Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair!
We all know those words and the story, but what happens if we take a closer look? In this post I will be sharing how I challenge my students to look beyond the fun exterior of the classic fairytale and discuss social class inequalities. I’ll also be showing off some resources you can find here to help you with this strategy in your own class! This is just ONE part of my total fairytales and critical lenses unit.
The Marxist Lens vs Being a Communist
First, I like to start out with introducing the Marxist lens. I tell students that we call it the Marxist lens, but I am not implying that we should all run out and become Communists. We are merely looking at the theory that all cultures have a social class system of some kind and often the class we were born into/live in directly impacts our lives in many ways.
With this lens we look at some questions such as:
Who has power and who doesn’t?
How do those in power use their power?
How are the powerless portrayed?
Is anyone seeking a better life?
If they are seeking a better life, what is standing in their way?
Once upon a time…..
After covering the theory in general, we begin with the Grimm’s version of Rapunzel. Sometimes I read it out loud (with all the voices, of course!) and sometimes my students like to do a reader’s theatre reading of it. I like to emphasize at the beginning that as a woman who has been pregnant before; permanency cravings are intense and yes it will absolutely feel like you are going to die if you don’t get it right now. This results in lots of laughter but also sheds some light on why the poor husband in the beginning risks everything for his wife.
After we have our fun reading, we discuss the story. There is always the shock from students about Rapunzel having twins and the betrayal that nothing at all happens to Dame Gothel. Then I shift our discussion to viewing it about the Marxist lens aspects we can see.
Who has the power? Dame Gothel
What does she use her power for? To exploit the poor and powerless for her own selfish gains.
What can this story tell us about the struggles of lower class people? Here is where it gets interesting. One student recently say in a joking way, “If you’re poor you get your kids taken away?” To which I replied, “Aren’t poor people far more likely to have their kids taken from them?” The look on that student’s face as the lightbulb went off was priceless.
Getting the movie un-Tangled!
After spending a day analyzing the text, we switch over to the Disney movie, Tangled. My students (and lets be honest, me) LOVE watching and analyzing this film. We’ve firmly got our Marxist lenses on now. We establish that once again Gothel has all the power and uses it for her own selfish gains.
We analyze the song that the lovable “ruffians” sing, I’ve Got A Dream and discuss what’s holding them back from realizing their dreams. We discuss Eugene’s tale of growing up in an orphanage and dreaming of being like his literary hero and the only way to get out of his social class is by thieving.
We compare a TED talk on social injustice targeting the poor over the wealthy. Another great comparison can be with I’ve Got A Dream and I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King if you also want to make the further connection of racial inequalities and the justice system.
And they lived happily every after….when they were rich and in power.
Of course the movie and the story end with happiness. Justice is served and Rapunzel becomes the princess she deserves to be. However, this ending alone brings more interesting conversations. What if they hadn’t been lifted out of the social class?
In the movie, all the ruffians are finally able to achieve their dreams because those in power now know what it is like to live in poverty. Eugene also states that crime plummeted as well. Is it because the poor were no longer being exploited?
Yes, it’s a fun Disney movie, but it is an interesting thought process to discuss.
I hope that this has inspired you with how you can take a fun and engaging story that your students are already familiar with to an entirely new level! If you are ready to dive into this kind of study with your own students, I have two ways you can get started today with no prep work! My larger unit that covers Rapunzel/Tangled along with 5 other fairytales/movies and completes with my Disney movie pitch project. I also have this standalone mini unit for just Rapunzel as outlined in this post.
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