Bruno Bettelheim’s Interpretation of Hansel and Gretel
Bruno Bettelheim interprets the folk-tale “Hansel and Gretel” revealing (showing) various social and cultural meanings. The story reveals the bitter truth that poverty, scarcity and hardships lead people towards selfishness, cruelty and bad deeds (bad works). Hansel and Gretel have always· a fear in their minds that their own parents want to abandon (leave) them because of the lack of food. The step-mother is cruel and selfish. Though the father loves the children, he can’t go against his wife. He feels guilty and his heart becomes heavy when he leaves the children in the dense forest. The children come back to the house though their parents are selfish. In our society also, the step-mothers are generally selfish, cruel and jealous. They usually hate their step children and force their husbands to do whatever they want. The same thing happens in this story. Because of the cruelty of the step mother, the children ‘(Hansel and Gretel) suffer a lot. However, the suffering and hardships make the children bold and mature. Facing many difficulties, they reach the house of witch. They are tempted by the bread and sugar of the house. When they are welcomed by the witch, they become happy. But, when the witch plans to kill them, they realize the danger of greed and temptation. They learn that to be greedy is to invite risk. When the children kill the witch and return with jewels and pearls, they realize that one must bear pain to have a gain. They learn the fact that without facing danger and without taking risk, they can achieve nothing. The treasure is the reward for the danger, pain, hardships etc. faced by the children. After killing the witch, the children learn the social fact that everything can be done by co-operation. At the time of danger, one should use reason (mind) instead of passions.
The story has a great cultural significance. The witch welcomes the children to eat them. The house gives shelter to the children but they can’t control their desires and eat the house which brings danger to them. The white bird which leads the children to the house of the witch is culturally the symbol of peace and kindness. The white duck which helps them to cross the river is the symbol of co-operation and selflessness. The expanse of water is the symbol of maturity. After crossing the river, the children reach a higher stage of development. They become economically strong. They are no longer the burden of the family. They become independent, wise, matured and happy.