Jack and the Beanstalk is an English fairy tale first published in 1734 in The Tale of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean. In 1807 was moralized by Benjamin Tabart in his work called History of Jack and the Beanstalk which was probably later edited by Mary Jane and/or William Godwin.
Like many fairy tales, Jack and the Beanstalk has a complicated and curious history. The story was popularized in 1845 by Henry Cole, who published the fairy tale under his alias Felix Summerly in his work The Home Treasury and was rewritten by Joseph Jacobs in his English Fairy Tales in 1890. Joseph Jacob's version is more popular these days, especially for reprinting as it is believed that his version was the closest one to the oral version than the one Tabart moralized about.
Besides Jack and the Beanstalk, the fairy tale is also known as Jack Tales, a sequel of stories in which the archetypal English and Cornish character of Jack appears as a hero.
According to researchers from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and the University of Durham, the tale was originated more than five millennia ago and is founded on the widespread ancient (archaic) format of the story that folklorists today categorize as ATU 328 - The Boy Who Stole Ogres' Treasure. This means that the story about a boy Jack belongs to Proto-Indo-European Language (PIE) thus the opinion that the fairy tale originated between 4500 BC to 2500 BC. Like Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin, this fairy tale seems to be thousands of years old.
Some versions of the fairy tale have an unnamed protagonist, while in some you'll notice a name that inspired many plays - Blunderbore, a giant from the 18th century Jack and the Giant Killer tale. While in the Story of Jack Springs, the giant is named Gogmagog.
The giant's saying "Fee-fi-fo-fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman" first emerges in William Shakespeare's play King Lear as "Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man", and something similar also appears in Jack the Giant Killer.
Aarne-Thompson's Jack and the Beanstalk includes a dragon while Christine Goldberg debates that her story is not adequate and originated because it doesn't include the most important part - the beanstalk, which is an analogy to other reprints.
The Grimm brothers illustrated the same analogy between the original Jack and the Beanstalk story and their fairytale titled The Devil with Three Golden Hair where the devil's grandmother or mother (not specified) is similar to the tall woman, a female figure who protects antagonists from a malicious male figure.
In some versions, the story itself is somewhat unusual and shows that the antagonist (the hero), although grown-up, doesn't marry, but he returns to his mother every time and shares his findings with his mother, while some version of the tale write about that he married a princess, for example in a story Vasilisa the Beautiful.
So, we can easily say that this story has a literary pedigree.
The original story portrays a "hero" who earns the sympathy of a tall woman, hides in her house, robs her husband, and, in the end, kills him. In Tabart's moralized version, the author describes that the giant (or ogre) robbed and killed Jack's father, thus justifying Jack's retaliation. Andrew Lang also follows this version in his book Red Fairy Book from 1890.
Joseph Jacobs gave no similar reason because the aforementioned motive was not in the version he heard as a child and argued that children already know that thievery and killing are wrong so it is not needed to be "apologized" in a fairy tale. But it is important to note that even though he argued the reasons, Jacobs itself also gave a subtle revengeful tone directing to the ogre's earlier meals of cooked boys.
Many contemporary interpretations followed Tabart's opinion and made the antagonist a villain who terrorizes weaker people and steals from them so that Jack can become the fair protagonist. For example, in a 1952 film about Abbott and a giant, Costello is accused of poverty at the foot of the beans as he stole wealth and food, and the hen that was laying the golden eggs initially belonged to Jack's family. In some versions, it is indicated that the giant stole both the harp and the hen from Jack's father.
This explanation and add-on make the fairy tale a bit more appealing and friendly to the younger readers especially when it comes to parents trying to use fairy tales as moral teaching to their youngest. But, Jack is still far from a perfect boy. When his mother sends him to sell their cow, his haste and foresight lead him to sell the only thing they had for a couple of beans.
Nevertheless, this is a fairy tale, and it is not strange that it includes the "rule of three" - Jack stealing three things from the ogre, going three times to climb the beanstalk. The moral of the story is not good - Jack climbs the beanstalk and steals from the ogre three times. The ogre catches him the third, but Jack manages to run away and even cut the beanstalk resulting in the ogre's death and Jack living rich and happily for the rest of his life, so what's the moral? That crime pays off?
So there is something immoral in the original story: stealing from others to determine poverty will make you survive and win? Killing an ogre is, let's say, self-defense (otherwise the ogre would have killed Jack and his mother) so we can understand why the Victorian readers may have been a bit pesky about the main part of the fairy tale.
So, with much negativity around the story, how did this fairy tale survive this long and become almost as twice older as Homer's Iliad?
Jack and the Beanstalk have survived for centuries only due to one reason - it contains all the needed traditional fairy tale ingredients - a malicious villain, a young, brave hero, and a happy ending.
Genre: fairy tale
Setting: once upon a time, unknown place, Jack's house, ogre's house
Point of view and Narrator: third-person, although the writer is using "I" a lot. The narrator also often talks about what she or he sees, thinks, feels, and hears
Tone and Mood: suspenseful
Protagonist and Antagonist: the main protagonist is Jack, while the main antagonist is the ogre
Major conflict: the ogre is chasing Jack down the beanstalk
Climax: Jack steals the bag of gold and hen that lays golden eggs from an ogre
Ending: after killing the ogre, Jack becomes very rich and marries a princess
Theme: a story about a poor boy Jack who plants a gigantic beanstalk and climbs up to the ogre's house from whom he steals his hen, harp, and a bag of gold
Symbols and Metaphors
The number three - the story makes a regular fairy tale rule of number three. So, here we see Jack stealing three things from the ogre and climbing three times to the beanstalk. This is called a "dialectical trio", but not in a way used in the fairy tale The Story of the Three Bears where "the first option is wrong, the second one is the opposite from the first one, and only the third, is correct and where the notion is in such way to forward lies in discovering the suitable middle ground between opposites. The concept itself has been applied to many other fields, especially developmental psychology where it is called the "Golden Hair Principle".