Hansel and Gretel is one of the most famous fairy tales in the world. It was adapted by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who brought us many famous fairy tales that we grew up with. Like many other fairy tales they have published in their collections, this one comes from a German folk tale. The names of the children were, of course, changed in many translations, but in the original version, the children are called Hansel and Gretel. The folklore research shows that in the folk tale they didn’t even have names, but were only "little brother and sister", but it is yet to be discovered.
Hansel and Gretel was originally intended to be a fairy tale for middle-class people. It was written in the middle of the 19th century when many people were going through a difficult period of poverty. Many families had big financial problems, so it was not uncommon for parents to leave their children. Seeing no other way to feed them, parents took their children deep into the woods and left them there. The vast majority of children died of starvation or were killed by wild beasts.
The Brothers Grimm brings us the story of brother and sister, Hansel and Gretel, in a very strange and interesting way, showing us the fate of many children of that time. Combining imagination and reality, the writers present the main characters in a very instructive and interesting way. The love between brother and sister is put in the foreground because it is what always survives and overcomes all adversity.
In the original version of this fairy tale, the stepmother does not exist, but the mother is the one who persuades the father to take the children and leave them in the forest. But, as in many fairy tales, the story was intended for the youngest readers, so many versions were changed introducing the character of the stepmother, whom the father married after the death of his first wife. The same thing happened with the original version of the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Somehow, it was necessary to make this change in order to avoid children being afraid of their own mothers.
Evil is shown through two characters - stepmothers and witches. The stepmother, who, without any morals or soul, persuades her husband to leave the children because they didn’t have enough to feed everyone, is a representative of women who can convince men of everything they want. Even in such bad and vicious things as this.
On the other hand, we have the character of the father, who is neither a completely positive nor a negative character. He does a bad deed, a deed that is the worst thing a man can do, to give up his children, but again, we get to know his situation and bad financial situation, which the writers want to alleviate a little of what he was forced to do.
When we think of the struggle between good and evil, very often this fairy tale comes to our mind. It gives us hope that good always defeats evil, even when we think there is no hope. However, there is a happy ending for both the children and the father, who is secretly waiting for them. The children find their way home, carrying the treasure they found in the candy house and thus helping their father in the fight against poverty. The evil and the mother are both dead, and evil has failed to overcome the goodness and firm love between brother and sister.
The fairy tale Hansel and Gretel has experienced several screen adaptations. Some of them follow the true course of action as brought to us by the Brothers Grimm. There are several screenplays that are completely different, and there are even those that were made as horror or adventure movies and are only the basic idea associated with this fairy tale.
Yet as with the other fairy tales we analyzed, such as the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, a number of the plot that can be found in Hansel and Gretel, and the very evolution of the fairy tale, is more complex than we might remember when our parents read them to us. Both analysis and summary throw up some impressive elements regarding the story’s plot and its meaning.
One of the most familiar parts of the story is definitely the gingerbread house. But the most familiar version of the tale is ambiguous - the Brothers Grimm mention bread and cakes, but that doesn’t mean that the bread is sweet (it can also be savory). Not that this makes much difference to the hungry children, they would devour the house just the same.
Before getting ahead and attempting to analyze the story any further, we need to know the summary of the story’s plot.
The Brothers Grimm surely had Wilhelm’s good friend Dortchen Wild to thank for documenting the story about Hansel and Gretel, and so does the entire world. Wilhelm surely thanked her as he later married Dortchen. And as the summary explains, the real gem of a story is not brave and compassionate protagonists, it's the candy house that became a favorite among children around the world. There is also a moral connection to the same house. Just as in the story Goldilocks, where a young blonde thinks it is okay to walk into someone's house and take whatever she wants - Hansel and Gretel think it’s okay to waltz around the old witch's house and nibble it.
Genre: fairy tale
Setting: unspecified, once upon a time, woods
Point of view and Narrator: third-person with an omniscient narration
Tone and Mood: at first, it was sad because their parents leave them alone in the forest, and after it becomes suspenseful resulting in the reader experiencing fear and concern
Style: eerie, serious
Protagonist and Antagonist: protagonists are little brother and sister Hansel and Gretel, while the antagonists are their mother who forces their father to leave them out in the forest, and an old evil witch who tries to cook them and eat them.
Major Conflict: Hansel and Gretel were left out alone in the woods; crisis of survival
Raising action: Hansel and Gretel vs. their mother; Hansel and Gretel vs. the evil witch
Climax: Hansel and Gretel caught by the evil witch
Ending: Hansel and Gretel live happily ever after without feeling hungry again.
Symbols and Metaphors
Bread - the symbolism of bread in stories is clear. Lack of bread is a direct death threat. The crumbs of bread in Hansel and Gretel show how fragile and insecure our position is.
The oven - is a representation of the uterus or womb. It offers the possibility of birth (or in this case rebirth), but also death if the already born person returns (refuses to grow up).
Candy - candy is a temptation that children could not resist.
Leaving children in the woods - when parents Hansel and Gretel decide to leave them because they can no longer feed them, it is very symbolic that the children are abandoned in the woods. They were pushed deep into the woods and left alone. In essence, this signifies a kind of ritual of transition to adulthood, where they are forced to face the shadowy aspects of themselves and human nature, which can be dark and frightening.
Hunger - another symbol highlighted in the story. Hunger is the most basic instinct and drives the actions of all living beings, even more than sexual desire. Parents Hansel and Gretel are leaving their children because of hunger. It is a primordial need that can transcend all reason and humanity.
Cannibalism - they are trapped and faced with the terrible realization that humans, like animals, are meat and can be eaten. Cannibalism is the ultimate symbol of a dark, primordial state. It represents an animal instinct that takes complete control of one’s psyche, where hunger overpowers all human reason.
White color - when mother and father take Hansel and Gretel into the woods to let them starve and die, Hansel looks behind his house and says he’s watching his little white kitten saying goodbye to him. Then later Hansel says he looks at the white dove saying goodbye to him after he and Gretel managed to return to the house. The white color could be a symbol of innocence, and Hansel’s upgrade when he sees a kitten and then a dove could mean he has shown growth since he was left in the woods to die and then found his way back.
Bread crumbs - the act of leaving pebbles and bread crumbs to return home could also be a psychological connection of the brain wanting to remember something important. Since this story was written in a dream, it could be what the bread crumbs were about. Also, when the birds ate bread crumbs at night and thus eliminated their trail to the house, it could be a kind of forgetfulness of the subconscious, as if you had a memory in front of you and then it was lost.
The witch - the witch could also be a psychological image of someone evil, but at the same time quite unintelligent because she was standing in front of the oven and didn't think that maybe Gretel would push her inside. The witch could also be on the same level as Hansel and Gretel because they both had to suffer the consequences of their gluttony and it could be a psychological form of showing what each of these characters wants, and that is food.