Beauty and the Beast: The Value of Teaching Fairy Tales to University Students in the 21st Century

Jane Beal


In this essay, I suggest that fairy tales have particular value for students studying at the university level. Assigning fairy tales allows students to read familiar stories from their childhood and reconsider them from critical perspectives. When teaching a college course on fairy tales, my students and I utilize three essential frameworks for understanding fairy tales, focusing on the psycho-social development and sexual maturation of the human person, feminist critique and the need for gender equality in a patriarchal world, and audience reception and reader responses leading to emotional progress and even spiritual enlightenment. Students primarily familiar with Disney film versions of fairy tales enlarge their understanding of multiple versions of tales, both early modern and contemporary. They become familiar with classic fairy tale writers and collectors, such as Charles Perrault, Madame d’Aulnoy, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Oscar Wilde, Andrew Lang, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Anne Sexton, Angela Carter, and J.K. Rowling as well as fairy tale scholars like Bruno Bettelheim, Maria Tartar, and Jack Zipes. Their study not only results in a firm grasp of the key aspects of story in general, but in the ability to see connections between the real-world problems of the 21st century – such as poverty, starvation, disease, inequality, child abuse, human trafficking, and abuses of political power, among others – and lessons learned from fairy tales. This essay analyzes “Beauty and the Beast” as a key example of the genre and identifies pedagogical strategies for teaching it.

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International Journal of English and Cultural Studies 

ISSN  (2575-811X)  E-ISSN  (2575-8101)

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