A Freudian Fairytale
Summary of original fairytale:
Rapunzel herself is the main character in this story, as suggested by the title. At birth, Rapunzel is handed over to an enchantress by her parents as a result of her father stealing rampion (a seasonal vegetable) from the enchantress’ back garden. She raised Rapunzel as her own and locked her in a tower with only one window and no door to keep her from the outside world. When she wanted access, she would cry “Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair!” and Rapunzel would dutifully drop her long tresses out of her window so her enchantress mother could climb up.
One day a prince was passing by on his horse and heard Rapunzel singing. He was instantly mesmerized, and wanted to gain access to the tower despite the fact that he saw no door. The prince returned the next day however and witnessed the enchantress climb up Rapunzel’s hair. The prince returned the next day and mimicked the enchantress. Rapunzel was shocked, not having seen a man before, but the prince was kind to her and they soon agreed to be married. They created an escape plan; Rapunzel would fashion a ladder made from skeins of silk brought by the prince. However, one day Rapunzel, not thinking asked the witch: “How is it good mother, that you are so much harder to pull up than the young prince?”. The enchantress, enraged at Rapunzel’s betrayal grabbed Rapunzel’s long hair and cut it all off. Furthermore she banished her to a lonely desert. That evening, the prince arrived for his visit, but to his surprise, it was the witch in the tower, tricking him by throwing down Rapunzel’s removed tresses. Beside himself with grief, the prince threw himself out of the tower window, blinding himself.
He wandered for years through the wilderness, blind and depressed until he stumbled upon Rapunzel’s desert home, where she was living with her recently born twins. He heard Rapunzel singing and recognized it immediately; Rapunzel ran to him and wept. Her tears fell upon his eyes, and his blindness was cured. Finally, they all returned to the prince’s kingdom where they lived happily ever after.
Rapunzel’s character in this story is interesting. The story states that Rapunzel is locked away at 12 years of age. According to Freud, this places her in the genital stage of psychosexual development. She is naive due to a lack of relationships in her life, and also due to her solitary confinement. Upon meeting the prince she is frightened as he is like an alien creature to her, however her instinctual urges and libido cause her to be attracted to him. We also discover that a sexual relationship was quickly built, as we discover that Rapunzel gives birth to twins by the end of the fairytale.
An Electra complex emerges throughout this story also. The enchantress locks Rapunzel in a tower to keep her from the all outside contact. It’s fair to say that Rapunzel resents her “step-mother” (“Psychology and fairytale, n.d.), and longs for a Father, who, according to Freud, could be compared to the prince. The enchantress stands in the way of Rapunzel being with the prince by banishing her to the desert.
An Oedipus complex manifests itself too. The prince wishes to be seen as a hero and a rescuer in Rapunzel’s eyes, much like an Oedipal boy wishes to be the hero to his mother.
A poetic interpretation of “Rapunzel” by Anne Sexton details an almost reverse Electra complex throughout it; she implies that there is a lesbian relationship between Rapunzel and the enchantress (“A woman who loves a woman is forever young”), that is until the entrance of the prince where Rapunzel realizes her sexuality (“He dazzled her with his dancing stick”). Rapunzel is not the naive and child-like character that she is in the Grimms’ brother’s famous tale, but instead a mature woman who has experienced the physical bond of both a man and a woman.
The theme of castration is also present in this story. Freud has stated that climbing has obvious sexual connotation (S.Freud, “Introductory Lectures on Psycho – Analysis; Symbolism in Dreams”, op.cit., p. 164, as cited in Levi, 2005), and it is clear that Rapunzel’s tresses can be seen as a female penis. Thus, we can then interpret the narrative “In her anger she clutched Rapunzel’s beautiful tresses, wrapped them twice round her left hand, seized a pair of scissors with the right, and snip, snap, they were cut off, and the lovely braids lay on the ground” as obvious castration.
Castration is also common fear among boys experiencing the Oedipus complex, according to Freud. The young boy is in competition with his father for his mother’s affections, however the boy is frightened of his father as his father has the power to castrate him. Girl’s can have castration anxiety also, in fear of their mothers, however as they do not possess a penis Freud believes the anxiety is considerably less than boys (Day, Macaskill & Maltby, 2007, p.28). This can explain why the prince is adamant to find Rapunzel, even when depressed and blind. His castration anxiety is greater than hers, and so she stays exiled while he searches and longs for a wife.
It is not only the main characters of the story that can be interpreted in a Freudian manner, but minor characters such as Rapunzel’s biological parents also. The Mother’s lust for rampion at the beginning of the story illustrates conflict between the Id, the Ego and the Superego. The Id lusts for the rampion, although the Mother knows it is not hers to take. The Ego realises that this, and the Superego tries to find a socially acceptable method of obtaining the object in question; and this comes in the form of the Father. He acts as a type of Superego for the Mother and steals the rampion by night, in order not to offend the owner, but also in order to please his pregnant wife.
The Father eventually does get caught stealing, however. When accused, he rationalizes, stating that he only stole the rampion to please his wife. This is an obvious Freudian “defence mechanism”.
It’s clear that Rapunzel oozes Freudian theories. They manifest themselves via characters, objects, themes and actions and make us view Rapunzel, the innocent fairytale in a totally different manner.
Day, L., Macaskill, A., & Maltby, J. (2007). Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence, England: Pearson Education Limited.
Gonzalez, M. M., Fairy Tales Revisited and Transformed: Anne Sexton’s Critique of Socialized Femininity. Retrieved October 27, 2010:http://dspace.uah.es/dspace/bitstream/10017/5023/1/Fairy%20Tales%20Revisited%20and%20Transformed.%20Anne%20Sexton’s%20Critique%20of%20Social%20(ized)%20Femininity.pdf
Levi, I. (2005). Rapunzel and Other Stories of Beautiful Hair. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from psychohistory2001.com: http://psychohistory2001.com/Rapunzel.html
Psychology and Fairytale. Retrieved October 27, 2010, from Goldenessays.com:http://www.goldenessays.com/free_essays/3/psychology/psychology-and-fairy-tale.shtml
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