Hansel and Gretel – Psychological Perspective

-Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno has interpreted ‘Hansel and Gretel’ from psychoanalytical point of view of Sigmund Freud. This interpretation basically depicts the child psychology, fear in the mind of Hansel and Gretel, their imagination and their entry in the real world.

This interpretation starts with the focal point that poverty and starvation do not improve man’s character but rather make him/her more selfish, less sensitive to the suffering of others and that leads him/her to do the evil deeds.

The father and the stepmother left the children in the jungle. Though the children knew about this, they wished to get back home. It shows the child psychology. When the children are in trouble they wish to be at their home with their parents.

The story tells about the bad result which the children have to face when they tried to deal with life’s problem by means of ‘regression and denial’. They didn’t handle the situation in a matured way rather they wished to get back to their earlier stage of development. The first time Hansel used his intelligence by dropping the pebbles but in the second time, he didn’t use his intelligence. As a result, they had problem in getting back to their home.

The Gingerbread house which one can ‘eat up’ is a symbol of the mother, who in fact nurses the infant from her body. Thus, the house at which Hansel and Gretel are eating away happily without any tension symbolizes the image of good mother in the mind of Hansel and Gretel.

Hansel and Gretel are guided by their impulses. When they satisfy their hunger out of the Gingerbread house, they forget the fact that they have only eaten the symbolic representation of mother. Actually the witch wants to eat the children. Hansel and Gretel couldn’t control their impulsive desires because they are guided by the id. They should have been guided by the ego. The ego refers to their rational part, their planning, control, tolerance and judgement. Hansel and Gretel could become able to kill the witch when they are guided by their ego. It means the ego must control the id.

The Gingerbread house seems to be the heaven for the immature psychology of the children but when they came out of their dream of child pleasure, they came to know that the Gingerbread house was just a trap.

It is female – the stepmother and the witch – who are taken as the bad elements in the story. But Gretel saves the life of Hansel. It means a female can be a ‘savior’ as well as a ‘destroyer’. As Gretel saves the life of Hansel, the children are suggested that as they grow up they must rely on more and more on their age mates for mutual help and understanding.

The white bird and the white duck in the story symbolize the peace and the security. The white bird guided the children to the Gingerbread house and the white duck helped them to come across the river. The birds warned the children to face the challenge to become more mature and more experienced.

When Hansel and Gretel were on their way back to their home, they had to come across the river where Hansel and Gretel realized that they cannot be carried by a duck at a time. This symbolically shows their higher stage of development. They realized the fact that there comes the age bar and other limitations to separate them after they are grown up.

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