Grimms' Fairy Tales
What’s Up With the Ending?
How do most of these tales end? Say it with Shmoop: "and they all lived happily ever after." Well, most of them. Most of the time. If you're virtuous and good, you'll definitely get a happily-ever-after. If you're not-so-good, or plain old bad, then you've probably got a gruesome end awaiting you.
For instance, "The Six Swans" ends like this: "Then, to the king's great joy, the children were brought to him, and as a punishment the wicked mother-in-law was tied to the stake and burned to ashes. Thereafter, the king and queen, along with her six brothers, lived for many years in peace and happiness" (The Six Swans.171). This is a pretty sweet deal for the king and queen, but not so much for the king's mother.
Very few tales conclude with, "And then the wicked stepmother/witch/false bride retired to a cottage where she took up ale-making and was a little lonely but otherwise okay." And the gendered nouns aren't an accident, either; wicked women are gruesomely punished while bad dudes, like, oh, we don't know, incestuous fathers or fathers who cut off their daughter's hands go unpunished. This is yet another example of how the tales are super-saturated with social meanings.