German folk literature undoubtedly is of the nationalistic nature, but not in the negative sense that most people usually associate it with. The Brothers Grimms folk tales have been thought of to have greatly influenced the German nationalistic attitude of which was pertinently shown in the twentieth century. Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm (1785–1863) and Wilhelm Karl Grimm (1786–1859) are German philologists and avid collector of folk tales. They are the brothers who were made famous by the hundreds of children stories they wrote. Their book contains a collection of what probably are still the most famous children’s stories.
The Brothers Grimms started taking an interest in fairy tales in 1803. Since then, both began writing down the tales that have been handed down from generation to generation. Most of these were not German, but are in fact of French origin. The Brothers Grimms went to a large extent to modify these stories and add a German touch to each of them. There were a lot of myths regarding how these stories were collected. Only until a few years back had it been known that these stories were collected from the bourgeoisie, instead of what was believed to be from uneducated German peasants.
The results of these extensive studies on folklore lead to the publication of their book Kinder- und Hausmarchen (English: Children’s and Household Tales) contain the most beloved folktales in the work today. They have been translated to numerous languages – evidence that indeed these stories have interest the world. The first volume of the first edition of the Brothers Grimms collection of Folk tales was published in 1812, which contained 86 stories. The second volume followed in 1814 and contained 70 tales. Much were added and subtracted from the original set of stories in the succeeding editions of the collection.
By the seventh edition, the Grimms’ Fairy Tales totalled 211 tales. Among the most popular of these 211 tales are The Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin. It would be impossible to fully analyze each one of these stories as there are so many of them. Contrary to what the names suggest, these folktales are not so much about elves and fairies but more on foolish younger brothers, beautiful ladies, vain queens, mighty kings, wicked stepmothers, and anthropomorphized frogs and mice.
Trickster figures are also rampant in Grimms’ stories, and most often than not, the heroes must trick these tricksters in order to fulfil their fortunes. The first edition of the Brothers Grimms stories received several criticisms. The book was entitled Children’s and Household Tales. However, critics feel that these stories are not suitable for children. The stories contain in-depth scholastic information that was regarded to be too heavy for children. They also had references to such subject matter such as sex and violence.
The Brothers Grimms resolved to change some details of their fairy tales to fit suitability for children. Snow White and Hansel and Gretel used to have wicked mothers in the first edition. In the subsequent editions of the story, it was changed to wicked stepmothers. They also removed proofs of Rapunzel’s betrayal to the prince. She was not made pregnant in the later editions. Also, since these stories were not originally German, a lot of terms had to be changed. A fairy is an enchantress. A prince is a king’s son, while a princess should be a king’s daughter.
Considerable attempts were also made to reconstruct the stories and make it more German. Many of the stories in Grimms’ fairy tales are considered to be coming-of-age stories. Young boys must prove their worth against the strong forces of nature or their domineering siblings. Young girls must leave their parents behind and learn to live with their husbands. The stories show how a lady or a gentleman should behave, with emphasis on decorum, responsibility and respect for superiors. The stories invoke obedience as reverence and love for the king. Great honor and glory is attributed with serving in the military.
Loyalty also played a major part in the plot of the stories, which stress that anything beside a nationalistic spirit is unacceptable. Class separation is also very prominent in the stories. Generally, heroes are of low social status who turned out to be part of the royal family in the end. Heroes are depicted as gentle and compassionate to old women, poor peasants, and even to wounded animals. They are always rewarded with some treasure such as gold and silver, or are provided with a beautiful bride. On the other hand, a foolish character often finds himself a victim of some magic spell.
The Brothers Grimms could not have stressed in their Fairy Tales the importance of the above mentioned values. With the over two hundred fairy tales in their collection, these values repeat themselves in all stories. Regardless if that story is about romantic love, filial love, adventure or heroism. These are the values which constantly show in each of the tales. Obviously, the brothers would want their readers to familiarize and apply these onto their daily lives. It is evident in the fairytales that the Grimms would want to teach about good values such as sympathy, kindness, loyalty and bravery.
They want to educate by illustrating that heroes are richly rewarded while the villains are severely punished. The stories allow them to impart the values that are necessary for a nation to survive. The Germany we now know is different from what Germany was before 1800. It was only a group of people united together by one language, nothing more. With the publication of Grimms’ fairy tales, they combined fairytales that depicted real German culture and unified Germany. In fact, they have done their jobs perfectly well as Germans have a strong sense of nationalism.
The Brothers Grimms, through their fairy tales are strong advocates of nationalism in Germany. However, what sets the Grimms’ fairy tales apart from the rest are the violence involved, especially in punishing the wicked. They contain more violence compared to other folk tales. This probably is the reason why the first edition received so much criticism on the stories as being children’s stories. The Brothers Grimms did not intend their stories solely for the children, however. As philologists, they sincerely hoped that their works can be used as resources in the studies of not only German literature but of German history, as well.
Needless to say, the Brothers Grimms are granted as their collection of fairy tales have indeed made it to the cultural archives of German philology and are being used by scholars worldwide in understanding the German culture and language better. The Brothers Grimms were not only writers but are also active nationalists. They lived in an era when Germany was still a colony of the French, and literature proved to be an outlet for them to do their share to preserve the German heritage. They wrote about princes and princesses, of magic and witches.
But more than just being bedtime stories, these stories stirred the nationalistic character of their readers. They fought using their stories the promotion of a nationalistic Germany. The stories manage to bring back to life a time when knights were bold and the ladies were fair, when good always triumphed over evil, and when bravery and virtuosity were held in the highest esteem. Under Napoleon’s French rule, the Brothers Grimms strived to preserve what was German. That age was the age of Enlightenment. It was an age where traditional things are done in unconventional ways.
France was probably the strongest advocate of the idealogies of Enlightenment at that time. Its ideals launched the infamous French Revolution which affected the whole of Europe. And France brought these Enlightenment ideas with them to Germany. The brothers were two of those who encouraged their fellow Germans to reject the French ideologies, and instead take pride of their own culture. Through what may probably be thought of as cute bedtime stories nowadays, the brothers rallied to their people an intellectual backlash against the Germans which culminated the War of Liberation unifying the whole of Germany against Bismarck’s rule.
This intellectual backlash further presented itself in other areas such as philosophy, science and politics. Other intellectuals resolved to reject the Enlightenment, and instead looked deeper into their culture for inspiration. This movement known as Romanticism spread far beyond Germany. And undoubtedly, our Brothers Grimms made a huge contribution to that development process. People started looking within themselves the attitude and abilities demonstrated in Brothers Grimms characters. People started to place much importance into their own cultural heritage.
They were made aware how important it is for a country to preserve its culture so it can also survive. In a way, whenever Grimms’ heroes fight the wicked spirits, the brothers are also fighting the French colonizers. In an impressive way they participated in motivating the rest of the German people to stand up and fight Napoleon’s rule. It was easy for the French to colonize a Germany that was not unified. Germany at that time don’t recognize themselves as one country. They do not have that sense of pride to be Germans.
More so, they don’t as so much care regarding their cultural wealth. The Brothers Grimms changed that. The Brothers Grimms united the German people with the use of their popular collection of folklores. With the publication of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Germany now has something they can be proud of, something that was exclusively shared by the Germans. All a country needs to unite as one is to have something in common, and that’s what the Brothers Grimms provided. The brothers detailed in their folklores the ideals valued by each German.
When the Germans read about these entertaining stories, they were not only entertained but their German pride has been strengthened and their nationalistic character has been awakened. The fairy tales hide in themselves the secret to overcoming the French dominion on Germany. The past was recaptured in entertaining stories of love and adventures. The brothers discovered that Germany had a charming and magical past. This belief helped keep up their enthusiasm to further write their folklores which eventually have affected and influenced the rest of Germany to instil nationalism into their hearts and minds.
And the brother could not have chosen a better audience – German children. The children who were brought up with Grimms’ Fairy Tales grew to have a great sense of nationalism within them. The Grimms managed to incorporate into the child’s minds what is expected of him as part of the Germany. Like the characters of the fairy tales he used to read, this child grew up to be virtuous, responsible, loyal and a great deal of nationalist pride. With all those characteristics, what more can a country need from its countrymen? The Grimm’s Fairy Tales have widespread influence. W. H.
Austen regarded it as one of the founders of Western Literature. The Nazis patronizes it, especially among the children as it teaches them to be racist, especially in choosing their marriage partners. With this, the Allied Forces banned the stories as it promoted racial instincts. These tales were also referenced by Holocaust writers, i. e. Jane Yolen in her memoirs Briar Rose. It is simply amazing how a collection of children’s stories can have so much influence, not only in the authors’ hometown but to the rest of the world. Even up to this date, reading a Grimms’ Fairy Tale can still stir up the one’s patriotic side.
One can’t help but sympathize with the major character’s plot to fight and defend what is rightfully his. The Brothers Grimms would have been proud to see how their works have affected so much. Nobody can contest the fact how much these cute stories have helped awaken the nationalistic Germans. We are fully aware that Germany is one country who really prided and regarded itself highly. The Brothers Grimms have indeed revolutionized Folk Literature. Folk stories do not only serve as bedtime stories for children but are also believed to inspire nationalists.
Indeed, even a country’s fairy tales are reflective of that country’s ideologies. Brothers Grimms have found a most effective way of promoting the nationalistic attitude. They used entertaining fairy tales – subtle but sink deep in the youngest of hearts. References A. S. Byatt, “Introduction” p. xxx, Maria Tatar, ed. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. Haase, Donald, ed. 1993. The Reception of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. McGlathery, James, et al. 1988. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale.
Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. Peppard, Murray. 1971. Paths Through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Tatar, Maria. 1987. The Hard Facts of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Tatar, Maria. 2004. The Annotated Brothers Grimm, W. W. Norton & Co. Ward, Donald. “New Misconceptions about Old Folktales” p 98 James M. McGlathery, ed. , The Brothers Grimm and Folktale. Zipes, Jack. 2002. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, Palgrave MacMillan.