Topic: Cultural Text
Source: The Little Mermaid (Brothers Grimm) written in 1837 (setting is for 1837 time era). I was reading this book on Friday February 9th at home, for leisure reading.
Relation: A cultural text is defined as “a way of thinking about culture as a text of significant symbols-words, gestures, drawings, natural objects-that carries meaning” (Robbins pg. 20). I believe that both versions of the little mermaid say a lot about both cultures they were written by/in/for.
Description: The little mermaid lives under the sea with her sisters, all born a year a part. In the mermaid world, once you turn 15 years of age you can venture to the surface of the ocean and see the world above. The little mermaid is the youngest and has to listen to all of her sister’s stories year after year. She can barely wait or her turn to break the surface herself. Once she turns 15 the little mermaid goes to the surface. There she spots a boat full of men from the world above. Curiosity pushes her towards them and she listens and observes all of the people. Here she see’s a very handsome young man. A storm is breaking the seas and as the boat makes it way to shore. Eventually the ship sinks, and the little mermaid rushes to save the prince. After saving his life she cannot stop thinking about him and finds herself hopelessly in love with him. She later learns through her grandmother that people of the shore only live a short time, where as mermaids live 300 hundred years before they are turned into sea foam. Her grandmother says that the people above go to heaven because they have souls and that the little mermaid would simply turn to foam. The little mermaid thought it was unfair, because she wanted to go to heaven too. So she found out that in order for a mermaid to gain a soul, she must win the love of a person of the shore. The person of the shore must love the little mermaid more than they love themselves. With this is mind the little mermaid goes to the see witch and asks her to give her legs. In return the sea witch cuts out the little mermaids tongue and gives her a potion that gives her legs, although with each step the little mermaid takes she will feel like her legs are getting stabbed, and if she does not gain the love of the prince she would automatically die of a broken heart and be turned into foam. The little mermaid accepts this and takes the potion. The little mermaid meets up with the prince and he takes her into his care. She falls even more in love with him and he starts to fall for her. However his parents are trying to marry him to the neighboring princess. However when the prince was waking up after the princess saved him he remembers a girl from a temple. The girl is not the little mermaid, but he is in love with this mysterious temple girl. So the prince tells the little mermaid that he cannot marry the princess because he loves the temple girl, though he admits the little mermaid is starting to take the place of the temple girl. The prince goes away to meet the neighboring princess and finds out she is the temple girl he loves. They are married soon after that and the little mermaid knows she is going to die of a broken heart. Then the little mermaid’s sisters come to the surface with a knife. They had the evil sea witch chop off all of their beautiful hair to help save the little mermaid. If the little mermaid takes the knife and kills the prince with it, the little mermaid will turn back into a mermaid and live to be 300. However the little mermaid cannot kill him so instead she chooses death. She hopes into the ocean just as she turns to sea foam. The little mermaid then meets the sisters of the wind. These sisters live for 300 years, and they are what we call air. They go everywhere and after 300 years they are granted a soul and can go to heaven. The little mermaid becomes one of the sisters of the wind and goes on.
Commentary/Analysis: “To understand another culture, we must be able--to decipher the meaning of the symbols that comprise a cultural text” (Robbins pg. 20). The Brothers Grimm version states aspects of their culture through the use of symbols word choice, gestures etc. making it a cultural text. For example how the “people on the land go to heaven.” This states the religious belief of the Brothers Grimm, and that they believe in things such as heaven, hell, and God etc. Another cultural reference in “The Little Mermaid” is the politics of marriage of this time era. The prince was forced to marry the princess even though he didn’t love her. It was not until he realized who she was that he loved her. This shows that marriage was seen more as a business transaction, and political move, than a choice of love. Along side the aspect of marriage and religious undertones, the Brothers Grimm also have some undertones of sexism. Consider for instance, the fact that the male in the story is supposed to be happy, and Ariel is meant to die rather than to make him unhappy. It is better for the female to die than for the man to die. Now do not get me wrong, the moral of dying for love is fantastic, but the man never has to think twice about hurting Ariel although she had made it drastically clear that she was in love with him. This goes to say that the satisfaction of men is more important that the sacrifice of the women. This can also be correlated with everything Ariel had to give up to be with the prince (IE, family, friends, tongue, and even having to deal with pain every time she walks).
Another point I wished to bring up is how the remakes of this story are cultural text as well. I am sure we all know I implying the Disney remakes. In these remakes, Ariel still gives up her family, friends, and life to be with the prince. However it is strictly for love, and not for religion. Ariel must give up her voice, not her tongue, and she does not have to endure pain with every step she takes. Also in the end of the Disney version the prince and Ariel live “happily ever after.” This shows firstly that the violence in the original story does not suit the culture of America, nor does the tragedy of a lost love. Nonetheless, the loss of a voice (as in both forms of the stories) shows that in order for a man to love a woman she does not need to speak. It needs to be based off of things such as looks and actions. This can be seen by the scantly clad outfit of Ariel, with a seashell bra that barely covers her breast, even though she is 16 years old; another example is the evil sea witch who is portrayed as fat, with short hair, a masculine laugh, and is fully covered. The sea witch isn’t meant to be loved, and there for is portrayed as what society unfortunately views as ugly. The story also tells how men are supposed to be masculine, able to provide, and the protectors of the females. In summary both of these stories speak of the ideologies of their separate cultures.