Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A New Look at the Gingerbread Man

A version of the Gingerbread Man
As I sat in my ELA 11 class, we discussed how fairytales actual meanings are hidden in their stories, and that the fairy tales have been changed multiple times throughout history. I will discuss with you the real meaning of the story the Gingerbread Man through the archetypes in it, and look at the history of the fairy tale.  
There are many hidden meanings in the story of the Gingerbread Man. I will first explore the meanings of the background information of the story, and note the hidden meanings in red are from surlalunefairytales.com and are an outline of the hidden meanings.The story starts in a "little old house", not a big palace, meaning that this is a story for the poor. The little house is located at the "edge of a wood". Woods most commonly represents a source of magic in fairy tales. It is believed the woods in the Gingerbread Man may have caused him to come to life because of the woods possess magic. The old man and woman  "did not have children but wished for one very much" in the Gingerbread Man. This archetype is significant because many folklores are told about people who are infertile, thus the old couple in the Gingerbread Man could be infertile, showing the pattern in fairytales.
The cooking of gingerbread has many meanings in the story of the Gingerbread Man. People bake gingerbread during the holiday seasons and "baking gingerbread" is great tradition in Europe resulting in the practice being common in folklore. The gingerbread man is cut into the "shape of a little boy". Besides being the most common shape gingerbread is cut into, the shape of the little boy resembles the want of a child that the little old women possesses. The gingerbread man was "put into the oven" to be cooked. The symbolic meaning of an oven is a symbol of birth or transformation of life. You cook your food in ovens for the result of the final masterpiece. In the story the Gingerbread Man, the gingerbread man springs out of the oven alive and transformed from a piece of gingerbread to a live, gingerbread man. Thus an inanimate object comes to life, signaling the want the women has of a child.
The gingerbread man ran past the old couple, a barn full of threshers, fields full of mowers, a cow, and a pig. "They could not catch him." The whole story is a chase where much tension grows as the readers wonder about the gingerbread mans fate. The gingerbread man out runs a cow. A cow is not a fast or smart animal, so the cow cannot catch the gingerbread man with speed or its intelligence. The gingerbread man also out runs a "pig." A pig has symbolized greediness, which could be a challenge to the gingerbread man. The pig is not wise and is slow like the cow.
The gingerbread man met his greatest challenge when the "fox" started to chase him. The fox uses his brain to catch the gingerbread man in some stories and his speed in the others. A fox is a symbol for intelligence, cunningness, and slyness.  As seen from above, there are reasons why certain archetypes were picked to create the story of the Gingerbread man.
Throughout history the story of the Gingerbread man has been altered. The earliest versions that appear in print aren’t with gingerbread, they are with pancake. One is “The Pancake” that originated in Norway in the 1800’s and the second was “The Thick, Fat Pancake” from Germany in the same time period. The most popular version in Europe in the 19th century was “The Fleeing Pancake”. The Gingerbread Man became popular in the United States at time.
When the gingerbread man is running from everyone he shouts different things in each story. The most commonly used one is “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.” The modern fairy tale of the Gingerbread Man gets into heavier detail on how the gingerbread man is made, probably to get young readers more interested in it.
As opposed to other fairytales throughout history, the hidden meanings in the Gingerbread Man were not as obvious.  As I have proved in my analysis, there are many important meanings that are alluded to.  The women being infertile and the point of the gingerbread man being shaped into a little boy are two of the meanings I have analyzed.  It is also important to take into account the history behind the Gingerbread Man. The transition from the use of pancake to gingerbread in the story highlights the changes that have been made to the fairytale over centuries.  By taking these two aspects into account, it gives the Gingerbread Man a deeper and richer meaning.

The Gingerbread Man has become a character in the Shrek movie series.


  1. Idea 4 Good ideas! How many from your source? Did you cite them all? If not, plagiarism!

    Organization 4 Good mix of summary and interp.
    Voice 3
    Diction 3
    Fluency 3
    Conventions 3 Solid writing.
    Research 2 First source (hyperlink) is broken. How much of your essay is from that?

    Blog Format 4 Good images and red to highlight points!

    75% -- Clean up citations and sources for higher mark.

  2. Interesting. I recall my first grade teacher alluding to a very different theory. She read the story and then said there was a time that the earth was very hot. I don't recall the rest of the lesson but it has stuck in my mind. I think it might be a lesson about the dangers of the sun and a warning to stay in the shade during the heat of the day.
    You noted the old woman was infertile, also known as barren. Mother earth? Land that has no vegetation is also referred to as barren. Since the story seems to have Norse roots and their stories are always a little convoluted. Yarns- which leads me to think of rumplestiltskin. I believe the purpose of the sagas was to teach.

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  4. Did the character take on ethnic connotations, analogous to the Gollywog? Did he represent Irish street urchins in Victorian England?