Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage
“Once on a time, a mouse and a bird and a sausage lived and kept house together in perfect peace among themselves, and in great prosperity.”
This tale is another example of how necessary it is to just accept the characters or settings or premises of these stories so you can understand and/or dissect the themes and messages within the text. Basically, it’s another example of how fairy tales are not for the unimaginative.
So as you can infer from that first sentence, this tale starts off delightfully. Three companions presumably passing each day in good spirits, living in harmony with one another. “It was the bird’s business to fly to the forest every day and bring back wood; the mouse had to draw the water; make the fire, and set the table; and the sausage had to do the cooking. Nobody is content in this world; much will have more!” (It’s important to note – for later events – that the sausage would stir “the broth or the stew three or four times well round himself, so as to enrich and season and flavor it.”) A simple yet productive, and, as the first sentence tells us, a prosperous life. But alas, their way of life gets interrupted.
“One day the bird met another bird on the way, and told him of his excellent condition in life. But the other bird called him a poor simpleton to do so much work, while the two others led easy lives at home.” Easy is of course, relative, and in this life the mouse, bird, and sausage had apparently agreed somewhere along the way that their specific roles were important to them, and were happy to fulfill those roles. However, the damage was done.
…the bird came to the resolution next day never again to fetch wood. He had, he said, been their slave long enough; now they must change about and make a new arrangement. So in spite of all the mouse and the sausage could say, the bird was determined to have his own way. So they drew lots to settle it, and it fell so that the sausage was to fetch wood, the mouse was to cook, and the bird was to draw water.
And the story takes a dive at this point. The sausage goes off to fetch the wood, and after “the bird made up the fire, and the mouse put on the pot,” they waited for the sausage to return. But return he did not, so the bird went out to look for him. The bird encountered a dog on the road, who admitted to “pick[ing] him up, and [making] an end of him.” Saddened by the loss of his companion, the bird collected the wood and went back to the house. He shared the news with the mouse, who was equally saddened and troubled by the fate of the sausage, “but determined to look on the bright side of things, and still to remain together.” The mouse took over the cooking duties, and not wanting to change the way the food was prepared, got into the pot like the sausage used to do. In this particular tale, things went as you would expect them to in real life: the mouse did not survive the boiling broth.
“And when the bird came to dish up the dinner, there was no cook to be seen; and he turned over the heap of wood, and looked and looked, but the cook never appeared again. By accident the wood caught fire, and the bird hastened to fetch water to put it out, but he let fall the bucket in the well, and himself after it, and as he could not get out again, he was obliged to be drowned.”
Are we supposed to believe that in fact, the mouse and the sausage do have it super easy and the bird got the short end of the chore stick? No, I think our attention is supposed to be turned to the actions of the bird. If the former were true, I don’t think the events of the tale would have been so disastrous; their lifestyle (and lives) would not have been so affected.
And so, it is apparent to me that this tale is a representation of the consequences resulting from changing the norm, or upending expectations. The bird allowed a naysayer to influence his thoughts about the arrangement (it could be speculated that perhaps the companions weren’t living in actual harmony, that their contentment was a facade), which eliminated his desire to continue on in his fixed role as wood-gatherer. This throws off the entire order of things, and takes a dramatic turn when all three companions lose their lives. Dramatic, of course, but most fairy tales are in order to very clearly get across a particular message. It’s not necessarily the challenging of authority that is the issue at hand in this tale, because the three companions seemed to be, from the start, on equal ground; not one of them was singled out as the authority figure. The message here is that if a bird (you) allows the opinion of a stranger to imbue doubts into your mind about a way of life, and then that bird (you) act upon those doubts to challenge and alter set roles, your life will spin out of control and negatively effect those nearest to you. Which is really too simple of a lesson for reality, and doesn’t take into account that life could be made better. But of course, fairy tales were used and written to keep things the same and maintain traditions, including societal roles and fear mongering.
- #45 The Crumbs on the Table
- Aarne-Thompson classification system – 85: Other Wild Animals (ANIMAL TALES, Wild Animals)
- Listen to (and read along) The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage
- Watch and listen to this animated retelling, which I think is adequately summed up in the first comment: “the sausage and the mouse live happily while the bird lives alone and sad.” Or watch this spookier animated version, which might give me nightmares.
It does rather illustrate the adage that if something isn’t broken, it shouldn’t be fixed.