Elsa and the Wild Swans

Before Cinderella found her prince, before a huntsman saved Little Red-Cap, before they all found their happy endings, these fairy tale phenoms experienced a great deal of torture and humiliation. When we think of fairy tales, we imagine royal, lavish lives in castles, surrounded by singing animals, culminating in a magical wedding surrounded by the entire kingdom…what could be better? Our thoughts of these magical stories likely do not include scenes of torment and shame, but these are the real fairy tales we are referring to, not the “Disney-fied” versions we have come to know so well today. This is an in-depth look into how these fictional females were so humiliated, and to what avail.

Authors like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen were the pioneers of the classic fairy tale, aimed to entertain children as well as adults. Their stories were magical and creative, yet disturbing and dark. Fairy tales have long been analyzed for their psychological significance, and women in particular have become a focus of these studies. It turns out our fairy tale princesses did not have the lives we all imagined. Females had very troubling roles throughout many of the tales. While it could be said that their protagonist roles in the tales represented a time of progression for women in the mid-19th century, one must take a closer look at their journeys.

Subjected to a life of isolation, evil curses, pain, and often betrayed by their own parents, fairy tale women were shown no mercy, until their prince charming showed up. What’s more, is that they were rarely given the opportunity to speak, as the authors preferred for them to communicate through actions and displays of emotion, like crying. It seems that fairy tale heroines had to know their place before they took their place in society. These women were only in positions of power after they endured hardships, unless they had evil intentions. They were admired for their beauty and little else. Even after proving their worth in their fight for independence, their stories end in a matrimonial merging of identities.

This exhibit presents the opportunity to get to know these famed females and their un-fairy tale backgrounds. Every damsel in distress deserves a little more appreciation, because hey, they sure earned it.