Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
What is left to say about fairy tales that has not already been said before? In this essay, I answer this question by approaching two famous fairy tales, The Grimm Brothers’ “Little Snow White” (1812) and Charles Perrault’s “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” (1897) with two theoretical frameworks in mind: Freudian psychoanalysis and disability studies. Both Freudian psychology and disability studies are mainstays in critical discourse of fairy tales, but neither Freud nor contemporary critics have combined the two in a way that addresses the pathological condition known as melancholia and its relationship to the perception of disabilities. My analysis of these two tales hinges on the behaviors and fates of the three elderly women in these tales— the queen in “Snow White,” and the fairy and ogress in “Sleeping Beauty”—and specifically how their internal struggles with melancholia manifest themselves into disturbing and inappropriate behavior that cannot be dismissed simply as older women resenting their younger, and prettier, female counterparts.
My thesis traces how their violent behaviors stem from a loss of status that they experience—a loss that occurs on a subconscious level that then dictates their conscious actions. This loss is what triggers their melancholia, a type of mourning characterized by a significant loss in self-esteem. Based on my close reading of these three women’s actions, I suggest that they cannot process the fact that their relevance in their respective communities has faded (the new loss), which becomes self-hate on a subconscious level, but a hatred of what Fred refers to as a substitutive object on a conscious level. The queen follows a destructive path toward trying to eat Snow White to the point where she wants to eat her bodily organs, while the fairy places an evil curse on Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty’s mother-in-law, the ogress, then demands she be fed the murdered bodies of Sleeping Beauty and her two children.
What this essay argues is that their melancholia is a result of feeling as though they have a disability once their status has been taken from them. Whether it is their physical looks or their roles as queens and important fairies of the kingdom, without these titles that bring them selfworth, they feel diminished and outcasted on a level akin to those with physical and psychological disabilities that are seen in other tales. All three women feel belittled and blame that on everyone around them, particularly the two young women, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. However, my argument clarifies that it is not this perceived disability that makes them pariahs of their community; their outrageously violent behavior is what causes pushback from other characters who feel as though they are left with no choice but to excommunicate or even kill the queen, fairy, and ogress to keep these threats in check. This essay reveals how the pairing of Freudian psychology with the field of disability studies can provide new insights on not just fictional literary texts, but perhaps the perception of disabilities in real life.
Kaba, Valmira, "Freudian Melancholy and Bodily Mutilation in “Little Snow White” and “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood”" (2021). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 740.