A Grimm Essay | Socialism and Transformation

This is the essay that I would have handed in yesterday if I was continuing in the course. The rules called for a length between 270 and 320 words and the goal was “to enrich the reading of a fellow student who is both intelligent and attentive to the readings and to the course.”

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Few changes in history were as dramatic and life-altering as those introduced in the Industrial Revolution. Urbanization replaced pastoral life. Mass production replaced handcrafted goods. A child’s education was replaced by factory work. Life was changing at every level of society. And siblings Lucy and Walter Crane saw an opportunity to make a political statement through children’s books, specifically Grimm’s Household Stories.

The 1882 publication (read them here) of this collection of fairy stories written by the brothers Grimm is made up of fifty-two tales. The traditional stories that have since had fame as Disney franchises are included of course (although they differ greatly from the happy versions that we show our children today). But one quarter of the tales chosen to be part of this collection contain some element of transformation.

Transformation in story is often looked upon as a magical and good thing, and though the changes included in these tales are magical, they are not often good.

In The Raven, a child is cursed into the form of a raven by a mother’s frustration. In The Frog Prince, the titular character is being punished and only transforms back into human form when the princess throws him against a wall in anger. The Almond Tree is a particularly disturbing tale in which a son is killed by his stepmother, eaten by his father, and buried by his step sister beneath an almond tree only to become a bird who tells of his fate and is returned to life as a human after the death of his stepmother. The Golden Bird shows a fox who must be beheaded and his feet cut off in order to transform back into the prince of the golden castle.

These stories were a statement on the conditions of the time and a warning on change itself. As socialists, the Cranes used these stories to impress a need for protection from the Industrial Revolution.