Psychological Symbols of Hansel & Gretel
The story of Hansel and Gretel is a very famous tale from the Grimm's Fairy Tale collection. Besides Hansel and Gretel being a rather dark yet well-read children's story, it also has some psychological undertones and symbols.
In the Beginning of the story it is written that the mother and father of Hansel and Gretel wants to get rid of their children because they are so poor they cannot afford to feed four people. The mother strongly wants to abandon the children, but the father isn't so sure if that's a good idea or not and he tries to weigh which option would be best. This attitude of right and wrong is something present in the subconcious, it is as though the father is psychologically choosing the lesser of two evils and in the end he decides to go with what his wife says and get rid of the children.
When the mother and father take Hansel and Gretel into the forest to let them starve and die, Hansel looks behind at his house and says: "I am looking at my little white kitten who is sitting on the roof to bid me goodbye." Then later Hansel says he is looking at a white pigeon bidding him goodbye after he and Gretel had managed their way back to the house. The color white could be a symbol of innocence and the upgrade of Hansel seeing a kitten and then a pigeon could mean that he has shown growth since he was left in the forest to die and then found his way back.
The act of leaving pieces of flint and bread crumbs in order to find their way back home could also be a psychological connection of the brain wanting to remember something important. Since this tale is written in a dream-like way that could be what the bread crumbs were referring to. Also, when the birds had eaten the bread crumbs in the night and therefore eliminating their trail to home, this could be some sort of forgetfulness of the subconcious, like you had the memory in front of you and then it was lost.
When the children are trying to find their way back home they find a house that was "...built of bread, roofed with cakes, and the window was of transparent sugar." The elements of this house was somewhat psychological in a way because since the house was made of candy it would lure the children to it and to the witch inside, it's like the witch was using basic psychology to play in to the children's hunger for food and the fact that they were gullible.
One of Carl Jung's aspects of the process of individuation is called the shadow and the shadow appears in the story of Hansel and Gretel. When the witch takes Hansel away into the stable to be fattened up and eaten by the witch, Gretel realizes her own shadow. She begins to weep and realizes that she should have not eaten off the house and then caught by the witch. During this time Gretel understands her shadow and knows that she has to defeat the witch herself and not wait for someone else to step in for her.
At the end of the story when Gretel pushes the witch into the oven, this is clearly representative of rebirth: the witch is dead so Hansel and Gretel are freed from this life they were living and now they are allowed to begin a new life without the witch.
Referring back to the color of white as a symbol of innocence, when Hansel and Gretel finally escape from the witch's house they have to use a white duck to carry each other across: "...a great piece of water." Since the duck is too small to carry both of them across the water they decide to take turns. This could be interpreted as a psychological representation of how both Hansel and Gretel had to individually defeat the witch: Hansel pretended to be too skinny for the witch to cook, and Gretel was the one who had to kill the witch. They had to do these things individually and without each other's help. So, to be able to get to the nect stage in their lives they must also do it individually.
In the story, Hansel and Gretel, whether conciously or unconsciously, are represented as being entirely innocent because from the beginning to the end there are signs of white animals signifying innocence even after Gretel kills the witch. The witch could also be a psychological image of someone who is evil but at the same time quite unintelligent because she stood in front of the oven and didn't think that perhaps Gretel would push her in. The witch could also be on the same level of Hansel and Gretel because they both had to suffer the consequences of their gluttony and this could be a psychological form of showing what each of these characters really wanted, which was food.