The Obedient Woman in Fairy Tales

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Fairy tale heroines are usually portrayed as weak and submissive characters. They are the damsel in distress, the girl who needs to be saved from the wicked stepmother or witch, and the beautiful daughter in need of a husband. This meek, submissive female character reached its peek in Charles Perrault’s Griselda. Griselda is consistently abused through the entire story by her controlling husband, but she takes the abuse without complaint or protest. Her total obedience to her husband is rewarded at the end when she is reunited with her daughter, restored to her position of power, and finally treated with respect by her husband. Although Perrault may have intended Griselda to be a parody, the Grimm Brothers stabilized this obedient, submissive character through stories like Cinderella. Although Cinderella disobeys her stepmother and seems to stand up for herself by attending the ball, she is actually being obedient to a higher moral authority instead of the human authority in the tale. These fairy tales teach readers that obedience is the most important trait a women can have, and even when a female character seems to stand up for herself, she is just being submissive to a higher authority.

Charles Perrault’s Griselda exemplifies what it means to be a submissive, obedient women and how these attributes are rewarded. The prince of the story has convinced himself that “all women [are] faithless and deceivers” and even women of the highest esteem were really a “cruel enemy whose unbroken ambition was to gain the mastery over whatever unhappy man might surrender to [them]” (Perrault). The prince is so convinced of this he will only marry “a young beauty without pride or vanity, obedient, with tried and proved patience and…without a ...

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...gets punished for her sins; because she broker her promise to Cinderella. Through these stories, children are taught that women are rewarded for their obedience and total submission to authority whether is be a human figure or a higher moral power.


Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. “Cinderella” – “Aschenputtel” The Great Fairy Tale Tradition. Ed. Jack Zipes. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001. 468-472. Print.

Lieberman, Marcia R.. “Some Day My Prince Will Come: Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale” College English 34.3 (1972): 383-395. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Perrault, Charles. “Griselda.” SurLaLune Fairy Tales. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Tatar, Maria. “Daughters of Eve: Fairy Tale Heroines and Their Seven Sins” Off With Their Heads: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992. 94-119. Print.
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