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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bogey Women and Maintaining the Proper Social Order


In the morality tale Frau Trude (full text below), a bumptious maid suffers from an excess of self-assertiveness. This is the type of child parents find so irritating but children readily relate to. In a social order that calls for conformity to maintain the proper balance of things, something is fundamentally wrong when a child is allowed to freely pursue all the threads of her curiosity. The flummoxed parents command, threaten and finally disown the child. But in the end parental authority and wisdom are vindicated when the willful child meets a tragic end. Frau Trude is a bogey woman of a most sinister sort. Her allure might be illusive to the reader, yet the child is inexplicably attracted to the woman. Like a moth to the flame, the girl cannot resist her own self-destruction. The hobgoblin Frau Trude is very useful to parents, who can frighten their children into obedience with the words “Silence! Or Frau Trude will get you!” But what exactly does she represent to the child? Beside the fact that the child is curious and attracted to strange things, there are no clues to Frau Trude’s appeal. If we take a careful look at the three frightening apparitions the girl describes, we might come a step closer to deciphering another layer of meaning.

In the fairy tale, the child admits to being frightened by her visit to Frau Trude. The scales fall from her eyes so-to-speak and she might also have said “I finally understand what I've gotten myself into and I’m terrified.” The three men she describes might really personify three aspects of the girl's encounter with Frau Trude. The black man could represent evil, one's worst nightmare. The huntsman, a popular figure in German folk and fairy tales, often represented the god Woton and by extension old pagan beliefs and practices that are forbidden in a Christian world. The bloody-red butcher might suggest violence and sexual transgression. A possible interpretation of Frau Trude's speech is that her intense yearning for the child has ignited like fire, a metaphor perhaps for an illicit passion. “Ich habe schon lange auf dich gewartet und nach dir verlangt, du sollst mir leuchten“.
Another more literal translation is “you shall light the way for me.” However you read it, the end is the same. The girl burns like a hot, glowing ember and is thus consumed.

There is a lot to like about this tale. For one thing, justice comes swiftly to the sinner and a sort of balance has been restored to the social order. We are left with the image of a glowing fire that will soon turn to ash: proof of the importance of knowing the proper way to behave. In the end a certain amount of boring wholesomeness will win the day.

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