Grimms' Fairy Tales
by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Issues—We Have Them
If your parents sold you to a sorceress for a handful of lettuce, you'd have issues too. Having zero social contact outside the tower probably isn't helping, either (and this was in the days before Facebook). So it's no big surprise that our dear Rapunzel ends up, um, a tad fickle and jumps the bones of the first guy she meets (who, luckily, turns out to be a prince).
When the sorceress finds out about their tryst, she is understandably ticked off. After all, didn't she raise Rapunzel with better values? Didn't she try to protect her from the wicked world by putting her in that tower? Yeah, you try to tell a teenager that something is for her own good. Good luck.
Rapunzel the Rebel
Why does Rapunzel flip out on her adoptive mom? It might have something to do with how the sorceress cut her off from the world entirely. We mean, we're talking about the days before the Internet. Nowadays, if you're grounded, you can just jump into cyberspace and chat it up with your friends, but in early modern Europe, people only locked themselves away from society if they were like, monks or hermits or nuns—a.k.a. super-religious people. Turning away from the world basically meant choosing to be more holy…and it doesn't seem like Rapunzel got that choice.
When the prince hears her song, we're told, "It was Rapunzel, who passed the time in her solitude by letting her sweet voice resound in the forest." So she has a hobby: singing. We're not told whether she wants to make a career of it, or just sings to pass the time, or is secretly practicing to enter German Idol. This at least distinguishes her from other fairy-tale heroines, who just hang out looking pretty all day.
Even after she and the prince lay plans to escape (he brings her silk she'll weave into a ladder, since climbing down her own hair could definitely get awkward), she manages to sabotage herself by saying to the sorceress, "Mother Gothel, how is it that you're much heavier than the prince? When I pull him up, he's here in a second!" (Rapunzel.44). We gotta wonder: is Rapunzel really that stupid, or was she having second thoughts about facing the big wide world? Does she want to quash the rebel inside and sit pretty in the tower for all time?
The Hairless Wonder
Everyone makes a big deal about Rapunzel's hair, and then the sorceress cuts it off to punish her for consorting with the prince: "In fury she seized Rapunzel's beautiful hair, wrapped it around her left hand several times, grabbed a pair of scissors with her right hand, and snip, snap the hair was cut off, and the beautiful braids lay on the ground" (Rapunzel.44). That sounds at least a little traumatic, and in fairy tales where beauty is basically synonymous with goodness and desirability, you have to wonder what kind of a number this scene does on Rapunzel's self-esteem. What's it like to go from bold and gold to bald?
Most fairy-tale heroines suffer degradation or persecution (e.g., Cinderella scrubbing in the ashes, Snow White being cast out of her own kingdom), but then they get hitched and live happily ever after. So it kind of stinks that Rapunzel has to endure this solitary youth, and then endure even more struggles once she's grown up and reached marriageable age. Instead of nabbing herself a man, she winds up a bald, single mother of two. Why no reward for our girl's years of suffering?
Well she probably has to pay some sort of price for acting in what early modern German's might have seen as a less than respectable way. We mean, if she pops out a pair of twins, then we know for sure that she and her prince were definitely up to more than just chatting in that tower. So she's banished to a desolate land, bald, and with two babies and zero hope.
This is where having a fairy godmother would come in handy, but Rapunzel manages to pull a miracle out of thin air all on her own when she meets her prince and heals his blindness with her tears. Why she has magic tears, we don't know, but it works out in her favor since the prince takes her and the kids back to his kingdom. And hey, if she can make it through a rocky adolescence, so can anyone. It just takes some folks a bit longer to come out on top.