From Bettleheim's The Uses of Enchantment, what are the lessons that children receive from "Sleeping Beauty?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the lessons that Bettleheim believes that children can receive from "Sleeping Beauty" is that a type of metamorphosis takes place between childhood and the eventual adult.  Bettelheim suggests  there is a type of cocoon represented in the adolescent period of the child:  "...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..."   In the case of "Sleeping Beauty," the need for Beauty to fall into a slumber is representative of her distance from the rest of the world.  Her sleep embodies the "inward struggle" to become herself.  Bettleheim furthers this in suggesting that part of this process of change is embodied in a girl's menstruation, symbolizing what it means to be a woman.  A specific image in the fairy tale that would represent this would be the pricking of the finger, representing blood associated with menstruation.  In this light, one of the lessons that children can gain from sleeping beauty is the idea that change within themselves is not abnormal, but rather a part of human consciousness.

Another lesson that children can receive from "Sleeping Beauty" is the idea that this change cannot be overcome or really stopped.  The King is forceful in wanting to prevent the curse of falling upon his daughter.  In other words, Bettleheim suggests that the king wants to try to stop change.  The reality is that he is unable to do so as Beauty finds a spinning wheel and ends up doing exactly what she is meant to do and exactly what her father did not want her to do.  Bettleheim suggests that this is one of the lessons that parents and children need to understand in terms of accepting the nature of change.  Change is not something to be repulsed or fought against. Rather, we can better adjust to change when everyone works in understanding it, as opposed to seeking to silence it. 

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