The Lessons Learnt By The Characters Of Into The Woods

“That which a person did not burn for in his young days, he will not easily work for as a man.” This thought is a foundation of various education systems including those in nordic regions, where many Fairy tales originate. While “Into the woods’ is based off of German stories, I couldn’t help but connect. Both fairy tales and the arts teach us life lessons.

Hard work and perseverance has long been instilled in students of the Tussey Mountain Drama Club.

Daily practice, weekend's building set, designing, and students asking for patrons from locals and businesses in the community are tasks we ask of our cast members. The students do not just memorize lines and music; they understand their responsibility as part of the greater whole.

In my opinion, to instill in the student’s mind, a sense of wider circles of belonging, from family to town, to nation, is something special. It is in this eagerness to assume shared responsibility for the whole that the characters of 'Into the Woods' learn valuable lessons too.

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At the start of 'woods' everyone has their wishes. Cinderella wishes to go to the festival. The Baker and his wife wish for a child. Jack wishes his cow would give some milk. Jack's mother wishes the walls were full of gold, and a lot of things. Little Red wishes for a loaf of bread to give Granny.

The wants of the individual run supreme from the opening until the characters wishes do come true.

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Once wishes are fulfilled we find out what happens after happily ever after. How many of us have thought that getting what we want will make us happy? Yet, does it ever really? When we aren’t happy who do we blame? It seems there will always be more to want.

The teachings in woods are seemingly endless. In the woods as in real life - where one story ends, another begins and unlike most fairy tales, which finish with “the end” this show closes with an “I wish,” from Cinderella, suggesting that true happiness is found in self discovery, rather than wants and needs alone. To look inward instead of blaming others proves to be the message here but we see inside the minds of all the characters throughout, as they internalize their desires through song and story.

In the final reprise of “Into the Woods” all characters remind us that on your journey “YOU CAN’T JUST ACT. YOU HAVE TO LISTEN. YOU CAN’T JUST ACT. YOU HAVE TO THINK.” To mind the future, to mind the past and to listen to that inner voice before moving forth is a substantial point of the story.

Moreover, there will be times during our lives when each of us must journey into the woods. Much like the people in our own world, the characters in woods are working with one another, even when they themselves don’t know the connections of their stories. In this web of significance between one another the characters teach us something important - That if you do not help people see how they see, you’re going to wind up with a society where people can’t see through each other’s lenses.

Having the privilege of seeing woods from the viewpoint of performer and director has given me insight on the show’s main message. In the past, when I was 16, “Into the Woods” was introduced to this community via our school’s 2002 production. Now some 18 years later, in 2020, the messages means more. In revisiting, I see how the central message of the show is brought out in the song “No One is Alone,” which is performed toward the end of Act II.

Up until this point the primary focus of the musical has been on the quest. The Baker and his wife are on a quest to break the spell. Jack is looking for a friend. Cinderella is wanting someone to love her. The Princes are searching for brides.

By following the story farther on, we discover that the characters are trying to accept the consequences of their wishes. No longer is the search of utmost importance. Instead, the characters come to recognize that placing community wishes over their own may yield better results.

The characters learn that when life throws it’s greatest challenges, you do not have to face them alone. You will lose people in the woods as you go. Your expectations will change as life goes on. The ups and downs of living will ensue. However, there are still people who will love you.

The reminder here is that even when we get preoccupied with our own worries, even when we are lost in the woods, that doesn’t mean we have to ignore the issues of those around us! If we all learn to make concerted efforts to comprehend the needs and desires of one another, and help others reach both individual and group goals, we get the most life has to offer.

In closing, while the show doesn’t give you all the answers, it lets you know that in struggling with life’s questions — “you are not alone, no one is alone.” 'I wish' you all happiness. Whoever you are, whatever your age, wherever you live, whatever you’re going through - I hope there’s a part of the storyline you can relate to that inspires you in your own life. Thank you for joining us on a journey 'Into the Woods!

Works cited

  1. Mendlesohn, F. (2008). Rhetorics of Fantasy. Wesleyan University Press.
  2. Bettelheim, B. (1976). The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. Vintage Books.
  3. Zipes, J. (1991). Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion. Routledge.
  4. Nodelman, P. (1992). The Hidden Adult: Defining Children's Literature. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  5. McKinney, K. (2011). “No One Is Alone”: Fairy Tales, Modernity, and Female Agency in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 11(1), 1-14.
  6. Anderson, J. (2014). Stephen Sondheim and the Reinvention of the American Musical. University Press of Mississippi.
  7. Lefkovitz, A. (2002). An Analysis of Stephen Sondheim’s "Into the Woods". Senior Thesis Projects, 2002-2003, 1-12.
  8. Cripps, C. (2015). “Into the Woods”: A Modern Retelling of Classic Fairy Tales. Student Research, 1-10.
  9. Hallett, M. A. (2015). From the Forest to the Stage: An Analysis of Stephen Sondheim’s "Into the Woods". Children's Literature in Education, 46(3), 238-251.
  10. O'Brien, S. (2016). "Into the Woods": Gender, Power, and the Fairy-Tale Family. The Lion and the Unicorn, 40(2), 176-192.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Lessons Learnt By The Characters Of Into The Woods. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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