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Interpretation of Hansel and Gretel - Class 12 Heritage of words

Interpretation of Hansel and Gretel  Jack Zipes and Bruno Bettelheim 



Interpretation normally implies transforming story, play or poem into an essay. The purpose of interpretation includes not only task of repeating in the form of essay about the things already mentioned in a story, poem or play but also the function of unraveling its complications.
For better understanding of this concept, one can cite the interpretive essays written by Jack Zipes and Bruno Bettelheim on the fairy tale ‘Hansel and Gretel’. The essay by Jack Zipes is extracted from his book ‘Breaking the Magic Spell’. According to him, the story of Hansel and Gretel-who leave the house being abandoned by parents, kill the witch in her gingerbread house and return home with pearls and jewels for the peaceful and happy life – is the story of class conflict with an emphasis on hope and action. Accordingly, witch represents the feudal system and aristocracy. Her gingerbread house symbolizes the houses of feudal having abundant foods and hidden treasure. Woodcutter’s abandoning the children indicates the pitiable condition and obligation of the poor people, which was the outcome of feudal system. The entanglement with and the killing of the witch symbolize the intended struggle and realization of the hatred of the poor people for the aristocrats as hoarders and oppressors. The whole story intends to expose the prejudices and injustices of feudal system with an emphasis on hope and action.
The second interpretation is made by Bruno Bettelheim, which offers a Freudian interpretation of the tale. The whole story is interpreted as the necessity of independence in thought and action as well as self-reliance in children. According to it, children must overcome the destructive desires of dependence on parents. Otherwise parents and society force them for it. Hence the abandonment of Hansel and Gretel indicates the desire of the parents for the children to be independent. The anxiety of the children for returning home is nothing but an attempt to return to passivity. The appearance of the white dove on the roof to bid farewell, a white bird guiding them to the gingerbread house and the white duck helping them to cross the river denote that it is preferable for the children to risk facing the dangers of the world. According to writer, the gingerbread house and the witch are symbols of mother. It implies that a mother can be a witch if the children yield to oral fixation and regression. Her cruelty is just an encouragement for their growth toward a higher plane of psychological and intellectual existence. Their getting together to outsmart her is, in fact, the virtue and the real achievement of the school-age children who have fought through and mastered the oedipal difficulties. The jewels and the pearls they find and bring home merely symbolize the rich rewards, the positive change of inner attitudes from dependence to independence. The whole adventure of the children is an immense experience which helps them to gain a lot.

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