Lecture 21

Grimms’ Fairy Tales

Why are the Grimms so into fairy tales?

  • The overwhelming desire for a unified Germany.
    • The Grimms thought the 300 principalities in Germany were such a mess.
    • The Grimms lived in the West, where France kept invading, and people were worried about losing their culture.
  • The bourgeois: a new dominant cultural force that decides what “educated” and “cultured” means.
  • The Grimms were nationalist, but not in the way that we think of.
    • They’re still friends of democracy.
    • They saw themselves as patriots working towards a shared nation.
  • And it worked!
  • The Grimms appropriated peasant culture and made it bourgeois.
    • All the principalities could point to this and be like, “yeah, that’s us, I’ve heard that story too!”.
  • The book of fairy tales made Germany as much as anything else.
    • The idea of Germany and this book are so tied together.


How did West Germany and East Germany contaminate the Grimms’ tales to help their needs?

  • At first, West Germany didn’t change things very much. War bad, bourgeois good, capitalism good, don’t rock the boat, upward mobility, everybody can get a job, strong middle class.
    • Everything’s great, ignore the Nazi stuff, happy ending.
      • The Grimms’ tales become very popular!
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, hippies start asking questions like, “Why is it okay that all these adults were Nazis?”.
    • New ways to read fairy tales: maybe things are complex, and things aren’t always happily ever after.
      • Reframing
    • New types of tales in West Germany around this time:
  • East Germany played up the working-class parts of the fairy tales and toppling of aristocracy, and got rid of money, revenge, racism, etc.
    • A lot of this was done with film, not writing.