Reading the Grimm Brother’s Fairy Tales – Jungian Style

By Shady S. Shebak MD

Carl Jung had an idea that males have a “female personality” to their persona that he calls the anima, and this anima goes through four stages of maturation, although rarely reaching the fourth stage. In other words, men are part women, and the woman part of the man is developed and viewed from the constructs of his mother and of society’s view of women. This woman side to men is also consequently the way men view women.

The first stage is called the “Eve” stage, representing a view that women are to be lusted for, and that women are not to be trusted. The second stage is called “Helen”, representing that women are to be “saved”. The name Helen is chosen from the story “Helen of Troy”. The third stage is the “Madonna”, representing that women are pure, innocent, and motherly. We all know that another name for the Virgin Mary is Madonna. The final stage of anima maturation is the stage of “Sophia”, representing women as wise, fully human, complex, both positive and negative, and equal to men in matters of thought, emotions, and virtue.

Women too have a man side to them. This is termed “animus” by Carl Jung. It too goes through development. I’ll be more abstract here and say there are women attracted to muscle and physical fitness; there are women attracted to romantics and heroes, such as James Bond or other debonairs; there are women attracted to the professor or the scientist; and finally there are women who are attracted to men who are wise, who will help guide her, and who will share with her ideas, as well as comfort her. The closest figure to this that I can think of is the man Khizr from Islamic and Hindu traditions. Some Sufi circles believe that Khizr appears in dreams or even in real life and guides people during their times of need.  He is an embodiment of what a completed animus would look like, and what a woman with a fully developed animus would be attracted to.

The fairy tales presented by the Grimm brothers share many themes that can be looked at from a Jungian lens. Surprisingly, the stories present animas and animus’s of varying development. There are stories such as Sleeping Beauty that present women as delicate, vulnerable, pure creatures, who need to be saved.  In another story, The Rabbit’s Bride, we are shown a very different picture of a woman. In that story, a rabbit tries to force a young lady into marriage. The rabbit views her as an object of lust and unequal in terms of intelligence or being. The rabbit has barely matured beyond the first stage of anima development. But to my surprise, while reading this short story, I noticed that at the wedding ceremony which was forced upon the girl, there was a fox present. The fox is often involved in stories where there is trickery. Well, lo and behold, the girl indeed tricked the rabbit by creating a “scarecrow” or “model” in her image, while she escaped back to her home. So the girl is a representation of what a more mature anima would look like. The author of the story most likely viewed women as equally intelligent to men, and was somewhere between “Madonna” and “Sophia”. I won’t give out more of the details to the story, but it’s worth a read, and after reading it, let me know of additional symbolism.


Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm, comps. Household Stories,. Trans. Lucy Crane and Walter Crane. London: Macmillan, 1882. Print

Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. Vol. 9. [Princeton, N.J.]: Princeton UP, 1968. Print.

Jung, C. G., and Joseph L. Henderson. Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell, 1968. Print.


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