A Fairy Tales Interpretation of Historical Societal Standards

A fairy tale is a form of writing used to enhance an audience’s mindset to better their understanding of keeping wonderment alive. The idea behind wonder comes from each individual and how their satisfied with their own unique versions of endings. The ending of fairy tales is crucial when determining the purpose of the story and focusing on the message being portrayed throughout. Being able to imagine oneself as one of the characters allows readers to envision the sort of attitudes and characteristics a fairy tale comes with. In the fairy tale Catskin by Joseph Jacobs, the author has a specific way of portraying his overall message by using both fictional and realistic imagery to characterize the plot. The unique twist he adds to his own interpretation of Cinderella accounts for the heightened emphasis on the social construct of gender. Although Catskin illustrates effective points towards the fairy tale category, the author portrays an overall purpose of exposing specific gender roles such as misogynistic stereotypes within the intended time period using his own rendition of male superiority over women.

Time periods have a major effect on gender roles because it is noted that misogynistic thought processes were more relevant in earlier times of history. The extent to which gender roles play today are significantly less, but in very few circumstances, still relevant. The beginning of the fairy tale introduced readers to the main characters in order to establish a mental image of them and their surroundings. The story began with a lord who owned many estates receiving a girl as his first child when he explicitly envisioned a boy to carry on his legacy. As the girl grew older he did not have the decency to look his own daughter in the eyes. From the author’s strategic use of imagery, audiences are able to envision a gloomy setting that can symbolize the feeling of fear towards the father. A stereotype that was relevant during this era and can still be seen as relevant today is how women tend to be more emotional than men. The imagery here is very important for readers to understand the author’s addition of such hateful attitudes. Jacobs is emphasizing the emotive toll of having a daughter had on the father. Rather than making Catskin the one to exert her feelings, he focuses on the father’s devastation and frustration with his child. The constant nagging over the inheritance of the crown is an exaggeration on what society back then used to categorize women as. Challenging this stereotype allowed readers to question the validity of such a standard among both genders.

The author’s concrete diction makes it accessible to feel the amount of rage the father had for his daughter. This engages the readers and entices them to read further. By the age of fifteen “her father said ‘let her marry the first that comes for her’” (Jacobs 166). This aligns with the overall message of how gender roles were so much more significant in historical times, showing how the father had complete control of his daughter’s future and who she would end up marrying. She had no say in the matter which emphasized male authority over females’ bodies. It evokes tension and thought towards the target audience and their expectations to these ideals and values of the historical times.

The idea behind social norms has a major role in the way genders are accustomed to specific standards. Having one specific way of looking at the world is hard to interfere with because it is engraved into the individual’s mindset. Having something seem completely normal to them makes it difficult for them to change because it is easier to accept old ways of thinking and act on it. Rather than deciding to consider such an idea, people tend to choose their standard mindset because it takes less effort to follow a routine.

From Jack Zipes essay “Spells of Enchantment”, audiences can infer that fairy tales do in fact come from real life experiences resembling rituals and customs from earlier times. “They fostered a sense of belonging and hope that “miracles… were possible to bring about a better world” (Zipes 2). This allows the reader to reflect on their own personal experiences and further grants them the feeling of empathy towards certain characters. A specific scene in Catskin where a cook called Catskin a “dirty impudent slut” (Jacobs 167) by the rags she was wearing showcased crude language which enforced a superior barrier between him and the main character’s body. This inappropriate diction is important in showing how dehumanizing language can even be effective when introduced by complete strangers. They are trying to overpower the way women see themselves and put a label on them to constantly remind them of who is in charge and where their boundaries are. This issue arises a deeper connection with women’s bodies by highlighting the concerns of societal norms.

The ideology behind belittling women for their appearance and telling them to look a certain way to please others is dangerous. They are constantly being held to a particular standard of always needing to look their best; not only for them but for men. The underlying truth with this idea is that it is mentally and physically draining to be told that inner beauty is not enough for somebody to be loved. There was a specific scene in the story where Catskin changed from her rags into her coat of silver sloth to attend the ball. This was a form of symbolism put into place by the author and designed for readers to question what was being persuaded. It blatantly highlights how double standards between the sexes have a major impact on the way in which women had to represent themselves to the rest of society. They were constantly being belittled for any small inconvenience they astounded upon men as if they had no other duty but to please them. Belittlement of women by men has been seen through certain instances such as abuse in the household and enforcement of being at-home servants to them.

Audiences could also infer that women were treated as objects in earlier historical times not only by men but of higher social class. The young lord Catskin met did not have the approval from his mother to marry her. Social class is another component of identifying gender roles. The mother of the young lord had a high authoritative figure that created a social norm of her being able to make her own decisions without the need of a man intervening. Social class in today’s society still plays a major role in the treatment of individuals.

The emphasis on the need of an antagonist and protagonist in a fairy tale is highly used to create a barrier between two individuals. Whether it be between two opposite genders or two of the same gender, a form of masculinity is somehow reached. From Susan Jeffords essay on “The Curse of Masculinity: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast”, she makes a solid point that “the body that he thought was his… suddenly became transformed into a separate entity that was betraying the true internal feelings of the man it contained” (Jeffords 164). She is stating how there is such a thing as toxic masculinity and the need for men to act a certain way to please societal standards. This adds on to the idea of gender identity and how males fit into the spectrum. In Catskin, the father was positioned to act as the antagonist and Catskin herself was the protagonist. The author did this in a way to showcase how approval from authority is important in relationships. Approval has a deep tie with emotional connections of individuals and is key to understanding how each side feels.

The spin on the original Cinderella tale by including a father rather than a step mother is more prominent in the fact that it impacts the stirring toll a father can have on his daughter. Signs of affection are important when it comes to a father- daughter relationship because he is the foundation to what kind of expectations she is setting for the future men in her life. Not having any trust in a father figure could potentially cause her to distrust any male who approaches her. She will only view them as the man she grew up trying to impress and seek gratification from. In the end of the story when the father replies to the young lord how “I would give all my worldly goods if I could but see her once before I die” (Jacobs 169), readers tend to become more sympathetic towards him. The passage this quote came from ties the overall message together by redirecting the author’s addition of an emotionally distressed father to an emotionally longing one. It reminds readers of how women being considered more emotionally involved in life is a social construct and has been demoralized in males that it makes it seem wrong to view it as such.

Roles in society would be nonexistent if there were no more than one gender, so there must be a reasoning or purpose as to why a social construct is put into place. In this particular case, the father was never able to fully look his daughter in the eyes for most of her life spent with him but when he did not have the opportunity to do that anymore, he realized that deep down he did love her but never knew how to rightfully show it. His desire for a son aligned with Jeffords idea on “fulfilling some version of a masculine heroic ideal” (Jeffords 169) by taking the blame out all on her when in all seriousness she only longed for acceptance. His need for male superiority got in the way of truly caring for his daughter. Everybody has their own special place in life but it takes others longer to fully comprehend it.

Catskin illustrates many effective points within the fairy tale genre but has a strong emphasis on the recurring aspect of male superiority over women within this specific category. The author structured the tale in a way to make the readers question the idea behind male superiority and how it has constantly come up in similar pieces of writing. The ending of this particular story was different in how it allowed for readers to conclude on where male superiority came from and why they used to feel the need to belittle women in order to achieve what they desired. Audiences are driven to assume that fairy tales do indeed come from reality. This lays out a blueprint for how history is resembled through the art of writing and allows for the imagination to wander. Having this as a constant reminder can affect the way people view society and allow them to seek just how true the meanings of fairy tales can be when evaluating it in one’s own life experiences.

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