ONE STORY – SIX LENSES
The following are various interpretations of the same work, the well-known fairy tale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, using critical theory. If you are not familiar with this story, read it here:
Formalist Analysis There are clear themes in Goldilocks and Three Bears, such as “trial and error”, and “the importance selecting correctly”. Additionally, the items owned by each of the bears are covertly symbolic: The mother’s chair is too soft, representing her maternal and feminine nature. The father’s chair is too hard, representing his strict authoritarian ways. Only baby bear’s chair, representative of the innocence of childhood, is suitable for Goldilocks. When Goldilocks tastes the mother’s porridge it is too hot, and scalds her lips. This is a larger metaphor for the pain experienced during adolescence and coming-of-age. Additionally, Goldi’s transition from the wilderness of nature to the shelter of the bear’s home suggests that she is leaving the purity and innocence of childhood (such as the purity and innocence of nature) and maturing into the structured life of an adult.
Biographical Analysis Joseph Cundall, the author credited with reimagining the Grimm’s brothers tale into a more child-friendly story, had clearly been influenced by elements of his own life and era in his reconstruction of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In the original Grimm’s tale, Goldilocks is in fact a haggard old woman. Cundall altered the character to be the youthful, blonde, and spirited youngster: a verisimilar imitation of his younger sister. Additionally, Goldi’s sampling of porridge is reflective of his own childhood with porridge as a main staple and common dish.
Marxist Analysis The set of three options presented to Goldilocks are representative of the lower, middle, and upper social classes of the 19thcentury
The father’s chair, which is “too hard” is representative of the struggle and misery of the working class (notably, lower class men were relegated to hard labor in this century). The mother’s chair, which is “too soft” represents the excess and comfort available to the aristocracy. The baby’s chair, which is “just right” represents the comfortable, albeit simple, quality of life of the middle class. Just as many countries struggle to establish a stable middle class, Goldilocks struggles to find the right item to fit her basic needs.
Historical Analysis The story of Goldilocks, passed down from the oral tradition before its adaptation, is emphatic in its usage of the number three. The usage of number three was quite popular with 18thcentury British writers, and is a common trope in tales constructed during this era (see: The Three Little Pigs). Additionally, stories featuring young, spirited, and beautiful heroines were a source of fodder for most British authors.
Mythological/Archetypal Analysis The character of Goldilocks is reflective of the common archetype of the young, adventurous, and often overly-confident heroine. Additionally, her journey mirrors many stages of a common mythological pattern: the Hero’s Journey or Monomyth. Stages include: The Ordinary World –Goldilocks comes from the ordinary world of her village. The Call to Adventure –Goldilocks journeys through the woods in search of new experience. Tests and Battles–Goldilocks tests each of her options. She finds solace in baby bear’s items. She makes enemies upon the bear’s arrival home.
Feminist Analysis Goldilocks represents the modern woman: she travels independently, without the accompaniment of a male escort, and is seeking her own happiness via exploration. Her entering the bear’s house is an act of aggression not typically seen in a female, and her presence in the bear’s home is a threat to the nuclear family, a common construct of the patriarchy. Lastly, it is notable that Goldilock’s main dilemma is one of choice, a problem in clear contrast to that of most women of her day who were limited in their freedom of choice.
Create a short analysis of any well-known fairy tale, applying each critical theory (you will either have to do research or get creative for the Biographical analysis). Use the handout as a model. You cannot choose “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Suggested fairy tales include:
Little Red Riding Hood
The Sword and the Stone
The Three Little Pigs
Hanzel and Gretel
Choose ONE fairytale. Write a paragraph for each of the six theories as demonstrated with Goldilocks and the Three Bears.