It is said that folk tales have their history in the ancient past as a warning of the elders to the children about the ills of the world. As such, they carry grim stories and oftentimes, even darker endings. Through time though, the folk tales have been reinvented and retold for children of changing times. Thus, folk tales now tend to have certain similarities and storylines. For this particular paper, I decided to focus on the cross-cultural analysis of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The first part of this paper shall deal with the folk tale that is Snow White. Immediately followed by the tale of Princess Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.
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Snow White is the story of a little girl whose step-mother, out of jealousy upon being told by a magic mirror that her step-daughter is the “fairest of them all,” orders a huntsman to take the child to the forest and kill her. She is taking her heart, lungs, and liver as evidence of the completed murderous act. Taking pity on the child, the huntsman instead set her free in the deepest area of the forest after warning her of the danger that her step-mother represents. He then presents the evil step-mother with the organ parts of a boar as evidence of the child’s death.
Snow White accidentally stumbles upon the home of the 7 dwarfs, who take pity on her and, in exchange for her keeping house for them, allow her to stay under their roof and protection. Years later, the step-mother once again finds out, through the magic mirror, that the child whom she thought was dead was actually alive and well under the care of the dwarfs. She attempts to kill Snow White and is thwarted twice before finally succeeding in “killing” Snow White on her third attempt by using a poisoned apple. Thus reclaiming her spot as the “most beautiful in all the land.”
Finding their ward in the state of death, the dwarfs mourn her death, and as luck would have it, handsome prince chances upon them, mourning over their beautiful ward. Falling in love with the young woman, he plants a kiss on her lips. The kiss of true love. Seconds later, Snow White awakes and spits out the poisoned apple which she had choked on. Then, as all folk tales go, the prince and his princess left the dwarfs to live their lives together — happily ever after.
The story of Sleeping Beauty, although told differently from Snow White, share similar elements. Princess Aurora / Sleeping Beauty was cursed upon birth by an evil fairy whom her parents, the king, and queen of the land, had forgotten to invite to her christening. Thus the fairy gatecrashes the party and places the curse of death on the child upon reaching the age of 16. Princess Aurora’s death is to be caused by her pricking her finger on the spindle of a sewing wheel.
This curse is somewhat undone by a friendly fairy who is godmother to the princess. Instead of death, she curses the princess to deep sleep instead. For their part, her parents order that all sewing wheels and spindles in the land be burned and banned. All is well for the princess for the next decade or so. Until her 16th birthday arrives, and the curse dawns upon one and all.
Deceived by the evil fairy who lured her into a room in the castle where a sewing wheel was magically conjured up, Princess Aurora succumbs to the curse of the evil fairy and her godmother fairy, she “dies” in the eyes of the evil one while the others know that she has only gone to sleep, awaiting the kiss of true love to wake her. In the despair of her parents and the subjects of her kingdom, the good fairies place a sleeping spell on them as well. A spell that is to be broken on the day that the princess finally awakens.
Years later, a valiant prince, learning of the tale of the sleeping princess, makes his way to her fabled castle in the hopes of being the one to wake her from her slumber. But in order to succeed, he must and does thwart the obstacles that the evil fairy places in his path in order to prevent him from reaching the castle and the sleeping princess. He instantly falls in love with the princess upon seeing her and kisses her, thus waking her and the kingdom that has remained asleep for the past 100 years.
European folk tales have a tendency to share the same motifs. Perhaps because the storytellers update the story being told to fit their area, traditions, and culture, notice if you will, that Snow White and Sleeping Beauty share certain similar motifs such as the use of magical objects (e.g. magic mirror, poisoned apple, poisoned spindle,) and a common solution to the problem (e.g. “Death” of a princess, the princess falls into a deep sleep instead, Prince Charming, the kiss of true love).
Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are examples of an archetypical fairy tale. Both stories contain recognizable characters who are portrayed with consistent characteristics. The most bonding commonality between these two folk tales, or fairy tales, if you will, is that both stories delve into the world of the archetype known as wonder / magic tales. This was how these kinds of tales got the monicker “fairy” tales.
Their stories tend to be in no way connected to anything that can happen in reality and asks the reader to believe in his imagination instead. The use of imagination is most likely the reason why these stories have remained popular with children across the centuries. It gives them the freedom to imagine another world where fairy godmothers, evil step-mothers, magical objects, and true love’s kiss exists. Fairy tales allow them to wonder if any of those things they have read about can actually happen to them in real life. Can they, too, find their prince charming or sleeping beauty?
This discussion now leads us to the question, how does each of the fairy tales reflect the view and value of its origins? After a bit of digging around into the history of folk tales and fairy tales, it became quite evident that this type of storytelling has its roots in European literature. As we all know, Europe used to be a country lead by royal families, the Kings, and the Queens and their most loyal subjects. However, some of the masses viewed the royal family as tyrants and criminals, which is why some of their characters are portrayed that way in the fairy tales.
In the case of Snow White and Princess Aurora / Sleeping Beauty, their stories were meant as a warning towards children. It warned them that they should not place their entire trust in their parents and that not everyone may have their best interests at heart, so they must know how to take care of themselves and survive. The stories reflected the life of people during those times. When everyone lived in various parts of the forest and lived off the land. When people believed in the power of good and bad magic for protection or harm befalling them.
Both stories also relied heavily on cultural indicators for making their stories believable or highly imaginative. The dialogue in both stories is almost Shakespearean in tone because the people of that era actually spoke in that manner, thus reflecting the language of the country of origin of the story. Even the description of the forest and the animals and food were exclusive to the European side of the world. The work of the people during the era was clearly shown in the stories that were told. Mining, hunting, and farming were a part of daily life during that era, which is why they played integral parts in both stories.
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Both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty also pay homage to the important rituals and human milestones in the stories, which were clearly part of the social norms of those particular European times. Such as the kingdom-wide celebration of Princess Aurora’s birthday and the funeral procession of Snow White.
It is most important to note, however, that these folktales/fairy tales are constantly being updated from their dark European origins in order to keep the stories fresh and relevant to the new generation of children who continue to be fascinated by the stories in our modern times.
J.M.K. , “The Symbolism Of Snow White. “ Associated Content. 2008. Web.
Davis, John K. “The Story Behind Sleeping Beauty”. Children’s Books @ Suite 101. 2009. Web.