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The Fisherman and His Wife - Analysis
Transcript of The Fisherman and His Wife - Analysis
The brothers Grimm were a duo of German brothers who were determined to preserve their national heritage and folklore in the early 1800’s. They travelled all across Germany recording traditional tales from story tellers. These stories are not the ones we typically associate with Disney classics and the like. These stories were often sinister with bitter ends for either the villains or the protagonists or perhaps both. Over time these stories were made “softer” for children and eliminated many of the dark elements the original stories contained. Today Grimm tales are available in numerous languages (over 160). Several movies have since been made of the famous duo as well as of their stories but none can seem to replicate the pure imagination so evident in the readings of these fairy tales.
With information from http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm.html (on November 29, 2010) Colour Analysis of The Fisherman and His Wife
Yellow: A colour often associated with happiness however this colour can be used in conjugation with sickness or death; hence the term jaundice or a yellowing of the skin caused by kidney failure. This could be related to the sickness of the fish as in the beginning stages of an illness.
Green: This is a colour associated with nature but can also be related to illness or death/decay. “Green at the gills” is a saying we use to describe someone who is feeling ill and perhaps we can also relate this to the fish. He is beginning to become ill due to the demands of the fisherman’s wife. Both green and yellow are also colours commonly seen among healing bruises hence another reference to possible illness or pain.
Dark Blue: A somber colour often associated with authority (the enchanted fish ruling the sea) and business. It can also be a colour of mourning as well as a colour of night (midnight blue for instance) thus perhaps having some sinister undertones.
Purple: Purple is a colour of royalty as it was once only permitted to be worn by royalty (a prince such as the fish) decreed by law. However it is also a colour of sickness or death, a colour of putrefaction. This also the colour of a fresh bruise indicating the possible harm the fisherman is inflicting on the fish.
Gray: Gray is also a somber colour and also a colour of mourning. Here it may indicate a mourning colour as the potential death of the fish becomes a feasible conclusion.
Black: This is the colour most commonly associated with malevolent forces or pure evil. This colour occurs near the end of the story signifying not only the anger of the fish but also the inevitable downfall of the fisherman and his wife and their greed. Greed is a sin according to religious sources and perhaps this where it stems from; using logic therefore greed = sin, sin = evil, evil = black magic, hence the use of black within the story.
Red: Red is a colour associated with passion, most commonly love but also anger or hate. Here the slight tinge of red on the edge of the sky may express the rage the fish is feeling towards being used in such an exploitative manner.
Sky Blue: The hint of sky blue may designate a ray of hope on the horizon. This small piece of unblemished sky may signify that all hope is not lost in this case. There is a chance of salvation provided the fisherman and his wife recognize the error of their ways. Final Analysis
The Fisherman and His Wife can best be described as a moral story with the main theme being that greed will ultimately bring your downfall. Although this is meant as a children’s story it has implications for adults as well. Numerous underlying themes run through this story many of which have a religious undertone as well as a cultural significance.
The wife is a character readily recognized as the harbinger of downfall for the family. Her greed ultimately leads to a return to their modest, if somewhat impoverished, existence where, if she had been satisfied, they could instead have lived in a beautiful cottage or a grand palace. She is seen as the “villain” of the tale with perhaps a religious significance here as well. Eve is usually seen as bringing the downfall of a righteous man, Adam, in this case the woman, with her greed (similar to Eve’s temptation of knowledge), brings the ruin of the honest, if meek, fisherman. Her overbearing ways go against her husband’s better judgement leading to their disgrace.
The fisherman may harken back to Christianity in the famous parable of Jesus preaching to Simon and Andrew that they may become “fishers of men” (Mark 1.17). Where the fisherman needs to be taught a lesson by the fish (representing Jesus in this instance). Perhaps he is meant only as a stooge for the foils of his wife, only a minor character following the whims of the protagonist. There are numerous theories we can concoct about the fisherman. He could also been seen as Adam, the good and honest man, being led astray by the greed of his wife, Eve. This relates well in theory as they are the only other characters in the story besides the fish, which could be seen to represent God. This could be seen as a cautionary character with a misogynistic base; do not trust your wife as she will lead you astray, you (the man) must be the head of the household in order to create harmony in the home. Remember that this was a story passed along for generations before the Grimm brothers recorded it. The story was only recorded in the early 1800’s and thus we must take a cultural perspective here. In historical times the man was truly seen as the head of the household and the wife and children were expected to follow his orders regardless of their opinions. This could be seen, therefore, as an admonishment for men to keep the order in their households so that they do not descend into chaos.
The fish could also been seen as having some religious significance. Fish were commonly associated with Jesus and Christianity historically, and lately there has been a resurgence in this association. Jesus was seen to multiply a fish (or perhaps two according to some versions) into thousands in order to feed his hungry band of followers. Thus fish have a strong affiliation with Christianity. Germany was a country closely held with Christianity and here there is another strong affiliation. Many of these tales come from a lore base in which paganism or non-Christian religions may have been the focal point. By the time these tales were recorded in the early 1800’s Christianity was firmly embedded into the social consciousness and thus would have had an influence on the older folk stories. The fish, therefore, assumes a much larger role in this story than he may have had previously. Magical animals are common occurrences in many fairy tales yet in this case not only is the animal magical but he also has an element of omnipotence. The King
This proves to be a turning point in the story. The wife wishes to become king, not just a queen, but a ruler herself outright. This may not be such a strange concept if we look into the history of female rulers. Some of these come from historical tales, such as Dido Queen of Carthage who was the ruler of her realm, others stem from actual historical fact; for example Cleopatra the last Pharaoh of Egypt around 30 B.C.E., or Pharaoh Hatshepsut who ruled Egypt in the 8th dynasty or 1473-1458 B.C.E. (Wood). This is not an uncommon occurrence in Europe either. Elizabeth I ruled England and Ireland for 45 years as the sole regent. Catherine II (the Great) of Russia ruled the Russian Empire after deposing of her husband Peter III. These monarchs were no short lived phenomenon either, many of these women ruled for decades (in the case of Elizabeth I she held the title of longest ruler of England until the current Queen, Elizabeth II, succeeded that title). Perhaps this is a take on this phenomenon of women rulers, and perhaps also a warning. As this was also a time of great suppression for women this could be seen as a warning against having women holding greater power than men.
Traditionally Popes have always been male although in one case this may prove false. In the 9th century C.E. there was thought to be a pope named Joan. This pope, who may or may not have existed, has an interesting story. The most common version has Joan disguising herself as a man, at her own will or at the urging of her lover, who is highly educated as well as talented. She eventually gains status within the Christian community culminating in her being named Pope around 853 C.E. However she served for only a short period as during a parade around Rome around 855 C.E. she gave birth to a stillborn child and either died during the process or was killed by the mob. This story still sparks the interest of numerous groups who continue to debate her existence. Perhaps the wish of the wife to become pope is a reference to this famous story. This could also be an act of irony as women are excluded from being pope due to their sex alone.
Water is usually used as a symbol of fertility, the maternal nature of the water being akin to the womb in women. The sea in this case could be seen as a maternal figure. The “mother” is angry at her “son” (the fisherman) for asking too many demands of her. This could explain the calm nature of the sea in the beginning of the story (life giver, source of food, etc.) and later the raging nature of the sea (anger at being used and not appreciated).
Putting it all Together
This story seems to have a largely moral consequence for the protagonists, do not become greedy or ask too much, yet also has numerous historical and cultural references that make themselves clear during the reading. The symbolism is rampant in this as discussed above. Ultimately I believe this story has a message much stronger for men than of women. Here the message seems to be for men to take charge of their households and do not let their wives run the show, however overbearing she may be, as to do otherwise will surely lead to ruin. Hence there is a strong message of female subservience and submission as well as male leadership. References
Wood, Mike & Janet. http://www.ancientnile.co.uk/pharaohs-women.php (recovered November 30, 2010).
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08407a.htm (recovered November 30, 2010).