What are the lessons that Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment believes that children receive from "Sleeping Beauty"?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important to realize that Bruno Bettelheim is quite a fan of fairy tales, they speak to children in different ways than they do to adults.  This is in opposition with the growing modern trend against many fairy tales because they are seen as presenting too violent a reality for children.  Sleeping Beauty is, of course, one of the fairy tales of which Bettelheim is a fan. Bettelheim does deal with each of the major versions of Sleeping Beauty (which, of course, does not include the Disney version).  The three versions are as follows:  Perceforest, Basile, Perrault, and the Brothers Grimm.  However, there are many differences in the versions (more than we can discuss here).  Let's therefore be concerned with the Sleeping Beauty as a unifying whole in regards to its didacticism. In regards to your actual question about the "lessons ... that children receive" from Sleeping beauty it is important to break down the term "children" into both young children and older children.  For older children, Sleeping Beauty has to do with puberty and for younger children, Sleeping Beauty has to do with self-awareness.

Let's deal with older children first.  In other words, let's deal with how adolescents might see Sleeping Beauty according to this author.  Bettelheim sees the long sleep of Aurora as the "long, quiet concentration on oneself that is also needed" at the time of puberty in order to make the right decisions in one's coming life.  He does NOT see it as fleeing from conflict or responsibility or the passive life of a female. 

Even when a girl is depicted as turning inward in her struggle to become herself, and a boy as aggressively dealing with the external world, these two together symbolize the two ways in which one has to gain selfhood...the male and female heroes are again projections onto two different figures of two separated aspects of one and the same process which everybody has to undergo in growing up...children know that, whatever the sex of the hero, the story pertains to their own problems.

Something else that connects all of the versions to puberty is the idea that parents fear (and often try as hard as they can to delay) the first sexual arousal of their children.  One supposes it is because that child might make some major sexual mistakes.  In fact, Bettelheim calls this the "central theme" that connects every single version of the story.  The way Bettelheim speaks of it is as follows:

The central theme of all versions of 'The Sleeping Beauty' is that, despite all attempts on the part of parents to prevent their child's sexual awakening, it will take place nonetheless.

He attests that there are multiple symbols in every single version that stand for a woman's beginnings of menstruation, most poignantly, the pricking of the finger on the spinning wheel and bleeding.  (There are also some parts that are specifically about sexual experiences, the funniest being "what kind of thing is this that jumps about so funnily?")  And further, the thorns around the palace are seen as protection of the parents until the perfect mate comes along for their daughter.

This is a warning to child and parents that sexual arousal before mind and body are ready for it is very destructive.

Ironically, it is always the KING that is trying to prevent menstruation while the Queen isn't too bothered by it.  (Another cause for a laugh.) 

Now let's turn to the meaning for the youngest of children, because it means something very different for them.  They, of course, know nothing yet of menstruation or sex or bleeding or the truth of childbearing and child-rearing.  Bettelheim says that these youngest of children will be concerned of it only as "awakening to his selfhood."  In other words, figuring out who they are:  a very, very good thing.  Further, because the story ends well, "the story implants the idea that such events must be taken very seriously, but that one need not be afraid of them. The 'curse' is a blessing in disguise."  Living life without fear, then is another very, very good thing.

Something really important to realize (only from the earliest versions) is that Sleeping Beauty is not woken up by a kiss from her lover, but by a baby who sucks the flax fibers out of her finger! ... Women, says Bettelheim, are often truly fulfilled only through childbearing to make their mark on the world.  While some are offended by this, there is no doubt that it is true for most.  (Or at least it is true that many women end up having children.)  Both young children and older children may "get" this idea from the first couple of versions (with the baby sucking the flax).

In conclusion, Bettelheim continues to be a fan of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale attesting it teaches older children about puberty and younger children about self-awareness.  Your first "answer" deals with the awakening by "true love's kiss" which is not dealt with in ever version and is, therefore, not as important to Bettelheim.  Further, I would suggest that Bettelheim would say your idea that she "is raped and has children while asleep" would be considered a "sexual mistake" by older children and would simply be beyond the comprehension for the younger ones.  Therefore, for your essay, be sure to stick with the ideas that congeal ALL the versions together, for only then can you get the truth behind Bettelheim's argument.

championlakes | Student

The tale of Sleeping Beauty was adapted by modern culture so that the princess would be awoken by ‘true love's kiss’. This takes away the part where Sleeping Beauty is raped and has children while asleep making the story more acceptable to children. 

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