Ivan Berezin

How to and how not to love - Analyzing Rapunzel

The Premise

“Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. They represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest, and most concise form. In this pure form, the archetypal images afford us the best clues to the understanding of the processes going on in the collective psyche.”

If you have read my previous articles, then you probably have noticed how I extract life advice, lessons, and wisdom from different stories. Whether it be from The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea, from Plato’s Symposium, or The Bible. The process by which I find the hidden lessons is not arbitrary at all, a process is used to find the hidden meanings in stories.

Things do not achieve a legendary status by accident. When something is popular and survives the passing of time, it means that its content is so valuable to humans that they chose to preserve it. Why do we have lots of Plato’s writing but so few of Gorgias? Why does everyone know about Adam and Eve but few people have heard of the Enuma Elish? Why do fairy tales remain with us, hundreds of years after they were first created, and are constantly being retold in different mediums like the Disney movies? The answer is simple: These stories talk to our souls.

Nothing is relevant if it isn’t relevant to man. This can be seen even in the sciences, which as much as they try to distance themselves from the knowledge they seek, the experiments which end up having the most funding and the most attention are those which have a bigger impact on understanding humans and making their lives better.

Legendary stories are not the exception. The reason they are so popular is that there is so much they can teach us. This is not particular to fairy tales and ancient stories, but to all great pieces of art. Nietzsche once said that Dostoevsky is the only man from whom he can still learn something about psychology. However, there is a certain magic from fairy tales which long novels can’t exactly duplicate. And that is their simplicity. Fairy tales, like the stories in Genesis, don’t waste any time in decorations and fancy descriptions, they cut right to the chase and give you only the most important pieces of the story.

The Grimm brothers didn't put Rapunzel’s story down on paper until it had been passed from generation to generation verbally, small iterations between retellings which chopped down the more meaningless content were sure to occur. If you open a book with Rapunzel’s story, you might be surprised to see it isn’t even two pages long, yet it is widely known and influential.

I want to take this opportunity to share with you the hidden meanings I found while re-reading Rapunzel’s story. At its core, it is a love story, a love story which also reveals a lot about confidence, insecurity, and human values such as beauty and freedom. Let’s dive in and see the main teachings hidden in this centuries old story.

The Story

Once there was a couple who lived in a house. They had tried to have a baby for a long time to no avail, so the wife became very sad. One day, after looking at the beautiful flowers inside the witch's wall garden she said she wanted one and if she didn’t get one she would become sadder and sadder. Her husband, who couldn’t see his wife suffering like this, decided to sneak into the walled garden and steal some flowers, but the witch caught him.

After he explained himself, the witch told the man he could take the flower, but on the condition that she would take their firstborn away from them and she would take care of it like a mother.

Eventually a baby was born from the couple and the witch took it away. She named the baby Rapunzel, and when Rapunzel turned 12 years old she put her on a tall tower which had no doors or entrances, only a single window at the top of the tower. Rapunzel grew long hair and she became very beautiful. When the witch wanted to leave the tower or come back in she would say, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair drop.” and Rapunzel would throw her hair out of the window and the witch would use it to climb up or down the tower.

One day, a prince who was riding alone in the forest listened to Rapunzel's mesmerizing singing, and he knew that he wanted to meet the person behind such a beautiful sound. While he was spying, he saw the witch arrive at the bottom of the tower and say, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair drop.” After a while the witch left and the Prince decided to try to meet Rapunzel so he went to the base of the tower and said, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair drop.”

When Rapunzel and the Prince met each other face to face the Prince fell in love but Rapunzel was a little bit scared, this was until she saw the prince being friendly and decided to drop off her guard. He asked her if she wanted to marry him and she said yes. These encounters kept happening for a while until one day the witch found out Rapunzel was seeing someone from the outside, she became furious and cut Rapuinzel’s hair off, then she took her to the darkest place in the forest and left her there to rot.

The prince returned to the tower that afternoon, and when he said “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair drop.” a golden braid of hair was dropped, only this time, when he climbed to the top, he met the witch. The witch told him he would never see Rapunzel again and in his despair he jumped off the tower and fell on some spines which blinded him.

For many years the Prince rode the forest, sad and mournful for his wife’s death. Until one day he heard some singing in the forest. He recognized his wife’s voice and approached Rapunzel, who had given birth to two twins. Upon seeing her husband Rapunzel hugged the Prince and cried on him. When Rapunzel’s tears touched the Prince's eyes, he recovered his vision, they all went back to the Prince’s castle and lived happily ever after.

What we can learn from the story - How to and how not to love

I already mentioned Rapunzel is a love story, and perhaps now you can understand why. It starts with a couple, it continues with a couple, and it ends with another couple. The story starts as a sad husband and wife story, then becomes a mother and wife story and finally transforms to a happy husband and wife story. There is a lot we can learn from these different relationships. The biggest teachings, or at least the most obvious, in my opinion are about how to and how not to love.

The first part of the story shows a decent but flawed relationship. The second part of the story shows a horrid and toxic relationship. And the last part of the story shows a healthy, positive relationship. Let me explain.

Rapunzel’s biological parents love each other. However their relationship is scarred by the sadness and despair of the wife. She is unhappy because she wants a child, then she is unhappy because she wants a flower and doesn’t have it. Her sadness is so bad that her husband puts himself in dangerous, immoral situations in order to be there for her. When the witch catches him stealing he says “Let mercy overrule justice.” Implying he knew perfectly well that what he was doing was wrong. What is supposed to be a happy, safe place, had become a dangerous practice which makes all the members involved miserable. However neither of them are willing to let that break the bond of love they established and which they so deeply appreciate. This is a very romantic notion, and it is very beautiful in a sense, but individual work must be done in order to recover the happiness of the wife and create an environment of love and security. Being unable to address their problems made them commit a deeply unethical act which was selling their unborn children, a child which used to be a dream of theirs a couple days earlier. What do you think happened to the couple after that?

The second relationship we will examine will be Rapunzel and the witch’s relationship. But before I do that I want to take a second to more deeply understand Frau Gothel (the witch’s name) and her narcissistic qualities, which often stem from a deep insecurity, a mistrust of others, and a lack of a real sense of self love. A narcissistic person does not get their sense of self for who they are, but from what others think of them. Disney’s Tangled did an excellent job portraying Frau as a narcissistic mother, but in this case I want to keep the analysis to the source material in order to show you the depth can be contained in a short and apparently simple story.

The most obvious showcase of narcissistic qualities in the story is the fact that Frau Gothe placed Rapunzel on the top of a tower. I want you to pay attention to the fact that the place he locked her on is a tower and not a hole in the ground or a locked room in a house. A tower is a tall place from which you can see everything, but also from which everything can see you. From the tower, Rapunzel would be able to observe the whole world she was missing, and when Frau returned bringing some gifts and some fruits she would feel like Frau was a kind soul who brought her a part of that which she desired. A more modern example of this would be a mother that doesn’t let her daughter go to parties, but is constantly posting pictures online of the parties she attends to and the adventures that she has. The few times when the daughter is allowed to go out, are familiar events where the mother takes her, is the one responsible for her makeup and outfit, and decides what she can and can’t do while at the party. The mother will say the reason for this is to protect her. But in reality it is to protect herself. What happens if, when the daughter goes to a party, she falls in love with a boy who takes her out every single weekend and makes her less available for her mother? The mother won’t have that person which is constantly validating her authority, her presence, and her will. This is obvious when you stop to think about when Rapunzel was taken to the tower. If you read the story she was taken when she was twelve years old, when puberty starts for a woman, you can find this in the original Grimm brother’s version. The fact that Rapunzel was brought to the tower when she reached puberty was not a coincidence at all.

Another clue about the insecurity and narcissism of the witch is how she had a walled garden (she wanted nobody in and she wanted nobody taking anything out) while also making the walls low enough for the neighbors to see what she was planting, (see but don’t touch, envy but don’t have).

I want to expand this from the individual level to the relationship level, so let’s see how Frau Gothel’s narcissism impacted her relationship with Rapunzel. This is a relationship in which one side is benefited more than the other, and in which one person is restricted while the other one is allowed to have more freedom than before (while Frau perhaps used to have to do the dishes and tend to the house, Rapunzel can be the one to do this now). While Rapunzel rotted away in the tower, Frau Gothel enjoyed the world and had lots of adventures. Let me give you a more modern example: While you stay at home taking care of your siblings and doing the dishes, I will go to the mall to buy lots of new clothes and hang out with my friends. In a husband and wife relationship this can be seen as a “you are not allowed to leave the house, to see your friends, to have fun, while I can go out and do as I please.” There is this new show on Netflix called The Maid which portrays this entrapment in a partner relationship perfectly. In the show, the boyfriend traps the girlfriend in their RV, he takes the girl’s phone away, as well as her car, and her money. She was Rapunzel trapped in the tower. Insecure people are more likely to be the victim of a narcissistic couple since they don’t think themselves capable of dealing with life by themselves or anyone else loving them. Rapunzel’s case is interesting because she wasn’t particularly insecure, she just was never given the chance (or the information) to see what else life had for her.

I already walked you through the decent but flawed relationship, and through the toxic relationship, now let’s look at what Rapunzel teaches us about healthy loving relationships. The prince is first attracted to Rapunzel for her external qualities. For her voice, and for her beauty, however, Rapunzel does not let the Prince do anything to her until “he began talking to her in a friendly manner” which made Rapunzel lose her fear of him. This relationship was not just sexual, but there was an appreciation for the other person’s soul. The prince complimented Rapunzel on her beautiful singing, and Rapunzel liked the prince for his friendly manner. They both liked each other and added value to each other’s lives. Rapunzel then thinks something which I find very interesting, she thinks “He would rather have me than would old Frau Gothel.” What I think this means is that Rapunzel notices how the Prince really wants her, unlike Frau Gothel who in reality just wants the benefit for herself. People appreciate being appreciated. And Rapunzel had never felt that kind of love before.

Everything seems alright for the couple until the witch discovers what is going on and makes Rapunzel disappear into the forest, then she tricks the prince, and makes him fall in a bush filled with spines which take his eyesight away. He delved in the forest for years, and when he finally walked into Rapunzel, he went to hold her in his arms because he heard his voice, and he loved her regardless of whether he could see her or not. This is a test of love in which the prince and Rapunzel have to face the following questions: Will the prince still love her if he can’t see Rapunzel? Or was his love just superficial like the witches? As this part of the story is showcasing the proper way of loving the answer is that of course he still loves her and is extremely happy to be here with her even if she can’t see her beauty (this is important as it is the same beauty which Frau Gothel was so afraid of others taking away). That is not all, after the prince passed the test of true love something magical happens. Rapunzel cries and when her tears reach the prince’s eyes he regains the ability to see. If this is a love story, then what could this mean?

To understand what this magical act means we need to understand what vision is. Vision is not just the ability to see, but it also symbolizes the ability to understand, the ability to have clarity in your life, to know your values and know where you are trying to go. The Prince fell in love with Rapunzel’s soul, not her looks, and what greater symbol is there of the soul if not for the purest emotions? Laughter, rage, disgust, surprise, and tears. The prince could feel Rapunzel's soul through her tears, and what the tears were saying was “I still love you after all these years.'' Finding true love, and finding out that his family was alive and healthy brought back direction and clarity to the prince, not just because he recovered his eyesight, but because he recovered that which gave meaning and purpose to his life. After this the prince and his family traveled back to the castle and lived happily ever after. True healthy love is so powerful that it adds meaning to all members of the relationship.Rapunzel and the prince added to each other’s lives instead of taking away, and together they were able to enjoy life even more deeply than they were already able to enjoy it alone thanks to the purpose and joy that come along with having a family and having a mission to work towards with someone.

I want to end this article with a quote from C.S. Lewis “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career.” There is no greater sign of courage than loving, and loving right. Loving right means putting yourself in a vulnerable position where everything can be taken away from you in a second, but it also means putting yourself in a situation which will create a growth, a meaning, and a happiness which transcends you.

If this article has made you notice some ways in which your love is lacking and it has inspired you to become a person who can love better and who gets into relationships which add value to your life and to the other person’s life then feel free to contact me for a free coaching session. Make sure to join my newsletter so you receive updates when I write a new article and please share with your friends. I really appreciate it and it helps me a lot.

Thank you for reading,
Ivan Berezin.

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