Essay on Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale

Essay on Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale

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Vladimir Propp presents an excellent argument in his "Morphology of the Folktale." In testing his hypothesis he compares the themes of about 100 tales and comes out with a formula, ultimately coming to the conclusion that there is really only one fairy tale in its structure. He takes "a description of the tale according to its component parts and [compares] the relationship of these components to each other and to the whole" (Tatar 382). There is a significant amount of repeating functions in these classic stories. Propp defines the function "as an act of a character, defined from the point of view of its significance for the course of the action." (Tatar 383).

Functions are stable elements in the story, they never change. "The number of functions known to the fairy tale are limited," while the stories vary greatly (Tatar 384). He explains that there is a law for the sequence of events in a fairy tale. For example, you cannot wreck a car before you are driving it. It is not possible to run into anything without driving the vehicle first. This means that "the sequence of functions in the stories are always identical" (Tatar 384). Some tales skip some functions, but they are always in the same order. If you assigned X, Y, and Z to a story, X would always come before Y or Z, and so on. There are thirty-one functions in Propp's theory of fairy tales. There is an absention from the home, an interdiction is imposed, then violated, and so on.

In "The Story of Grandmother", "Little Red Cap", and "Little Red Riding Hood" it is easy to see this formula at work. The little girl, in each of these versions of the fairy tale, absents herself from her home. Although she may be taking milk to granny's house rather than win...


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...rip into a race by taking another path. In Brothers Grimm's "Little Red Cap" the wolf walks with the young girl for a while and convinced her to pick flowers for her grandmother while he went on. This is the different form of trickery used in these two stories. The victim also unwittingly helps her enemy. These are the next two functions in these fairy tales. Although different, their components are the same.

The next function used is the wolf causing harm to a member of the family. In each of the stories the grandmother is killed and the wolf pretends to be the grandmother. The next functions are "the hero and the villain join in direct combat," "the villain is defeated." All of the stories have a second confrontation with the wolf where there is some kind of struggle, although the villain is not defeated in "Little Red Riding Hood", she is eaten.

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