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Bergler, E. (1961). The Clinical Importance of “Rumpelstiltskin” as Anti-Male Manifesto. Am. Imago, 18(1):65-70.

(1961). American Imago, 18(1):65-70

The Clinical Importance of “Rumpelstiltskin” as Anti-Male Manifesto

Edmund Bergler, M.D.

Grimm's fairy tale, “Rumpelstiltskin,” contains a series of psychological fine points, so far overlooked. All of these pertain to one theme: the child's jealousy of woman's unique ability to produce children. In the fairy tale, that purported superiority is coupled with a malicious and derogatory anti-male attitude. No less than five times in a tale covering two and a half pages is man described as despicable. “inferior” or ridiculous.

These are the five indictments of the male sex:

1.   The story opens with the miller bragging that his beautiful daughter can weave straw into gold. He makes this boast to the king for the express purpose of self-aggrandizement (“um sich ein Ansehen zu geben,” in the original).

2.   The king puts the miller's daughter to work under penance of death; he marries her, not for love, but out of greed: “Even if she is but a miller's daughter, I cannot find a richer woman in the whole world.”

3.   Rumpelstiltskin, who comes to the girl's rescue, is described as an absurd dwarf (“ein kleines Maennchen”: note the diminutive!) propelled by greed. The girl must bribe him by offering three symbolically meant gifts: a necklace, a ring, the promise to give him her first child.

4.   Although Rumpelstiltskin can perform magic — he can weave straw into gold — he cannot magically conjure up a child; he depends on the girl for this. The suspicion arises that “the little man” symbolically represents the man's sex organ, made ridiculous. It is also likely that the act of making gold out of straw symbolically means that man can “make” money, (feces?) but not a child.

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