Hansel And Gretel: Id, Ego And Superego

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Hansel and Gretel (1812), transliterated by Grimm Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) is an amaranthine literary classic, made immortal in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The beginning of the tale depicts a dearth of sustenance within the family, owing to which, Hansel and Gretel’s step-mother influences her husband into sending his children away in the woods. Despite finding their way back home the first time, they’re soon abandoned again, and this time, with no silver flintstones to save the day. They come across a paradisiacal edible house, and before long are victimized by a cannibalistic witch.

This essay attempts at scrutinizing the striking tale of Hansel and Gretel, from Freudian’s psychoanalytic theory’s perspective. This narrative predominantly illustrates some qualities of Freud’s model of the human psyche. A psychoanalytic approach is adopted with the view to portray the relationship between the id, ego and superego and the child’s development as he grows.


At first glance, fairytales emerge as being exempt to psychoanalytic interpretation, but they have nonetheless paved the way to the comprehension of the tale of Hansel and Gretel. This is furthermore endorsed by Bruno Bettelheim’s classic study The Uses of Enchantments (1976).

He also illustrated in his influential book, “that the breadcrumbs and the gingerbread house represent the destructive, immature oral drives of the children.”

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In addition, the duck mentioned at the end of the story might be representative of the fact that the children have in fact matured and grown into different as well as distinctive individuals, and might indicate that they were prepared for the real world.

Ego and Conscious

The Ego, component present since late infancy, is prominently felt since the beginning of the story. Hansel’s awareness about the prevailing situation, that is, they would be dumped into oblivion in the midst of the woods, due to their pauperism, and his nonetheless, poised and rational outlook reaffirms the fact. Hansel didn’t lose hope with the emergence of that plight, adversely, he was perceptive as well as playful, owing to his conscious mind, and so found the remedy to their dilemma at hand; the gathering of white flint stones that would bring them back home. Another instance would be, using a bone to delude the witch into thinking it was his finger.

Gretel’s character, who’d start crying, at every open slot, when faced with adversity, has had a veritable metamorphosis, such that she tackled the evil witch on her own. Gretel tricks the witch into getting in the oven and “left the wicked witch to burn miserably.” Though they are primarily conscious that deceit and murder are both inadmissible (courtesy of superego), Eros, their life instinct (ID), was more prominent at that instant, thereby upholding equilibrium, ergo the ego.

Furthermore, Hansel and Gretel’s father was being juggled between his ID and superego. The responsibility, or rather, the burden of being the man of the house, a good husband to his spouse and an exemplary father to his children, was something he was conspicuously failing at. His reluctance to deserting his children in the woods, bounded by his devoir as the forbearer (superego), yet being tied down by his wife’s impositions in addition to his own discreet temptations of having less mouths to feed (ID), was indubitably taking a toll on him. His ultimate decision of complying with his wife, of choosing his spouse over his progeny, would shame him, such that his conscience would manifest culpability an he’d feel miserable for the longest time, until Hansel and Gretel finally come back home, safe and sound.

ID and Unconscious

The ID, the instinctual drives present since birth, functions solely in accordance to the pleasure principle, that is, to reap instant gratifications. Being lost for three days now, Hansel and Gretel are remarkably debilitated and famished. As such, upon seeing the ambrosial house of candy, their ID and greed unrestrainedly manifest themselves. The house might be symbolical of cannibalism, as the children are seen to be fervently devouring it. Despite knowing that it was improper, they couldn’t help themselves for they couldn’t distinguish between reality and fantasy then. Despite the fair warning given by their superego and consciousness, represented by the thin voice they heard “Who is nibbling at my house?”, they blatantly throw caution to the wind and pursue their impulse.

In furtherance, the stepmother and the wicked are emblematic of the ID in this tale, as both are impetuous, seeking for the instantaneous gratification of their yearnings, desires and ironically, hunger. That is, while the stepmother convinces her husband to abandon the children, so they’d have more for themselves, while the witch contrastingly, cajoles the children by offering them shelter with the gruesome purpose of gobbling them. Both defy morality to quench their greed and impulses. “after the fifth edition (1843), comparisons between the stepmother and the witch became evident through language (they both refer to the children as “lazy” at various points).”

On a concluding note, when examined from a psychoanalytic perspective, the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel divulges an ocean of unconscious meanings subtly embedded within the storyline. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory as well Bettelheim’s valuable insight on this tale indubitably leave no stones unturned in facilitating readers’ comprehension. Moreover, all characters of this tale can be described as the embodiment of the traits underlined by Freud’s model of the human psyche.  

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