in Fairy Tales essay
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