Do children need fairytales? A psychoanalytic study

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García Moratilla, Estefania
Issue Date
BA (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Do children need fairy tales? In 1976, psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim published a book entitled The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, whose German translation, Kinder brauchen Marchen, encapsulates the author’s basic premise of “children need fairy tales, examined through a psychoanalytical perspective. Bettelheim’s work represented a return to Freud’s theories on the importance of fairy tales in the mental life of children, Thus, this thesis proposes another return; the return to Bettelheim’s premise of “children need fairy tales” around a psychoanalytical frame of reference shaped by Freud’s doctrines on the functioning of the human psyche, expanded by the theories of his contemporary advocates; with particular allusion to the viewpoint of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, On this basis, the purpose of this research project is to elucidate the influential role (if any) of fairy tales in alleviating the psychic struggles inherent to children’s early development. The achievement of such purpose will be approached by dividing the research content into two chapters which will follow the twofold aims of this thesis. Chapter one, “A fantasy World Full of Phantasy”, aims to gain an understanding on the nature of the inner conflicts which agitate the child’s mental life, as well as investigating the psychic mechanisms through which such conflicts seek to be settled, at an unconscious (phantasies) and conscious (play, fairy tales) level. Thus, this introductory chapter will explore the concept of “unconscious phantasy” as the psychical mechanism functioning to alleviate inner conflict by means of wish-fulfilment and through its symbolic representation in the world of fantasy via language. Chapter two, “In the Land of Fairies”, aims to explore the specific implications of fairy tales on children’s development by means of delving into the particular manifestations of infantile unconscious crises inherent to the three psychic realities as proposed by Lacan in his paper Family Complexes in the Formation of the Individual: the weaning complex, the complex of intrusion and the Oedipus complex. The aim of this chapter will be attempted by examining the said struggles in relation to a particular fairy tale: Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, respectively. To conclude, chapter three, “Do Children Need Fairy Tales for A Happy Ever After?” will evaluate the research findings gathered from the previous chapters in the attempt to provide an answer to the question that gives title to this thesis, as well as recommending possible further areas for research identified as carrying out this study.