Essay Preview: Fairytales Case
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The fairytales told in nurseries across Europe and America today are barely recognizable as those told around eighteenth century French hearths. Nevertheless, that is exactly where many modern stories originate. Despite this connection, or perhaps because of it, it is difficult for the modern reader to comprehend the lives that precipitated these tales. Indeed, pre-revolutionary France might as well be the moon. That being the case, however, the correlation also suggests that it would be possible for the modern man to step foot there, and it is through folkstories that historians attempt to do just that. To us, they are fairytales, fantastic and magical, but to the peasant of the time, they were parables of daily living. Revolution may have felt unrealistic to an Estate bent solely on basic survival, but by perceiving their circumstances in symbolic terms they were provided with a mental escape without fear of repercussions from their superiors. The intrepid historian who places those allegories into the context of historical fact will, in so doing, find himself launched toward the grounds for common understanding between the modern world and the France of yesteryear.
The hierarchy of the ancient regime was far more complex and amalgamated than its three-pronged class system was intended to disclose. Even so, as the middle class emerged into gentility the social scene became divided, as indicated by one anonymous bourgeois, not into three estates, but into two hostile camps: patricians and plebians. Needless to say, it was the plebian camp that bore the brunt of Frances cultural bigotry and the country peasant felt the full impact of the rampant material discrepancy. Those not fortunate to inherit land were forced to scrape a living on whatever strip of ground they could find. They were taxed by the Church; they were taxed by the government; they were obliged to spend precious hours working for the local nobility; and at the end of the day they were allowed to gather whatever was left and pray for the strength to start again in the morning. Revolution was not in their thoughts. Revolution required time and energy and means, none of which were in copious supply. What these French peasants did have, however, were stories. These folktales, ranging from the now-familiar Little Red Riding Hood (minus the hood) and Tom Thumb to the more obscure Bluebeard and Petit Jean, have, in their original form, little to do with the abstractions found in todays fairytales. The kindhearted, though downtrodden girl does not necessarily marry the prince, ascend to fabulous wealth and live happily ever after in a palace. In fact most tend to focus on a program for survival, not a fantasy for escape, are filled to the brim with pain and gore. But they were embedded always in the real world and showed the people a way to cope with it. Indeed, in that sense perhaps they did end happily. After all, Little