From Disney's modern adaptation, "Tangled" to the original Grimms' fairy tale published in 1812, "Rapunzel" follows the journey of a young maiden with magical golden locks as she tries to find her identity while living in isolation. With no one around her except her guardian Dame Gothel, Rapunzel fawns over the first outsider she meets, a prince. By following the course of Rapunzel's life using the archetypal lens, the Brothers Grimm's "Rapunzel" highlights the theme of the importance of developing a trusting relationship between a parent or a guardian and a child, which in turn allows the child to explore their own identity effectively.
Character Types and Symbols
The character types and symbols in "Rapunzel" structure the presentation of the theme. According to Gokturk, there are several recurring archetypes in fairy tales: the good, evil, and royal characters, as well as symbols depicting magic, goodness, and beauty. The good character typically is "kind, innocent, and receives help from others" while the evil character is portrayed as an enchantress or "witch and usually loses something" (Gokturk). The royal is typically from a noble family.
In this story, Rapunzel is claimed to be "the most beautiful child under the sun" (Grimm 2); however, Dame Gothel is the evil character because she immediately took away Rapunzel as soon as her mother was "brought to bed" (Grimm 2). Rapunzel is beautiful and innocent because of her hair and the fact that she was taken away from her parents at birth. On the other hand, Dame Gothel is the evil enchantress that stole a couple's baby to fulfill a deal. The stark difference between the good and evil archetypes divides Rapunzel and the Dame further, creating a rift in their guardian-child relationship.
Furthermore, there are various symbols in each fairy tale that relate to a core meaning. In "Rapunzel," her hair and her tears are both symbols; the former represents youth and grace whereas the latter is magic. Rapunzel's hair is described as "magnificent, fine as spun gold, and twenty ells long" (Grimm 3) and her tears magically heal the prince's blindness at the end of the story (Grimm 5). The symbolic meanings of these attributes add to Rapunzel's reputation as the "good" character because she is a beautiful, young maiden that helps others.
As a result, Dame Gothel wants to control Rapunzel because of her beauty, preventing her from developing herself as a member of society. By understanding the meaning behind each character's attributes and archetype, one can analyze the interactions between them to discern the theme of the story.
Relationship Between Characters
Moreover, the relationships between the characters, which are illustrated through the hero's journey, shape the story's plot which reveals the theme. In the exposition, Grimm explains that Rapunzel was sacrificed when her father stole rampion for her mother from the Dame's garden (Grimm 1). This is the call to adventure because Rapunzel's "Ordinary World" with her parents is disrupted when the Dame steals her in a dispute (Volger 3). The tension from being and having a stolen child creates an awkward dynamic between the guardian (Dame Gothel) and her child (Rapunzel). As a result, Rapunzel does not build a trusting relationship with her guardian, creating an unstable foundation in Rapunzel's ability to develop her own identity.
Rapunzel lacks the skills to form a secure attachment with another person because she has been isolated. Thus, Rapunzel fails to develop herself as a person and latches on to the first person she happens to find. Volger describes this stage, meeting the mentor, as the point when the prince gives Rapunzel the confidence to face the threshold of leaving the tower (Volger 3). Rapunzel becomes brave enough to escape the tower with him because she believes "'he will love me more than old Dame Gothel does'" (Grimm 4).
Because Rapunzel finally has a guardian she trusts, she is able to develop her own identity by making decisions for herself, such as to run away with the prince. Subsequently, she is allowed to grow into other roles besides being a daughter; Rapunzel finds herself as the wife of the prince and the mother of his children. The reward in the denouement is the ability to explore these new roles in her identity because Rapunzel has overcome her greatest challenge: the Dame's restrictions to live in the isolated tower. The start of her relationship with the prince and her end with Dame Gothel highlights the effect of a trusting relationship that allows one to explore their own identity.