Julie Sinn Cassidy, Ph.D.
Education: Bachelor of Science in secondary education (English/journalism) (May 1997)
Master of Arts in English/children's literature from the University of Florida
Doctor of Philosophy in English/children's and young adult literature from the University of Florida
McNair Project: How She Came to be in a Fairy Tale Wood, A Study of Women and Nature in the Collected Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1996)
Mentor: Naomi Wood, Ph.D.
When a female in a Grimm fairy tale chose to leave the security of society and venture into the wood, her initiative to be active was often short lived. She would enter the wood and reassume her previous role as a passive, submissive female except now she sat silently in a tree. Since passivity implies weakness in the female, today's Western society may tend to disregard the importance of Grimm fairy tales. As a whole they are male-centered and filled with passive, male-dominated female characters.
The tales that I focus on are in Ralph Manheim's 1978 translation of Grimms' Tales for Young and Old. I also delved into the larger sphere of the history of the German Forest, critiques of the Brothers Grimm, ecofeminist critiques, and modern reworks of Grimm tales.
My study of the history of German forestry and a comparative survey of the relative status of women, men, and animals in the Grimm wood suggest that "wood" in fairy tales is not only a place of refuge from patriarchal authority, but also a place where patriarchal authority is more easily expressed. The implications of a king extending his control from society to include the forest are great. The king is already able to claim any female that walks into the palace garden as is exemplified in "The Girl Without Hands." So what is to happen to a female that travels into the wood where the king has spread his control? In brief, when a female is found in the wood by a hunter, she is plucked from her tree branch and presented to the king. She is not driven out of the forest; she is instead taken. Thus, the wood that is a refuge from one king becomes the expression of patriarchy for another king.
Ironically, the plucking of women from trees does prove that the forest is "the great provider" (Jack Zipes). It provides an easy-to- capture wife for the king. The girls in "The Twelve Brothers" and "The Six Swans" were content in their trees and reluctantly left them by the king's wishes. He plucks each of them out of the tree in the same fashion by which he plucks an apple, pear, or other piece of fruit from a tree. This Grimm image of a female being plucked from a tree dates back to when Wood Wives, spirits who lived in the forest and protected the trees, were captured by the Wild Huntsman.
In conclusion, the analysis of German culture including Grimm fairy tales, not simply Grimm fairy tales alone, yields evidence about the whole of the culture thus providing a vantage point from which to compare the new with the old-the modern retelling with the "original." The Grimms were not promoting "woman as other." They were promoting "everything not king as other" as a reminder Germany's common history springing from the Middle Ages' world.