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The Peasants Wise Daughter, a German Folktale

             It is intriguing to see a fairy tale with such feminist themes, for most people think that this time period was free of such thinking. Although such a story as this was likely told by women to girls it still is an indication that many of these thoughts where taking root at this time. Within the story a king is generous enough to give a land grant to some peasants; however the king himself is not very intelligent or gracious. For in working the land the father finds a mortar made of which he wishes to gift to the king in return for the land. The peasants daughter advices him not to, saying the king would merely arrest him for want of the pestle. The father being a bit of a fool or at least naïve does so anyway.

            It is important to notice the thought pattern here, the idea that anyone should be angry at being given a large piece of gold should seem ridiculous. The question is what did the people at this time period think? In the story the daughter is considered wise for knowing how the king would react, but is that her knowledge of just this king, or would it merely be the obvious assumption that the peasants are holding something back something that the king would feel belongs to him because it was in essence his land that it was supposed to have been on? It would seem a little of both, for the story is a fairly pro peasant, however at the same time what is expected is that those who own a property shall demand a great deal from it. It perhaps makes sense then that this story was told to the Grimm brothers at a time of collision, when the serfs and peasants where finally becoming aware of or at least beginning to seriously speak out against their miss treatment.

            After he is placed in prison the father must free him from the somewhat callous, ungrateful king through her wisdom. Seeing how wise she is the king takes the daughter as his wife. It is odd that this should be a reward however there are two important things to keep in mind. First is the amount of humor that seems to arise from women who fall in love with callous men. And in such a situation it is the men who need the women, while such a concept is not entirely positive for the women, it does indicate a certain amount of thinking along the lines of women are more intelligent or at least can be. Its also important to remember at this time that marriages for love at the time of marriage where still not as common as they are now so marrying the king love or not was a reward, it however is not the end of the story, for not all fairy tales are happily ever after. The king after all is still inept, and rules later that a fowl was born to two oxen and so gives the fowl to the wrong peasant.

            Seeing an obvious injustice the queen intervenes, she again is smart and caring and the man is stupid and callous. In part because her intervention results in him saying she may take that which is most precious to her, but that she must leave the palace and him. One must wonder what it is she sees in this man, is it merely her riches? This is possible, for she certainly then chooses him to come with her, the story does not end with them in the palace however it ends with him in her hut realizing how callous he was and how much he loves her. Odds are of course that they go back to his palace after this, but endings are privileged so it would seem that this is a story of a women changing a callous man who she actually loves.

            It seems odd to have a wise girl choose a stupid man in a story such as this, thought he benefits for humor are obvious, one need only look at the long listing of such stories today in order to see how funny people find this. At the same time such a commonly loved theme likely has a certain grain of truth as women often to pick and love men who are such that people always wonder how they could love them. The difference in this story is that the girl is smart enough to navigate her mistake and to stay dominant in the relationship; it is this dominance of a women in a marriage that makes this story so interesting, for few other stories allow such a thing.