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Andresen, J.J. (1980). Rapunzel: The Symbolism of the Cutting of Hair. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 28:69-88.

(1980). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 28:69-88

Rapunzel: The Symbolism of the Cutting of Hair

Jeffry J. Andresen, M.D.


"RAPUNZEL" IS AMONG THE MOST TREASURED of the folk fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm (1944). Many generations have listened to this tale of a young girl high in her cloistral tower lowering her beautiful hair on command to an enchantress. The same generations have also heard of the girl's exile from this quiet wooded site, her wonderful hair cut off.

The cutting of hair, an act placed at the very heart of events in this tale, also appears as an idea in the mental lives of patients. The idea surfaces when patients have wishes and life circumstances like those of Rapunzel. This coincidence suggests that the cutting of hair may be a symbol in the strict psychoanalytic sense. The great myths and fairy tales have always facilitated such discoveries.

But an idea must carry a constant meaning in several settings to be regarded as a symbol (Jones, 1916). The cutting of hair, as I can show, does carry such a constant meaning in four separate areas of human experience.

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