Freud’s concept of psychoanalysis explores the structure of the mind and how the ‘dream-work’ effects how we perceive and judge what we are doing with the use of the unconscious and the id

Freud’s concept of psychoanalysis explores the structure of the mind and how the ‘dream-work’ effects how we perceive and judge what we are doing with the use of the unconscious and the id. ‘Hansel and Gretel’ explores the theory of sexuality and the structure of the mind in a coming of age story. Zehetner (2013) explores why fairy tales are important today for children, whereas Bettelheim (1978) explores the idea of why fairy tales are unrealistic and false. The ‘dream-work’ in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ provides conformation of the unconscious which Freud (1916) discusses throughout his work. Freud’s work with psychoanalysis allows Roger (2017) to interpret and use his theory towards ideas of politics and law which can also be seen in ‘Hansel and Gretel’.
At the beginning of the story we are introduced to the main characters Hansel and Gretel and their father, who is worried that he cannot feed his children due to a great disaster which has hit the land. Through the constant back and forth conversation between the step-mother and the father in the opening scene, they come to the decision to get rid of the children. This opening discussion highlights the competition between the children and the stepmother for the attention of the father. Freuds theories would suggest that the competition is due to the children having an Oedipus complex as they fight for the attention of their father while hating their stepmother. The stepmother uses her sexuality to convince the father to do what she wants even though he still wished for his children to stay with him.
Bettelheim (1978) explores the ideas of fairy-tales being unrealistic and providing an “untruth” to the reality of the world. However, Freud (1916) investigates the ‘dream-work’ and how the mind transforms thoughts into visual images creating a situation in the mind. For example, when the reader reads that Hansel is going outside to collect pebbles, he continuously refers to them as silver pennies as his mind is showing him the thing he needs to protect himself and his sister from being abandoned. As the story continues we see the children use their intelligence and resourcefulness to find their way home by laying down pebbles. However, before the children are taken out a second time the stepmother prohibits them from leaving the home, therefore depriving them of the necessary resources (pebbles) they need to return home, highlighting once again the struggle between the children and the stepmother for the father (resources). Freuds (1916) dream-work is seen again as the children lay down bread crumbs thinking they can serve the same purpose as the pebbles. Once this attempt to find their way home fails the children then give way to their fears.
Zehetner (2013) explores how fairy tales allows the child to explore their fears in remote and symbolic terms. The child can sort through their inner pressures and moral obligation in an environment that is not belittling to them. In ‘Hansel and Gretel’ the children are controlled by their impulses as they are guided by the id rather than the ego which is the rational part of the mind. Rogers (2017) also explores the many forms of the unconscious, as they appear more open, generous and curious about the form of desire. Throughout the story the father symbol remains as Hansel and Gretel’s father however, the mother figure continuously changes from the step-mother, to the gingerbread house to the witch and finally to the white duck.
When the children are lost in the forest, they come across the gingerbread house which seems to be heaven to their immature psychology. Freuds theory of infant sexuality can be seen when the children revert to their Oral stage when feeding off the gingerbread house like a mother feeding her children. Freuds theory is that the human mind is fixed from infancy and that childhood interactions between instincts and the wider environment effects their adulthood. As the children are invited into the witch’s home, the reader sees the witch’s sexual desirer in wanting to ‘eat’ Hansel as she is infatuated by him. This forces Gretel to action as she kills the witch and frees her brother and herself, this once again emphasises parallels of Freud’s Oedipus complex theory involving the same sex constantly being at odds with each other whereby Gretel is fighting the witch for her brother’s freedom. Analyses of how fairy-tales effects child psychology “revealed how violent, anxious, destructive and even sadistic a child’s imagination is” (Bettelheim 1978, p.120); this can be seen when Gretel tricks the witch to get into the oven, locking her in and burning her alive.
Nearing the end of the story the reader sees the higher stages of development where the white duck takes Hansel and Gretel across the river one at a time which is symbolic of the mother sending their child onto adulthood. The structure of the mind in the children can be seen developing throughout the story; for example, when the children first meet the witch they give way to their unconscious mind the id, however, as the story progresses they learn to rely on their ego and rational thought to eventually prevail over the witch. Zehetner (2013) explains how the child chooses their personal stance after deliberating each consequence through being exposed to ethnical reasoning without being influenced by their society, Hansel and Gretel display this as they are left alone to deliberate how to survive, encouraging their intelligence and growth as individual’s.
Through Freuds theory of sexuality, the ‘dream-work’ and the structure of the mind we can conclude that ‘Hansel and Gretel’ does show aspects of the child psyche and of the unconscious, as the children are put into stressful situations and are guided by the id, and ultimately the ego. The children learn to use their rational thought to overcome their obstacles and eventually return home and help their father, highlighting the completion of their journey of personal growth and independence, as they are now the ones supporting their father.


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