Term Paper: Storytelling Review of Literature

Pages: 16 (4632 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] This conclusion, however, is countered studies. These include research done outside the purview of feminism. Psychologist Richard Meth (1990), for instance, writes as young as three or four years old are able to select toys and games that are considered masculine. In contrast, girls the same age had a less rigid sense of what was considered appropriate masculine and feminine behavior.

However, it should be noted that the power of these myths and fairy tales to communicate cultural norms is also mitigated by the storyteller's motives. In their study differences among storytellers, Monisha Pasupathi, Laura Carstensen and Risha M. Henry (2002) found that age and ethnicity are associated with individuals' motivations for emotional regulation and social interaction. Furthermore, these age and ethnicity-related motives would be reflected in storytelling. The study observed storytellers from two age groups (young adult and old age) and two ethnic groups (African-American and European-American) as they told stories to young girls. The stories were then coded for emotional, relational, and socialization focus. The results showed that older adults selectively emphasize positive over negative emotions and directed more dialogue toward their interaction with their listener. In addition, the African-American group of storytellers was more likely to emphasize socialization themes.

In summary, there are differing conclusions regarding the socializing effect of fairy tales and stories on young children. Bettelheim (1989) believes that children do not have to be limited by the gender subtext when finding role models or characters to identify with in fairy tales.

Bettelheim's conclusion, however, is contradicted by several more recent studies that look at the socializing role of such stories on a child's gender and racial beliefs. Meth (1990) found that this socialization affects boys stronger and earlier in age, resulting in more rigid definitions of masculinity. Yeoman (1999) maintains that the gender and racial subtexts of these stories become embedded in a child's mind through unconscious socialization.

However, Pasupathi, Cartensen and Henry (2002) warn against the tendency to generalize, since much of the socialization also depends on the storytellers themselves, whose motives are greatly influenced by race, age and ethnicity.

Therapeutic Uses of Fairy Tales

Bruno Bettelheim remains arguably the most famous defender of the therapeutic value of the fairy tale. According to Bettelheim (1988), fairy tales, "represent in imaginative form what the process of healthy human development consists of...(and) make great and positive psychological contributions to the child's inner growth" (12). As a child psychologist, Bettelheim insists that a child's preference for a certain fairy tale is a result of "what the tale evokes in his conscious and unconscious mind" (17) in terms of his "needs of the moment" (12).

Above all, however, Bettelheim belies his Freudian roots, when he interprets fairy tales as accounts of conflicts between sexuality and identity. In the introduction to The Uses of Enchantment: The meaning and importance of fairy tales, Bettelheim lays out his interpretation of the Rapunzel tale.

Rapunzel, Bettelheim writes, "is... The story of a pubertal girl, and of her jealous mother who tries to prevent her from gaining independence."

He disagrees with the idea that young children identify with characters within fairy tales solely according to gender type. For instance, he insists, a little boy will not necessarily identify for with a male character than with a female character. Instead, Bettelheim presents the idea that this "identification" is more one of sharing a common situation with a character, not one of sharing their gender.

Bettelheim presents as an example a five-year-old boy who learns that his grandmother/caretaker is seriously ill and has been hospitalized. His mother works all day and there is no father at home. At this critical juncture, a reading of Rapunzel may have much to offer the young boy. First, Bettelheim points to the tower as a form of security from all dangers. More important, Rapunzel manages to escape her predicament through her own body -- meaning her hair. Bettelheim believes that the boy would identify with Rapunzel because by focusing on how she escapes, by assimilating the fact that "one's body can provide a lifeline reassured him that...he would similarly find in his body the source of his security" (17).

In another example, Bettelheim presents the case of a motherless girl who is being raised by an uncaring nanny. Like the imprisoned Rapunzel, the girl felt powerless in her new home situation and pined for rescue. In fact, Rapunzel's long hair became a symbol of freedom and happiness, because her nanny always cut her hair short. Later, in therapy, the girl realized that the "prince" she had been waiting for was actually her absentee father. As an adult, the girl gave Rapunzel a happy ending, in which her hair grew long again. In addition, the prince/father figure was only temporarily blinded and eventually "saw" his daughter.

In both these examples, Bettelheim presents case studies that illustrate the role which fairy tales in general, and "Rapunzel" in particular, can play in the lives of their readers. Readers not only correlate fairy tale motifs to happenings in their own life, but also actually begin to sympathize with Rapunzel. To certain readers who identify with Rapunzel's situation, the tale becomes a story of hope and the endurance in sharing a common situation.

In her study of how middle-school children relate to the story of Cinderella, Mary Mercer Krogness (1996) finds common ground with Bettelheim's conclusions.

First, Krogness observes that versions of the ancient fairy tale of Cinderella exists across more than 500 different cultures, including ancient Africa, China, India, Egypt, and Korea. She attributes the tale's universalism and enduring popularity not in the fantasy aspect of fairy godmothers and royalty. Instead, Krogness locates the heart of this timeless tale in "a young girl's feelings of rejection, dejection, abandonment, and depression" (Krogness 1996). These feelings continue to resonate with children, preteens and teenagers today because the familiar emotions connect with their own. Young people greatly identify with the story's oppressed lead character.

In the psychological tradition of Bettelheim, Krogness thus suggests that educators and counselors can use the story of Cinderella as both a teaching tool and a chance to give young people an opportunity to air emotional burdens and be heard. Krogness thus recommends that teachers ask their young students to write their own versions of the Cinderella story. In her experience, the resulting stories are mitigated by socio-economic, cultural, racial and linguistic factors. Many of the stories serve as an outlet for the children's feelings, allowing them to express emotions that would otherwise have remained hidden.

One child, for example, expressed concerns about her parent's divorce or the difficulty of getting along with new step-siblings. For some, the problems are even darker. In her story, one child wrote "I often wonder if anyone would notice if for some reason I'd just disappear. Sometimes I feel like a small dot in the universe" (Krogness 1996).

Krogness concludes that the strength of using Cinderella as a model lies in the universal emotions that are chronicled in the story. This allows children and adolescents who share the same feelings to create spaces of sharing, and helps in forming stronger social bonds.

In summary, myths and fairy tales have significant personal therapeutic value, particularly for children. Bettelheim believes that fairy tales play a key role in the psychological well being of children by providing them with characters with whom they can identify. A child - male or female - can thus see Rapunzel as a story of hope and identify with the female hero who escapes her imprisonment. Children and adolescents can also identify with the loneliness isolation and oppression faced by Cinderella and use this commonality as a springboard for sharing experiences and forming social bonds with their peer groups.

Fairy Tales as Ideology

These above-mentioned studies, however, do not address another underlying aspect of most children's literature. As cultural products themselves, these stories reflect prevailing cultural norms. In the process, they also transmit these norms to the next generation of children. Thus, in addition to merely reflecting dominant society, these stories also play an active role in maintaining and reproducing dominant social structures and beliefs.

In his book Happily Ever After: Fairy tales, children and the culture industry Jack Zipes (1998) tackles the social role of fairy tales. For Zipes, fairy tales have a larger purpose than merely contributing to the individual well being of one child. Instead, Zipes locates the fairy tale in the realm of Theodor Adorno's concept of the "culture industry," where the products of culture no longer serve aesthetic or intellectual functions. Instead, these products of mass culture simply reinforce and reproduce the prevailing economic and social order.

In modern day capitalism, this translates to the Disney Company's role as the predominant purveyor of fairy tales in modern Western and,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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