Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Random House, New York 1976)
Bettelheim, Bruno. "The Uses of Enchantment" New York, 1976 (reprinted 1997).
Once upon a time there was a Freudian psychiatrist and American author named Bruno Bettelheim who was best known throughout the psychological kingdom for deconstructing fairy tales as the primary tool for promoting childhood cognitive development through his 1976 study entitled "The Uses of Enchantment." Now a few years after his suicide, Bruno Bettelheim is best known for being full of crap.
Bettelheim created this foray into the meaning of classic folk tales after years of working with mentally handicapped children. Bridging the gap between philosophy and Freudian dogma, the author asserts that the end design of life is to find a meaning for existence and although adults are equipped for this mental struggle, children need guides - like fairy tales - to explain core life concepts and intrinsic human flaws that they would eventually uncover for themselves through experience. Although it is one of the most basic parental instincts to protect a child from the bad in the world, fairy tales flaunt human flaws and highlight universal problems to not only instruct children, but arouse their curiosity and stimulate intellect. "The juxtaposition of opposite characters is not for the purpose of stressing right behavior...Presenting the polarities of characters permits the child to comprehend easily the difference between the two."
He breaks down all the Disney-adopted fairy tales like "Snow White" and "Cinderella" as well as lesser known folk tales like "The Queen Bee" and "Brother and Sister" and exposes the "true" lessons they teach children. For example, "Hansel and Gretel" helps a child get over separation anxiety when he or she comes of age and needs to discover autonomy. It also teaches not to be overcome by greed (eat bread and not sweets). "Snow White" is about a teenage girl who breaks away from her Freudian evil stepmother and is rescued by males, teaching the natural order of transferring attachment and loyalty.
Bettelheim delves into the Freudian definition of the id, ego and superego and asserts that "the child's unconscious processes can become clarified for him only through images which speak directly to his unconscious. The images evoked by fairy tales do this." But after a prolonged estrangement from his daughters that led to his suicide, Bettelheim was found out for being a fraud. "It's now clear that he plagiarized parts of The Uses of Enchantment, and that for many years he inflicted severe verbal and physical abuse on the children under his care in a group home," said Mark Abley in a 1992 article in the Montreal Gazette. Harvard professor Maria Tatar is the first to challenge his overly Freudian analysis of fairy tales in her book "Off With Their Heads!: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood." She calls his analysis "radically unjust, misleading and inaccurate."
Bruno Bettelheim's bio
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