Hidden Meanings in Children’s Fairy Tales
Cinderella is mistreated by her wicked stepfamily, which gives her an awfully hard time about going to the ball and meeting her Prince Charming. Dorothy finds herself following a yellow brick road as she journeys to Oz and encounters evil along the way. Alice falls down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, a completely mystical world.
Classic fairy tales are actually not as child-like as we may presume.
While some may take the stories at face value, for the sole purpose of entertainment, other researchers tell us that these are wise stories infused with meaning and symbols.
A printable version of an oral story guide (as retold by Judy Lubin) demonstrates that the tale of Cinderella signifies personal growth and transformation. As Cinderella learns to differentiate between good and bad, her new dress reflects that change, since inner change correlates with outside alteration as well.
Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, who are not physically beautiful, choose not to accept Cinderella due to her outward appearance. “When they realize that she is about to become powerful in the outside world, they mistakenly attempt to change themselves so that they will look like her on the outside,” the guide stated. “They deform their feet to match Cinderella’s! But it does them no good, because inner beauty is what counts in this story.”
Psychologist Jonathan Young, who previously worked with renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, dissects stories and finds symbolism in fairy tales that parallel the adult spirit. Young said Campbell helped him realize that each person stars in a production of their own life story.
Young said the journey in the Wizard of Oz represents the universal quest we all yearn for: one of compassion, courage, wisdom and a sense of home. The flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch symbolize our inner fears. Along with the dark undertones in the Wizard of Oz, tales that feature forests (such as Hansel and Gretel and Snow White) symbolize “a place that seeks to swallow you up.”
While Young emphasized that Alice in Wonderland illustrates the importance of fantasy, he suggested that The Princess and the Frog King actually conveys the inner workings of relationships. The original story tells of the woman betraying her father’s wishes by refusing to “repay a frog with her love.” She angrily hurls the creature against the wall. “It’s a lot like contemporary relationships,” Young notes. “Many important issues are worked out through argument and conflict.”
Reading up on the various meanings infused in between the lines in these old stories definitely makes me want to re-examine all of them (except the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz). I’ll probably want to pass on being terrified seeing her green face on the television screen.
Suval, L. (2018). Hidden Meanings in Children’s Fairy Tales. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/hidden-meanings-in-childrens-fairy-tales/