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Shapiro, R.B. Katz, C.L. (1978). Fairy Tales, Splitting, and Ego Development. Contemp. Psychoanal., 14:591-602.

(1978). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 14:591-602

Fairy Tales, Splitting, and Ego Development

Ruth B. Shapiro, Ph.D. and Constance L. Katz, Ph.D.

"IT IS NOT SURPRISING THAT psycho-analysis confirms our recognition of the important place which folk fairy tales have acquired in the mental life of our children" (Freud, 1913p. 281). In their timelessness, lack of ambiguity, vivid imagery, symbolism, and endorsement of magic, fairy tales are compatible with the primary process thought of early life. In The Uses of Enchantment, the first comprehensive psychoanalytic interpretation of fairy tales, Bruno Bettelheim (1976) illuminates the congruence between structural aspects of fairy tales and the child's psyche. He vigorously argues that this form of literature, above all others, facilitates the growth of the ego and has therapeutic value for each child.

Distinguishing the fairy tale from myths, fables, and realistic stories, Bettelheim explains that only fairy tales speak of everyday characters who confront crucial existential problems and emerge unscathed and joyful. A true fairy tale, in Bettelheim's view, must have a happy ending. We propose, in contrast to Bettelheim, that fairy tales frequently do not present the child with a view of the world which helps him expand his knowledge of human beings or modify his perception of right and wrong. We further question whether this literature does, in fact, foster more satisfying object relations, strengthen reality testing, or mitigate primitive superego imperatives in an unequivocal way.

Bettelheim's thesis turns on three points. First, fairy tales illustrate universal problems in human development and point to desirable solutions.

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