Psychoanalytic critique is based on the functioning of the human mind, focusing largely on unconscious feelings, thoughts and desires. Sigmund Freud was the pioneer of such school of thought and the analysis of dreams called the dream-work. Freudianism deals with symbols and metaphors for repressed feelings or impulses which is why some may call this feature archaic.
The story of Hansel and Gretel by the brothers Grimm involves a woodcutter married to a mean woman who forces him to desert and strand his own two children in the middle of the forest because there’s too many mouths to feed. The symbol of the father foreshadows the upcoming need for the children to be more self-reliant. Upon hearing his parents Hansel decides to collect pebbles as a means to leaving a trail back home, Hansel drops the pebbles on the “mossy green ground.” The pebbles are a metaphor for the obstacles they will encounter and the distress to come. The moss bears a slow growing nature and the patience that will be demanded of them in their situation is what it suggests. The children find comfort from a full moon that lights up the way through the pebbly-path back home – the mysterious light the moon exudes also shines upon the idea that something hidden and occult lies ahead. When they find their home once again they sneak in through a half open window which is indicative of their abandonment, they are not wanted inside – except by their cowardly father.
When she finds they are back the stepmother refuses to feed them and starves these poor children until the father once again takes them to the forest. Now Hansel uses the bread crumbs as a path back home but he forgot about the “hungry birds that lived in the forest.” The making of the crumbs conveys the siblings’ feelings of being left behind. While the hungry birds show the failure of their efforts. They have no choice but to spend the night in the cold, frightening shadows of the forest but they find some solace cuddling under a large tree which often is a symbol for strength and stability – what they’ve lacked in parental care. As morning comes they go on their way and stumble upon a cottage made of candy, a metaphor for indulgence, and forbidden pleasure as well as gluttony. Overeating can shed light on repressed feelings of dissatisfaction, and unfulfillment.
Starving, they brake off piece after piece of the cottage to eat. Breaking something represents a change of a current situation. And that it does, their circumstances go from great to horrible when an old witch opens the door, welcomes them in with an act of kindness and then declares “You’re nothing but skin and bones! I shall fatten you up and eat you!” The fact that the witch is a mean woman correlates to their horrible stepmother and old things need replacing as does their fathers’ wife. The witch’s cannibalism is a draining of energy and life, a destructive and forbidden desire that perhaps lies within the children themselves because why would it be that these children are not loved as they should be? Gretel smears butter on the witches’ glasses in an efficacious attempt to further worsen her eyesight. To “butter someone up” in an effort to ease unfavorable conditions is what Hansel and Gretel should have done long ago to not end up in such calamity. Gretel is ordered to light the oven for the old woman to cook her brother. The oven indicates the fears and worries the girl has about having her own children – she has obviously not had a very good role model to follow. Gretel saves her brother by deceiving the witch into getting close enough to the oven to push her in and lock it up.
Gretel shows great energy, and encouragement in succeeding to overcome these hurdles and help her brother as he has done for her – the abolishment of the evil female forces puts an end to the bad memories of women they’ve encountered. Locking the witch inside her fiery tomb is significant because it is where their repressed and hidden feelings of mothers lay. They find a large chocolate egg with gold coins inside of it and fill a large basket with the money and food they collect from the cottage to prepare for their journey back home. The egg is a symbol of happiness and wealth that has come with this victory while the gold represents what they’ve discovered about themselves and learned through their experiences, and the basket is made to hold things – perhaps they are holding onto the love for their father. When they arrive back home they are happily greeted with love from their father who is relieved to say that his wife is dead. The passing of the witch and the wife is a condensation for the passing of their struggles with maternal care and figures. The words witch and wife present loads of symbolism and power as well as some similarities and differences.
“Language, the system of difference which articulates identities….” (Lacan). Individuality varies too greatly for everyone to perceive equally. We can more easily dream, visualize, or feel things we can not put into words because they are limiting. Words often condense, displace, and hide the truth of what an individual is attempting to describe. Symbolism is relatively easy to manipulate – one word is often “loaded” with meanings.