by Amelia Johnson, dramaturg
In 1976 Austrian-born psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim published The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.
In this book, Bettelheim applied Frued’s theories to fairy tales and argued that they are psychologically beneficial to children. Though each tale offers individual benefits, there are many themes used generally.
For example, many tales include characters going on some sort of a journey in which they achieve self-realization. This is important to children because they are in the process of figuring out their personal identity. They are part of families and parents or other adults are always in charge and they want to know that they hold a meaningful place in the world. According to Bettelheim, it helps children to know that their fairy tale heroes are able to overcome the more dominating figures in their lives. Children learn that they are important as individuals and can break free of the forces over them.
Bruno Bettelheim also believed that it was beneficial for parents to read stories with their children. He writes that children often feel threatened by their parents due to their authority. Bettelheim even believed that this causes resentment at times, which is why evil stepmothers are beneficial in stories. As parents read with their children about bad parental figures, children feel justified about any hostile feelings they may have had towards their parents and can let the anger go.
In addition to this, fairy tales give children a safe environment for them to face their fears. As children read these stories, they may be frightened by villains, but they know that all will end well. This allows them to consider the possibility of bad things happening in a safe environment. This gives children hope and prepares them for challenges that they will face.
Though these are only a few examples, they illustrate the potential value that these tales have. And there is a wide variety of reasons, in addition to the psychoanalytical value, that fairy tales have endured through the years. And whatever those reasons are, I hope you’ll join us as we tell some of our favorite stories at our production of Into the Woods!