More on Rapunzel


Source: The Brothers Grimm and Louis Rhead, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Stories and Tales of Elves, Goblins, and Fairies (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1917)393Jan points out that it isn’t just that mom can’t tolerate the daughter’s sexual maturity that causes the mother/daughter (or witch-evil stepmother or whatever/daughter) relationship to go awry, it’s the mother’s desire to control and contain the whole of the daughter’s life. All of Rapunzel’s desires to be a separate, autonomous human being, to be an adult, are presumably threatening to Mother Gothel, and all are thwarted by the infamous tower.

Our questions left over from last time, then, are mostly centered on Rapunzel’s hair and the prince’s eyes. I was also interested in why Rapunzel had twins in the Grimm’s original version of the story . . . I suppose both versions, since the later one simply said “children,” and one supposes that both or all must have been born at once given the circumstances. But the long hair is the hallmark of the story and the one I’ll address first.

Those of us of a certain age will remember talk of hair being “a woman’s crowning glory.” And certainly for many years and in many cultures women have subjected themselves and their hair to a great deal of torture in the interests of conforming to cultural norms of feminine beauty. In some circles even today (echoed in the movie Tangled, too) you aren’t a woman with a certain hair color, you’re a blond or a brunette or a red-head. There is a great deal of identity and specifically gender identity tied up in the idea of a woman’s hair. And the witch cuts off Rapunzel’s hair as punishment for Rapunzel’s betrayal–a betrayal that is sexual in its essence. In some ways, that feels like castrating her.

In Tangled, cutting Rapunzel’s hair changes her hair color, as well, and her lover reassures her by saying, “I like brunettes.” Cutting her hair has fundamentally altered her identity.

Still, Rapunzel’s hair is also her only way of bringing the prince (or the witch) in and out of the tower and her life. Cutting off Rapunzel’s hair can be seen as a metaphor for taking away her independence and her means of becoming an adult, and taking away her  identity as an adult woman. On a more Freudian level the witch’s action is removing access to her tower (which we said seemed not only to be a penis, but really also a womb); cutting Rapunzel’s hair is symbolically mutilating/removing her vagina.

Barbie Rapunzel

The witch uses that hair to lure the prince into the tower one last time to tell him Rapunzel is beyond his reach, that he will never see her again. She threatens to have the cat blind him, but he escapes and is blinded by his own actions. In other words, the witch/mother uses Rapunzel’s sexuality to draw in the prince, Rapunzel’s lover, and revenge herself for Rapunzel’s sexual betrayal. But why eyes, why seeing?

OK, it’s true that eyeballs are balls, too, and in that vein this is a symbolic castration, but the witch only threatened to scratch his eyes out; his own actions blinded him.

Associations: eyes are the windows of the soul; what these eyes have seen . . . ; in Sophocles’ Oedipus, after Oedipus and Jocasta learn Oedipus’ true identity as Jocasta’s son and Jocasta hangs herself, Oedipus takes down the body and stabs his eyes out with the pins she was wearing; Othello stabs out his own eyes after he learns the truth that Desdemona was in fact, faithful. I think the prince blinded himself because he’d seen something he thought was overwhelmingly horrible.

Let’s go through the sequence of events once more, briefly, from the prince’s point of view. He hears Rapunzel’s song, spies on the mother and sees Rapunzel’s hair and that it is the way into the tower. He climbs the hair and sees Rapunzel, falls in love. They have a long and hidden relationship during which Rapunzel becomes pregnant. He climbs the tower and sees his love’s mother in her place, angry and threatening. He jumps from the tower and is blinded. He wanders for years in the wilderness until he hears his beloved’s voice, and his sight is restored by her tears.

from SurLaLuneFairyTales

Rapunzel, by stabstabstab from

Soooo, he climbs his love’s hair and sees his love’s mother in her place. What makes that horrible enough for him to blind himself? Well, for starters, his lover’s place has been in his arms and in his bed–her bed. The witch is even using Rapunzel’s hair, the symbol of her adult sexuality. Perhaps what he’s seen is that Rapunzel’s nakedness and her sexuality are also the witch’s, her mother’s, and even his own mother’s nakedness and sexuality. This realization is one that might be punishable by blindness; it is the equivalent of walking in on his mother and father in bed, or worse. But it is also one that must happen to all boys if they are to become men, so after years in the wilderness he again finds Rapunzel, his eyes are healed and they can be adult lovers.

What about the children?

They aren’t born until after Eve has been cast out of the Garden . . . oops . . . Rapunzel has been cast out of the tower with her hair cut off, and I think that they are symbols not just of the couple’s fertility, but of mature female sexuality. I think Freud might point to the fact that there are two children, just as there are two testes. I think that’s all the further I’ll go with it, though. This is already a pretty long post.


5 Responses to “More on Rapunzel”

  1. Well, I was waiting for you to get into some Biblical allusions-the garden, forbidden fruit that the woman craves and the woman who initiates a whole series of events with her craving for the fruit and the weak male who can’t stand up to her, and of course there are numerous examples in the Bible of women who bear twins. Are you really going to let it go with an “oops”–because to me the story is just full of Biblical symbolism and moralistic meaning, including some changes in the versions that make it more morally “pure” (eliminating Rapunzel’s obvious lack of maternity clothes). Do you really think the prince deliberately blinded himself? Could it not have been an unfortunate accident? Or is it “divine retribution”-the witch being merely an instrument- and the blindness his penance for the “out of wedlock” sex–and must his punishment be to wander like so many biblical figures, until sufficiently humbled and penitent, until finally having suffered enough? And I’m always interested in the way we read the story, what we see in it vs what the authors or redactors, in the case of folklore, intended for us to think and feel.

  2. 2 dipa

    I do believe you have misinterpreted the part where the prince goes blind. perhaps it wasn’t the fact that he had seen a female body that blinded him but that because of it he would not see any-other’s…that is what love does. 🙂

    thanks for this post.

    • Interesting, but if that’s the case why would the blinding happen only after he saw the witch?


      • 4 dipa

        maby because it was the final step: meeting the parents! eheh 😀

      • 5 dipa

        perhaps because it was the last step: meeting the parents! : D as if the prince would have to admit and acknowledge his intentions … So he wanders until Rapunzel speaks his mind, freeing him from saying the wrong thing …

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