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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: Sharing Joy and Sorrow

“There was once a tailor, who was a quarrelsome fellow, and his wife, who was good, industrious, and pious, never could please him.”

Sharing Joy and Sorrow is another example of a not-so-child-friendly fairy tale. Domestic abuse and sleazy activity is packed into less than 200 words, illustrating that a description of the negativity of humankind does not have a minimum word requirement.

The tailor is quite “a quarrelsome fellow,” who is thrown into jail (rightly so) after beating his wife. Sadly, he is set free again on one condition: “to live with [his wife] in peace, and share joy and sorrow with her, as married people ought to do.” And guess what – no, he doesn’t beat his wife again – he decides instead to pull her hair out and throw objects like scissors at her until some neighbors come to her aid. When the tailor is brought in front of the court, he tells the judges that he did not break his promise, since he shared joy and sorrow with her since his last arrest. He claims he lived in joy when she was in sorrow (after scissors and objects were thrown at her), and he lived in sorrow when she became joyful (when his lack of aim left her injury free). Charming, isn’t it?

“The judges were not satisfied with this answer, but gave him the reward he deserved.” This ending does not leave me satisfied. The “but” is throwing me off; did he get put in jail for the rest of his life? Did he get an eye-for-an-eye type of punishment? Or did he return home to resume his vile activities?

Disrespect towards women (and domestic abuse) sadly is not a thing trapped inside the pages of this fairy tale anthology. Especially in light of a recent situation involving the firing of a television personality, and the hiring of a television personality into the highest appointment in all the land, I could not have read Sharing Joy and Sorrow at a more…relevant?…time. Jail time did not change the tailor’s actions or attitude toward his wife, and his arrogance and holier-than-women mindset turned a sweet sentiment – “sharing joy and sorrow” in life with a significant other – into a snarky excuse for his horrific behavior.

When I started this project of reading Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, I thought I knew more about these stories than I actually do. I was not expecting severe drop-off endings or tales of domestic abuse, but now I’m mulling this: why would I not expect those, and other characteristics that have not come up yet but are sure to? Though different from novels and poems, it was ignorant of me to think these tales would not address negative social issues and take advantage of artistic literary techniques (or ignore them). It’s silly to think that fairy tales are just fun stories for children to hear and learn from, and while I never believed just that to be true, that line of thinking is where my knowledge of these stories originate from. I mean, most are fun stories to listen to, read, and learn from, but when it comes down to it, the original authors of these stories were putting an issue or topic out there to be discussed; reflected upon; thought about beyond the physical pages. Maybe I’m just amazed at how relevant these issues still are today. If the small amount of history I know about has taught me anything, it’s that people are hell bent on things staying the same, no matter how great change could be.

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