The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, The Brothers Grimm, and the Evil that Men Do
Cynicism in the Works of the Brothers Grimm
"The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids" is a short tale by the Brothers Grimm that has a plot that few would have a hard time figuring out. A wolf will try to use deception to gobble up seven little kids (kids being young goats). One of the deceptive ways the wolf seeks to do this is to visit a baker and have the baker cover his paws with flour. The wolf did try to sneak into the kids' home by claiming to be their mother. When they saw his foot was covered in black fur, they knew he was a liar. This is why the wolf went to the baker to have his paws covered in white flour.
The visit to the baker also offers an aside that is not exactly what you would call a positive reflection of human nature.
At first, the baker refuses, as he knows the wolf wishes to deceive. The wolf threatens to eat the baker, so he quickly meets the wolf’s demands. This is where the Brothers Grimm adds a little additional commentary:
“Yes, that is the way people are.”
Seven short words, and they are razor-sharp in their accuracy and their cynicism.
To call the work of the Brothers Grimm politically incorrect has become a cliché of a cliché. The tales told by the Brothers Grimm are definitely not the timid works we see in children's literature today. Of course, children's meals of the modern era come from supermarkets and fast food chains. As one critic of the Brothers Grimm pointed out, in the days when the Brothers Grimm were crafting their morality tales, little children's dinner was raised on their property and commonly slaughtered and gutted in front of them. This created the jaded and lax attitude towards violence and gore in the Brothers Grimm's work. Tales that were too sanitized probably would not have the visceral impact required to make the requisite impact.
Not all of the shocking aspects of the works of the Brothers Grimm elements in the overtly violent aspects of their writing. Rather, the overall cynical vision of the world is what draws the attention of those who read the work much closer.
This truly was a cynical aside and a moral within a separate morality tale. Such an insight is consistent with the themes of the Brothers Grimm. Their view of the world was always a cynical one....to a degree. There is also a pragmatic sense of "that is the way it is" in their works.
Children are commonly told to be wary of strangers. In this little tale within the work, children are given a far greater warning: be wary of the nature of man.
It is the nature of man to seek self-preservation. The dark side, as evidenced by the actions of the baker is self-preservation, sometimes goes hand in hand with looking the other way at evil and shirking the responsibility to confront it. The baker fears for his well-being and saves himself by literally feeding someone else to the wolves.
Within this short tale, a child is told actions such as this is how men are. In a sense, this is close to the Zen notion of life being suffering. Life will always have its pitfalls, and the quicker you accept such a reality, the more prepared and accepting of it you will be. It is neither good nor bad. It just is. This is the point the Brothers Grimm are trying to get across with this aside within the tale. Human beings are imperfect and do not always act in heroic or virtuous ways. The sooner and younger you come to such a realization, the better prepared you will be to accept how human beings are. Once you accept others for the reality of your nature, you will be be disappointed less and more understanding of what truly is.
For better or for worse.