Significance of the Number 3 in Fairy Tales Essay

Significance of the Number 3 in Fairy Tales Essay

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Significance of the Number 3 in Fairy Tales


Numbers do not exist. They are creations of the mind, existing only in the realm of understanding. No one has ever touched a number, nor would it be possible to do so. You may sketch a symbol on a paper that represents a number, but that symbol is not the number itself. A number is just understood. Nevertheless, numbers hold symbolic meaning. Have you ever asked yourself serious questions about the significance, implications, and roles of numbers? For example, “Why does the number ten denote a change to double digits?” “Is zero a number or a non-number?” Or, the matter this paper will address: “Why does the number three hold an understood and symbolic importance?”

My interest in this topic began by observing the common usage of the number three in fairy tales. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and the three sisters in Cinderella are classic and well-known examples in which the number three is used. This paper seeks to uncover the mystery of the number three by analyzing the possible reasons the authors use “three” in fairy tales.

Explanations for an author’s use of the number in question can be grouped into three categories (pardon the irony). First, what I call the Cultural Approach assumes a smooth transition for “three” from culture and history into the works of the author. It explains the use of “three” by referring to social conditioning, an idea that society can influence a person to follow a certain pattern or belief even though there is no intrinsic reason to do so. Second, the Psychoanalytical Approach assumes that “three” weighs on the writer’s mind not because of society, but rather due to ways that are a part of the uncontrollab...


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.... 1998: 98.

Lane, Marcia. Picturing the Rose: A Way of Looking at Fairy Tales. H.W. Wilson, 1994.

Louis, Anthony. The Numerological Significance of the Tarot. 1998. Access New Age. 03 Mar. 2004 .

McElrow, Tori. Spinning Three by Three… 1999. Metista Home Page. 24 Feb. 2004 .

Symbolism and Spiritual Significance of the Number 3. 23 Feb. 2004. < http://www.greatdreams.com/three/three.htm>.

Traditional Folk Tales for Children: The Three Suitors and their Magic Gifts. Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 31 March 2004. .

Von Franz, Marie Louise. An Introduction to the Psychology of Fairy Tales. New York: Spring, 1975.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Individuation in Fairy Tales. Zurich: Spring, 1977.

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