Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Ecofeminist Fairy Tales

ENGL 290.401
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Elective of the Standard Major

Rising to popularity in tandem with the rise of the modern state, the fairy tale has come to form a secular social imaginary, an incubator for notions of alterity, social hierarchy, power, gender roles, freedom, responsibility, and justice.  Over the past three centuries this genre has been continually recycled as a site for ideological debate between a Voice of modernity and the voices (masks) of its Others.  Some critics argue that in patriarchal capitalist society, fairy tales are strategies for the domination and control of women and children.  Others (therapists, childhood development theorists) argue that fairy tales model both the malady and the cure: self-integration, actualization, healing and wholeness.   On the face of it, the “others” targeted for domestication in fairy tales appear to be women and children.  But there are a host of human and non-human others to interrogate: poor woodcutters living at forest edges far from castles, laboring dwarves, and a host of powerful non-human others, including not only animals, vegetables and minerals, but those category defying toadstools.  We will deploy an emerging ecofeminist critique to explore how fairy tales model or contest the full range of dualisms undergirding patriarchal capitalism and its disastrous forms of alterity and alienation.  Following an overview of the history of the fairy tale and its permutations,  we will explore variation in selected texts of canonical tales, including Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, and Molly Whuppie,  taking into account historical context, point of view, medium (writing, film, oral performance),  intertextuality, and implied ecologies.  Work for the course will include written reflections on selected readings, films, and field assignments (2-3 pages), an essay comparing two versions of a fairy tale of your choice and accounting for variation (8-10 pages), and your own annotated ecofeminist rewriting of that fairy tale, which you present to the class, either as a reading or as a performance, during earth week.