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Hansel and Gretel

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ONCE upon a time there dwelt on the outskirts of a large forest1 a poor woodcutter2 with his wife and two children; the boy was called Hansel3 and the girl Gretel.4 He had always little enough to live on, and once, when there was a great famine5 in the land, he couldn't even provide them with daily bread.6 One night, as he was tossing about in bed, full of cares and worry, he sighed and said to his wife: "What's to become of us? how are we to support our poor children, now that we have nothing more for ourselves?" "I'll tell you what, husband," answered the woman; "early to-morrow morning we'll take the children out into the thickest part of the wood; there we shall light a fire for them and give them each a piece of bread; then we'll go on to our work and leave them alone. They won't be able to find their way home, and we shall thus be rid of them."7 "No, wife," said her husband, "that I won't do; how could I find it in my heart to leave my children alone in the wood?8 The wild beasts would soon come and tear them to pieces." "Oh! you fool," said she, "then we must all four die of hunger, and you may just as well go and plane the boards for our coffins"; and she left him no peace till he consented.9 "But I can't help feeling sorry for the poor children," added the husband.10

The children, too, had not been able to sleep for hunger, and had heard11 what their step-mother12 had said to their father. Gretel wept bitterly and spoke to Hansel: "Now it's all up with us." "No, no, Gretel," said Hansel, "don't fret yourself; I'll be able to find a way to escape, no fear."13 And when the old people had fallen asleep he got up, slipped on his little coat, opened the back door and stole out. The moon14 was shining clearly, and the white pebbles15 which lay in front of the house glittered like bits of silver. Hansel bent down and filled his pocket with as many of them as he could cram in. Then he went back and said to Gretel: "Be comforted, my dear little sister, and go to sleep: God will not desert us";16 and he lay down in bed again.

At daybreak,17 even before the sun was up, the woman came and woke the two children: "Get up, you lie-abeds, we're all going to the forest to fetch wood." She gave them each a bit of bread and said: "There's something for your luncheon, but don't you eat it up before, for it's all you'll get." Gretel took the bread under her apron, as Hansel had the stones in his pocket. Then they all set out together on the way to the forest. After they had walked for a little, Hansel stood still and looked back at the house,18 and this maneuver he repeated again and again. His father observed him, and said: "Hansel, what are you gazing at there, and why do you always remain behind? Take care, and don't lose your footing." "Oh! father," said Hansel, "I am looking back at my white kitten,19 which is sitting on the roof, waving me a farewell." The woman exclaimed: "What a donkey you are! that isn't your kitten, that's the morning sun shining on the chimney." But Hansel had not looked back at his kitten, but had always dropped one of the white20 pebbles out of his pocket on to the path.

When they had reached the middle of the forest the father said: "Now, children, go and fetch a lot of wood, and I'll light a fire21 that you may not feel cold." Hansel and Gretel heaped up brushwood till they had made a pile nearly the size of a small hill. The brushwood was set fire to, and when the flames leaped high the woman said: "Now lie down at the fire, children, and rest yourselves: we are going into the forest to cut down wood; when we've finished we'll come back and fetch you." Hansel and Gretel sat down beside the fire, and at midday ate their little bits of bread. They heard the strokes of the axe,22 so they thought their father was quite near. But it was no axe they heard, but a bough he had tied on a dead tree, and that was blown about by the wind. And when they had sat for a long time their eyes closed with fatigue, and they fell fast asleep. When they awoke at last it was pitch dark. Gretel began to cry, and said: "How are we ever to get out of the wood?" But Hansel comforted her. "Wait a bit," he said, "till the moon is up, and then we'll find our way sure enough." And when the full moon had risen he took his sister by the hand23 and followed the pebbles, which shone like new threepenny bits,24 and showed them the path. They walked on through the night, and at daybreak reached their father's house again. They knocked at the door, and when the woman opened it she exclaimed: "You naughty children,25 what a time you've slept in the wood! we thought you were never going to come back." But the father rejoiced, for his conscience had reproached him for leaving his children behind by themselves.

Not long afterward there was again great dearth in the land, and the children heard their mother address their father thus in bed one night: "Everything is eaten up once more; we have only half a loaf in the house, and when that's done it's all up with us. The children must be got rid of; we'll lead them deeper into the wood this time, so that they won't be able to find their way out again. There is no other way of saving ourselves." The man's heart smote him heavily, and he thought: "Surely it would be better to share the last bite with one's children!" But his wife wouldn't listen to his arguments, and did nothing but scold and reproach him. If a man yields once he's done for, and so, because he had given in the first time, he was forced to do so the second.26

But the children were awake, and had heard the conversation. When the old people were asleep Hansel got up, and wanted to go out and pick up pebbles again, as he had done the first time; but the woman had barred the door,27 and Hansel couldn't get out. But he consoled his little sister, and said: "Don't cry, Gretel, and sleep peacefully, for God is sure to help us."

At early dawn the woman came and made the children get up. They received their bit of bread, but it was even smaller than the time before. On the way to the wood Hansel crumbled it in his pocket, and every few minutes he stood still and dropped a crumb28 on the ground. "Hansel, what are you stopping and looking about you for?" said the father. "I'm looking back at my little pigeon,29 which is sitting on the roof waving me a farewell," answered Hansel. "Fool!" said the wife; "that isn't your pigeon, it's the morning sun glittering on the chimney." But Hansel gradually threw all his crumbs on the path. The woman led the children still deeper into the forest farther than they had ever been in their lives before. Then a big fire was lit again, and the mother said: "Just sit down there, children, and if you're tired you can sleep a bit; we're going into the forest to cut down wood, and in the evening when we're finished we'll come back to fetch you." At midday Gretel divided her bread with Hansel, for he had strewn his all along their path. Then they fell asleep, and evening passed away, but nobody came to the poor children. They didn't awake till it was pitch dark, and Hansel comforted his sister, saying: "Only wait, Gretel, till the moon rises, then we shall see the bread-crumbs I scattered along the path; they will show us the way back to the house." When the moon appeared they got up, but they found no crumbs, for the thousands of birds30 that fly about the woods and fields had picked them all up. "Never mind," said Hansel to Gretel; "you'll see we'll find a way out"; but all the same they did not. They wandered about the whole night, and the next day, from morning till evening, but they could not find a path out of the wood. They were very hungry, too, for they had nothing to eat but a few berries they found growing on the ground. And at last they were so tired that their legs refused to carry them any longer, so they lay down under a tree and fell fast asleep.

On the third31 morning after they had left their father's house they set about their wandering again, but only got deeper and deeper into the wood, and now they felt that if help did not come to them soon they must perish. At midday they saw a beautiful little snow-white bird32 sitting on a branch, which sang so sweetly that they stopped still and listened to it. And when its song was finished it flapped its wings and flew on in front of them. They followed it and came to a little house, on the roof of which it perched; and when they came quite near they saw that the cottage was made of bread and roofed with cakes, while the window was made of transparent sugar.33 "Now we'll set to," said Hansel, "and have a regular blow-out.34 I'll eat a bit of the roof, and you, Gretel, can eat some of the window, which you'll find a sweet morsel." Hansel stretched up his hand and broke off a little bit of the roof to see what it was like, and Gretel went to the casement and began to nibble at it. Thereupon a shrill voice called out from the room inside:

"Nibble, nibble, little mouse,
Who's nibbling my house?"35

The children answered:

"Tis Heaven's own child,
The tempest wild,"36

and went on eating, without putting themselves about. Hansel, who thoroughly appreciated the roof, tore down a big bit of it, while Gretel pushed out a whole round window-pane, and sat down the better to enjoy it. Suddenly the door opened, and an ancient dame leaning on a staff37 hobbled out. Hansel and Gretel were so terrified that they let what they had in their hands fall. But the old woman shook her head and said: "Oh, ho! you dear children, who led you here? Just come in and stay with me, no ill shall befall you."38 She took them both by the hand and let them into the house, and laid a most sumptuous dinner before them--milk and sugared pancakes, with apples and nuts. After they had finished, two beautiful little white beds were prepared for them, and when Hansel and Gretel lay down in them they felt as if they had got into heaven.

The old woman had appeared to be most friendly, but she was really an old witch39 who had waylaid the children, and had only built the little bread house in order to lure them in. When anyone came into her power she killed, cooked, and ate him,40 and held a regular feast-day41 for the occasion. Now witches have red eyes, and cannot see far,42 but, like beasts, they have a keen sense of smell,43 and know when human beings pass by. When Hansel and Gretel fell into her hands she laughed maliciously, and said jeeringly: "I've got them now; they sha'n't escape me." Early in the morning, before the children were awake, she rose up, and when she saw them both sleeping so peacefully, with their round rosy cheeks, she muttered to herself: "That'll be a dainty bite." Then she seized Hansel with her bony hand and carried him into a little stable, and barred the door on him; he might scream as much as he liked, it did him no good. Then she went to Gretel, shook her till she awoke, and cried: "Get up, you lazy-bones, fetch water and cook something for your brother. When he's fat I'll eat him up."44 Gretel began to cry bitterly, but it was of no use; she had to do what the wicked witch bade her.

So the best food was cooked for poor Hansel, but Gretel got nothing but crab-shells. Every morning the old woman hobbled out to the stable and cried: "Hansel, put out your finger,45 that I may feel if you are getting fat." But Hansel always stretched out a bone,46 and the old dame, whose eyes were dim, couldn't see it, and thinking always it was Hansel's finger, wondered why he fattened so slowly.47 When four weeks had passed and Hansel still remained thin, she lost patience and determined to wait no longer. "Hi, Gretel," she called to the girl, abe quick and get some water. Hansel may be fat or thin, I'm going to kill him to-morrow and cook him." Oh! how the poor little sister sobbed as she carried the water, and how the tears rolled down her cheeks! "Kind heaven help us now!"48 she cried; "if only the wild beasts in the wood had eaten us, then at least we should have died together." "Just hold your peace," said the old hag; "it won't help you."


Early in the morning Gretel had to go out and hang up the kettle full of water, and light the fire. "First we'll bake," said the old dame; "I've heated the oven49 already and kneaded the dough." She pushed Gretel out to the oven, from which fiery flames were already issuing. "Creep in," said the witch, "and see if it's properly heated, so that we can shove in the bread." For when she had got Gretel in she meant to close the oven and let the girl bake, that she might eat her up too. But Gretel perceived her intention, and said: "I don't know how I'm to do it; how do I get in?" "You silly goose!" said the hag, "the opening is big enough; see, I could get in myself," and she crawled toward it, and poked her head into the oven. Then Gretel gave her a shove that sent her right in, shut the iron door,50 and drew the bolt. Gracious! how she yelled, it was quite horrible; but Gretel fled, and the wretched old woman was left to perish miserably.51

Gretel flew straight to Hansel, opened the little stable-door, and cried: "Hansel, we are free; the old witch is dead." Then Hansel sprang like a bird out of a cage when the door is opened.52 How they rejoiced, and fell on each other's necks, and jumped for joy, and kissed one another!

And as they had no longer any cause for fear, they went in the old hag's house, and here they found, in every corner of the room, boxes with pearls and precious stones.53 "These are even better than pebbles," said Hansel, and crammed his pockets full of them; and Gretel said: "I too will bring something home," and she filled her apron full. "But now," said Hansel, "let's go and get well away from the witch's wood." When they had wandered about for some hours they came to a big lake.54 "We can't get over," said Hansel; "I see no bridge of any sort or kind." "Yes, and there's no ferry-boat either," answered Gretel; "but look, there swims a white duck;55 if I ask her she'll help us over," and she called out:

"Here are two children, mournful very,
Seeing neither bridge nor ferry;
Take us upon your white back,
And row us over, quack, quack!"

The duck swam toward them, and Hansel got on her back and bade his little sister sit beside him. "No," answered Gretel, "we should be too heavy a load for the duck: she shall carry us across separately."56 The good bird did this, and when they were landed safely on the other side, and had gone for a while, the wood became more and more familiar to them, and at length they saw their father's house in the distance. Then they set off to run, and bounding into the room fell on their father's neck. The man had not passed a happy hour since he left them in the wood, but the woman had died.57 Gretel shook out her apron so that the pearls and precious stones rolled about the room, and Hansel threw down one handful after the other out of his pocket. Thus all their troubles were ended, and they lived happily ever afterward.58

My story is done. See! there runs a little mouse; anyone who catches it may make himself a large fur cap out of it.59

1.  Forest:  The forest is a recurrent image in German fairy tales, in part because over a quarter of the country is comprised of forest land. In the Grimms' tales, the forest is a supernatural world, a place where anything can happen and often does.

According to Jungian psychology, the forest is a representation of the feminine principle and is identified with the unconscious. The foliage blocks the sun's rays, the sun being associated with the male principle. The forest symbolizes the dangerous side of the unconscious, its ability to destroy reason (Cirlot 1962) and (Matthews 1986).
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2.  Woodcutter:  Woodcutter was one of the lowliest, least paying occupations (Matthews 1962). Jack Zipes explores the tale as a story of triumph of the working or plebian class over the higher class. The family is ultimately victorious over poverty and the witch -- who like the richer and higher classes -- has more than enough storage of food and treasure that could be shared to lessen the suffering of the lower classes. The "hatred which the peasantry felt for the aristocracy as hoarders and oppressors" is represented by the killing of the witch (Zipes 1979).
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3.  Hansel:  In the original manuscript of the story, the brother was referred to as Little Brother. The Grimms' chose the name Hansel for the character and included it in the first edition of their tales. Hansel is a common name used for a male character in German folktales. Hansel is essentially the same as "John Doe" representing an anonymous or "everyman" character.
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4.  Gretel:  In the original manuscript of the story, the sister was referred to as Little Sister. The Grimms' chose the name Gretel for the character and included it in the first edition of their tales. Gretel/Gretchen is a form of the name Margaret, or Margarita in Latin, meaning "pearl." It is also a common name used for a female character in German folktales. Gretel is essentially the same as "Jane Doe" representing an anonymous or "everywoman" character.
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5.  Famine:  The famine is an addition to the fifth edition of the tale by the Grimms. They added it as a justification for the parents' actions (Rolleke 1988).
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6.  Bread:  Bread plays an important role in this story. It appears in many forms with several metaphoric meanings.

Bread is the food of the poor. It is also seen as the most basic life-sustaining food (Matthews 1962). The struggle to provide bread for the children illustrates the family's poverty and quest for basic survival.

The story is one of transformation for the children from childhood to adulthood. The bread itself symbolizes transformation. "The path from the production of the grain to the bread is a path of transformation of a natural product into a specifically human form of nourishment" (Dieckmann 1986).
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7.  Be rid of them:  Maria Tatar states that in poverty-stricken families child abandonment and infanticide were not unknown practices even up to the time when the Grimms were collecting their stories in the early 1800s (Tatar 1987).

Many psychologists, including Bruno Bettelheim, consider this tale to be about children's fear of abandonment and their oral greed. Children have a fear of abandonment by their parents. They are also orally greedy and fear starvation from their parents if they are overly greedy. The tale supposedly helps them come to term with these fears. Many psychologists have not considered the opposite themes of parental abuse and poverty until recently. One of the earliest articles on the topic is:

Hoyme, James B. "The 'Abandoning Impulse' in Human Parents." The Lion and the Unicorn. 12:2. December 1988. 32-46.

I also recommend Maria Tatar's commentary found in:

Tatar, Maria. Off With Their Heads!: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Buy the book in paperback.

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8.  Alone in the wood:  Julius Heusher states that the woods represent the loss of security and previous values (Heuscher 1974).
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9.  She left him no peace till he consented:  In the Grimms' source text, both parents agree to abandon the children. The Grimms added the description of the father's reluctance, perhaps due to their own father worship and patriarchal viewpoints.
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10.  Husband:  The father/husband's role in the tale is an interesting one. While the father is usually the birth father of the children, he has different levels of responsibility for the abandonment across versions of the tale. In some versions he willingly leaves the children in the forest. In other versions, he ineffectively protests their abandonment. The textual hint that the wife's wishes will win over the children's safety comes from the word choice of "husband" over "father" to describe the man's primary role.
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11. Heard: Some critics have considered Hansel and Gretel to be a subversive tale, encouraging children to eavesdrop on their parents, trespass, commit murder, and steal property. The children are not ideal role models in the conservative sense, but one can credit them for being survivors in a harsh world. If they had not done these things, they would most likely be dead.
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12.  Step-mother:  The image of the evil stepmother occurs frequently in fairy tales. She is associated with jealousy and cruelty (Olderr 1986). "In masculine psychology, the stepmother is a symbol of the unconscious in a destructive role" (von Franz 1970). The stepmother figure is actually two sided, in that while she has destructive intentions, her actions often lead the protagonist into situations that identify and strengthen his or her best qualities.

The stepmother is a convention added by the Grimms in their successive editions of the tale of Hansel and Gretel. The original draft of the story has both the birth mother and father deciding to abandon the children.
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13.  I'll be able to find a way to escape, no fear: Hansel takes the leader role at the beginning of the tale, comforting his sister and working to save their lives. He is the dominant character while Gretel follows him. Later, Gretel will become the leader by killing the witch and finding a way home across a lake. Gretel's growth through adversity is an interesting progression through the story.
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14.  Moon: In the time before electric lighting, a full moon would be the best source of outdoor light at night.
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15. White pebbles:  Pebbles symbolize justice. In ancient Greece, a vote with a white pebble indicated that the voter thought the suspect was not guilty. White pebbles have also been used as gravesite gifts to ensure rebirth of the spirit (Olderr 1986).

Dieckmann explains that the pebbles represent the children's rigidity and their refusal to change (Dieckmann 1986).
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16.  God will not desert us:  Bruno Bettelheim discusses the religious themes in the tale as representing the culture in which it was created orally. He assumes that the religious aspects are included since religion was a central to daily life when the story was first created (Bettelheim 1976). However, Bettelheim did not do his research because most, if not all, of the religious symbols and comments such as this one were added by the Grimms in their second edition of the tales. Jack Zipes has some interesting commentary on the change of emphasis in the story from essentially nonreligious or pagan children to devoted Christians battling the evil incarnate in the form of a witch (Zipes 1997).

It is also important to note that since their earthly father has abandoned them, the Grimms have the children turn to God the Father to save them (Zipes 1997).
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17.  Daybreak:  In the time before strong artificial light, the work day for the lower classes would begin at dawn with daytime's free, natural light. An early start also allows the parents to lose the children deeper into the woods before they find their own way home.
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18.  Looked back at the house:   Hansel is looking back at the house so he can place the pebbles along the path. However, looking back is an important concept in many stories. One of the most famous stories is of Lot's wife who is turned to salt when she turns and looks back at the city her family is fleeing, an act she has been forbidden to do. Consequently she is turned into a pillar of salt.
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19.  Kitten: Cats are associated with the feminine (von Franz 1970). In this instance, the cat on the roof may represent the dead biological mother, especially since the kitten was added by the Grimms who changed the mother into a stepmother.

Julius Heuscher believes that the kitten represents the children's need to stay close to home (Heuscher 1974).
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20.  White:  White symbolizes light, innocence and purity (Matthews 1986). White is also associated with faith and peace. It is a recurring color in this version of the tale and is frequently mentioned. With the exception of the witch's red eyes, it is the only color mentioned.
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21.  Fire:  Fire is associated with life, warmth and spirit. In some traditions it is also the "bringer of consoling thoughts, driver away of evil terrors" (Matthews 1962).
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22.  Heard the strokes of the axe: The Grimms added this disturbing element of the parents' trickery to the tale. Their reasoning is unknown. Earlier versions glossed over the decision to abandon the children without details of the planning or method used.
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23.  By the hand:  This is one of the few popular tales in which two siblings work together with affection and concern. Another tale is Snow White and Rose Red in which the two sisters are described as often exploring the forest hand in hand.
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24.  New threepenny bits: Threepenny bits were coins worth three pence (or pennies) in Britain.
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25.  Naughty children:  Note the stepmother's defense mechanism of blaming the children for their absence to avoid her own incrimination. The stepmother is continually abusive in her language towards the children, calling them naughty, donkeys, fools, and lie-abeds. The Grimms added most of this language to intensify her nasty character.
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26.  If a man yields once he's done for, and so, because he had given in the first time, he was forced to do so the second: The Grimms are preaching their own philosophy concerning a man's role in his home. Once again, their patriarchal view is emphasized in the story. This patriarchal element is thought to be one reason why the tale was so popular after its publication.
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27.  Barred the door: Before the common use of door knobs and intricate locks, doors were often secured by placing large pieces of wood or metal, usually in the shape of a bar, across the door. These bars were often heavy and difficult for a small child to lift, especially with the stealth needed in this situation.
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28.  Crumb: Note that just as bread provides life sustaining sustenance, the children are now depending on it to save their lives beyond it's true purpose. 

Bettelheim states: "Starvation anxiety has driven him [Hansel] back, so now he can think only of food as offering a solution to the problem of finding his way out of a serious predicament" (Bettelheim 1976). Unfortunately, Hansel appears to have forgotten that birds will eat bread crumbs and destroy his trail.
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29.  Pigeon: Pigeons are birds having a heavy body and short legs. They can be wild or domesticated (WordNet). Since pigeons are often domesticated birds, they are associated with the desire to return home in dream interpretations.

Pigeons are considered death omens in some superstitions. "A strange pigeon, especially if white, alighting on the house or flying in front of one indicates death" (Opie & Tatem 1989).
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30.  Birds:  Birds are predominant throughout this story. They keep the children trapped in the woods by eating the breadcrumbs. A bird leads the children to the witch's house. A bird also provides the final means of their escape by helping them cross the water (Tatar 2002).

A bird can symbolize air, wind, time, immortality, the female principle, aspiration, prophecy, love, and freedom (Olderr 1986).


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31. Third:  Three symbolizes hope and resolution of conflict. It is generally a favorable number (Olderr 1986). Three is a popular number in fairy tales, usually offering change or resolution in the third instance of a certain event or series of actions. Since it is the third morning in the story, we know that Hansel and Gretel are about to have a new experience.
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32.  Snow-white bird:  Following an animal in a forest and being led to a confrontation with an evil being occurs in other tales (von Franz 1970). Because the bird represents salvation, joy, and peace through its color, Dieckmann states that the children are supposed to meet the witch with positive results. The encounter is for their good (Dieckmann 1986).

Julius Heuscher believes the white bird or dove symbolizes the need to never forget home after one has left it (Heuscher 1974).
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33.  Cottage was made of bread and roofed with cakes, while the window was made of transparent sugar: Note that gingerbread is not used in the description of the house, only bread. Germany's rich tradition of creating gingerbread houses and other items has caused the house to be described as gingerbread in subsequent rewritings and tellings. To read an excellent history of gingerbread as a food, visit The History of Gingerbread.

Cake is the food of the rich, a symbol of feasting and plenty (Olderr 1986). In a land where bread is a precious food, cake would be a luxury beyond the children's imaginations. Sugar would also be a precious commodity in time of famine, especially appealing to children with their reputation for sweet tooths.

The witch's cottage is one of the more popular elements in illustrations of the tale. To see several illustrators' visions of the house, visit the Illustrations of Hansel and Gretel page.
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34. A regular blow-out: Blow-out is a colloquialism from the UK meaning "An excessive spree of drinking, eating, spending or sex" (Duckworth 2003). Andrew Lang considers phrase this to be an example of Hansel's vulgarity in a footnote to the story in The Blue Fairy Book.

The children would get physically sick if they gorged on the house after being near starvation for so long.
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35.  "Nibble, nibble, little mouse,/Who's nibbling my house?":  Note the woman's gentle words despite Hansel and Gretel's wanton destruction of her house. The children are literally eating her out of house and home, but she is not upset. She only becomes abusive later after she has locked up Hansel and is sure of her prey.
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36.  "Tis Heaven's own child,/The tempest wild,":  The children are trying to make the woman believe the wind is causing the noise outside her house. I prefer Jack Zipes' translation of the children's reply for clarity:

"The wind, the wind; it's very mild,
blowing like the Heavenly Child" (Zipes 2001).

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37.  Ancient dame leaning on a staff: The woman has the appearance of a venerable grandmother or village wise woman. The children are placated by her harmless appearance.
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38.  No ill shall befall you: This promise provides a sense of foreboding. Hansel and Gretel's good fortune seems too good to be true and it is.
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39.  Old witch:  Belief in witches exists in nearly every culture worldwide (Leach 1949). In Jungian psychology, the witch is a personification of evil which eventually consumes itself. The witch symbolizes the destructive power of the unconscious (Luthi 1976).

According to Hans Dieckmann's Jungian interpretation of the tale, the witch is evil incarnate with no hint of good in her (Dieckmann 1986).

Jack Zipes finds it interesting that the children never blame their parents for their abandonment. He states that the witch symbolizes the feudal system with her greed and treasures. When the children kill her, the story shows the "hatred which the peasantry felt for the aristocracy as hoarders and oppressors" (Zipes 1979).

In other tales of the "Children and the Ogre" Aarne-Thompson classification, the children do not necessarily encounter a witch. The villain may be a giant, ogre, or other monster. You can read more on the Tales Similar to Hansel and Gretel page.
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40.  She killed, cooked, and ate him: The witch is a cannibal. Cannibalism is one of the most reviled crimes in the world. It is considered the quintessential expression of savagery and evil. Charges of cannibalism have long been used as justifiable reasons for enslaving or destroying a population or person.

Gerhard Mueller discusses cannibalism in his criminological analysis of the tale. He cannot find laws concerning cannibalism and its punishment in Europe during the Middle Ages. However, he finds it interesting that cannibalism appears often in fairy tales such as this one. He states that "in the minds of the people, cannibalism lived on, if only as a nightmare" (Mueller 1986).


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41.  A regular feast-day: A feast-day is a day designated for feasting usually associated with a religious holiday or festival. Feast days are often associated with the Roman and Anglican churches. For example, the Feast of the Circumcision is a feast day celebrating the circumcision of Jesus; it is celebrated on January 1st (WordNet).
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42.  Red eyes, and cannot see far: Red eyes are an image associated with sorrow and with demonic fury. Eyesight is associated with mental perception, indicating that the witch's poor eyesight means poor reasoning ability, which allows Hansel and Gretel to best her (Olderr 1986). The Grimms are setting up the circumstances for Hansel and Gretel's escape from the witch.
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43.  A keen sense of smell: The giant in Jack and the Beanstalk is another popular fairy tale villain with a keen sense of smell.
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44.  When he's fat I'll eat him up: Fat on animal meat is considered to add flavor and tenderness to the meat. Lean meat is considered tough and less of a delicacy in culinary circles.
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45.  Finger:  "The forces of the unconscious that can emerge without warning and hinder efforts of the conscious" are represented by the finger (Olderr 1986).
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46.  Bone:  A bone can represent either life or death. It also represents the indestructible part of man (Olderr 1986). At this point in the story, Hansel's life is in greatest jeopardy. His fate is not known, but the trickery and symbolism associated with the bone foreshadows that he will survive the danger presented by the witch.

Joyce Thomas comments on the trickery and imagery of the bone. The bone provides the imagery of deprivation and starvation, one of the primary themes of the tale. Also, the bone Hansel uses "imitates the fate awaiting his flesh (the bone could well be the gnawed remains of the cage's previous occupant)" (Thomas 1989).
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47. Fattened so slowly:  Trickery is one of the most popular methods for dealing with the evil in fairy tales. This implies that the trickster has experienced and accepted evil within him or her self, allowing "insight into the strategy of the adversary" (Jacoby 1992).
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48.  Kind heaven help us now!: Gretel prays for heavenly assistance. Once again, these religious references were added by the Grimms.
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49.  Oven:  Hans Dieckmann's Jungian analysis interprets the oven as a womb symbol or symbol of birth and transformation (Dieckmann 1986).

Derek Brewer considers the oven to be both an ally as a form of destruction and a trap as a symbol of the witch/mother's womb. Consider this provocative statement from Brewer: "The womb will be a tomb if the growing individual is forced back into it" (Brewer 1980).

Jack Zipes also points out that the story of the oven as a means of execution in a German tale has been particularly disturbing for adults since the Holocaust (Zipes 1997). In 2003, author Louise Murphy wrote, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, a book set during WWII and the Holocaust using elements from Hansel and Gretel.

 

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50.  Iron door: Superstition has long credited iron with the power of driving away witches and evil spirits (Waring 1978). Locking the witch behind the oven's iron door perhaps prevents her from escaping.
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51.  Perish miserably:  Burning occurs often in fairy tales. It is symbolic of purification (Matthews 1986). The witch being burnt can also represent evil destroying itself (Luthi 1976).

Gerhard Mueller, who has studied the criminological aspects of several tales, considers the death by fire to be suitable for the witch. In the Middle Ages, the charge of witchcraft was punished by fire. In other words, the witch's demise supports the due process of law in real life during the time of the tale (Mueller 1986).

In The Magic Circle, by Donna Jo Napoli, the Hansel and Gretel tale is told from the witch's perspective. The witch is under a spell that makes her eat children. She crawls into the oven knowing that Gretel will push her in and burn her, thus freeing her from the life she despises.

 

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52. Then Hansel sprang like a bird out of a cage when the door is opened: Here we have more bird imagery with this simile describing Hansel's release from the stable.

Gretel is not the only fairy tale sister to rescue her brother. Also read Brother and Sister and The Six Swans on SurLaLune to read tales in which sisters rescue their brothers from spells or death.


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53. Pearls and precious stones:  Hansel and Gretel feel no guilt for taking the witch's treasure, similar to Jack with the Giant's treasure in Jack and the Beanstalk. The witch's attempt to kill them and subsequent death is implied as justification for taking the jewels.
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54.  Lake:  Bettelheim considers the crossing of the water to be a journey to a higher level of existence for the children. He finds the crossing to be similar to the rite of passage represented in baptism or other riturals associated with new beginnings (Bettelheim 1976). In my opinion, this is one of the few elements of Bettelheim's analysis for the tale that "holds water," pun entirely intentional.

Water is a symbol of the feminine and of the unconcious in psychoanalysis (Matthews 1986).
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55.  White duck: According to Diann Rusch-Feja, the duck represents a maternal replacement since it represents a feminine aspect in Germanic tradition along with swans and geese (Rusch-Feja 1995). The duck rescues the children when their own mother figures fail them.

The duck is a sign of fidelity and of freedom from worry (Olderr 1986). The "helpful animal" is a fairly common fairy tale motif.

The duck was added by the Grimms. It was not in the version of the tale they originally collected.
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56.  Carry us across separately: Gretel appears to have achieved a new maturity with her defeat of the witch. She no longer needs to hold Hansel's hand, but can cross the lake separate from him. This also shows that she is thinking beyond her own needs and considering the abilities of someone--or something--else. She does want to overburden the duck, a compassionate thought when she has had few previously.
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57.  The woman had died:  The stepmother's death allows the children to come home to live with their father and share their new wealth without the threat of the stepmother. Her death also serves as a punishment for her ill treatment of the children.

Many critics state that the witch and the stepmother actually represent the same character or threat to the children. The witch is an extension of the horrible stepmother. The death of the witch also means the stepmother is dead. Their deaths are simultaneous in the story. The stepmother wanted to kill the children so that they would not eat the food she needed to survive. The witch's purpose was even more malignant. She wanted to kill the children so she could eat them as a delicacy, not even for survival since she had plenty food to sustain her.

In Brother and Sister, the tale blatantly makes the stepmother the evil witch who persecutes the children. There is no differentiation between the stepmother and the witch.
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58.  They lived happily ever afterward:  The Grimms changed the story considerably to try to justify the father's redemption and ability to live "happily ever after." However, many critics, such as Hans Dieckmann, find the ending disturbing and even unethical. "The father, who was too weak to resist the evil suggestion of his wife and with her abandoned the children in the forest, is not only not punished for his highly immoral way of acting but even gets to enjoy the treasures the children bring back" (Dieckmann 1986). Also note that part of their happiness centers on their acquisition of material wealth.
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59.  My story is done. See! there runs a little mouse; anyone who catches it may make himself a large fur cap out of it: This ending reflects the oral sources from which the tale came. Storytellers would often end or begin their tales with short verses to set or change the tone of the audience. Verses at the end of the tale often contained a moral or a request for money as a tip for the story provided. Here the verse effectively ends the tale and makes a small attempt to lift the overall somber and scary tones of the story despite its happy ending.
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