What is the significance of fairytales in psychoanalysis? Fairytales are the purest and simplest expression of unconscious psychic processes (von Franz, Interpretation of Fairytales, p. 1). Fairytales are like collective dreams and their themes are similar in every culture. Today movies seem to serve the same psychological function as the fairytales of old. I challenge you to dig deep into your childhood memories and give voice to your favorite fairytale. If you can’t remember any, go to the Sur la Lune website and browse the list and pay attention to any that might speak to you. Once you have chosen one that resonates with you, ask yourself what moral or theme the fairytale is trying to convey. Your choice of that particular story with that specific theme tells you something about your unconscious, which is what psychoanalysis assists you in discovering. As an example, I have chosen the fairytale “Bluebeard” and the theme that spoke to me in this story was about curiosity.
The story goes like this:
There was once a man who had many riches but was unlucky to have a blue beard, which made him so frightfully ugly that all the women ran away from him. A lady of quality had two daughters who were perfect beauties. He desired one of them in marriage and so to engage their affection he opened his country home to them and their friends. Even though both of the daughters thought him disgusting, the youngest daughter decided to marry him. A month after the wedding Bluebeard announced he would be going away on business. He gave his wife the master key and a little key and forbade her to go in the closet that was opened by the small key. When he left, she invited her friends and family over and her curiosity got the best of her and she could not overcome her temptation to open the closet door. As her eyes adjusted to the dark within, she began to see that the floor was all covered over with clotted blood, on which lay the bodies of many dead women, all who had been Bluebeard’s wives. She thought she would die of fear, and the key, which she pulled out of the lock, fell out of her hand. Having observed that the key was stained with blood, she tried to wipe it off, but the blood would not come out.
Bluebeard returned from his journey and asked her for the keys. He saw the blood on the key and knew what had happened. He told her she would take her place among the ladies she saw in the closet. She begged for mercy but the only mercy he showed was to give her time to pray. While praying the lady asked her sister twice if she saw anyone coming. The third time she asked, the sister told her there were two horseman at a great distance. The closer they came, the sisters recognize them as their brothers come to rescue her. Bluebeard takes hold of the lady’s hair with one hand and lifting up his sword with the other, he prepares to strike off her head. At this very instant, the two brothers enter and drawing their swords, they run it through his body and left him dead. Bluebeard had no heirs so his wife became the mistress of all the estate.
Bluebeard symbolically represents both the outer and inner predator that kills the feminine soul. He is the dark man who inhabits every woman’s psyche. Men also have an innate predator which is symbolized differently in fairytales like The Frog-King and Iron Henry. The inner Bluebeard is our own voice that preys on us with thoughts of inadequacy, self- doubt and lifelessness. The youngest daughter, who agrees to marry Bluebeard, overrules her intuition which was wary of him at first but marries him anyway. How many times have you overruled your own inner voice? Bluebeard is the part of us that does not give ourselves permission and endorsement to know the deeper, darkest secrets of the psyche which are found in the closet. If she had not been curious about what she did not know or understand, which was behind the door, the lady would have remained a naïve girl, always under the sway of her psychic predator. The predator within restricts us from asking the necessary questions of life. Bluebeard forbade her to enter the room, but her curiosity was the key to open the door to her increased consciousness. The predator wants us to remain naïve, unknowing and gullible. This naiveté has us living life as we would like it to be, rather than how it is really. The girl’s spirit would have been killed by that internal voice negating her curiosity as snooping or meddling rather than honoring a woman’s insights, hunches, and intuitions as her fundamental power. (Pinkola Estes, Women who Run with the Wolves, p. 52). Our natural instinct for curiosity helps us discover what is underneath. This inner knowing is what protects us from the predator. At the end of the story the lady’s curiosity pays off, in that she inherits Bluebeard’s wealth.
Curiosity is a desire to know or learn. Have you ever avoided diving too deeply into something because “curiosity killed the cat”? The negative connotation of feminine curiosity goes as far back as the story of Adam and Eve. As the story goes, Eve’s curiosity and subsequent eating from the tree of knowledge got them thrown out of paradise. On the positive side, Eve’s curiosity also opened the door to becoming more conscious and therefore human. How often have you turned away from the secret something, the shadow or forbidden something? Do you find yourself rushing for the answers instead of loving the questions themselves? Delving into ourselves too deeply might bring up the fear that we will get more than we bargained for. Asking the hard questions might challenge how we see ourselves, how we are living our lives, and our beliefs. In the fairytale the blood was not able to be wiped off the key. This symbolizes our life blood being inextricably bound to the key of opening the door to knowledge. Questions are the key that opens the door to ourselves and curiosity is the action of potential transformation in analysis.