The German Folktale ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ is selected from the book, ‘Wise Women: Folk and Fairy Tales from Around the World, Retold and Edited by Suzanne I. Barchers.’
An old man, promised to marry his daughter to a wealthy man, as he found nothing wrong with him. The father did not consult the girl before selecting the groom and finalized the date of marriage.
As usual, the girl has no role in choosing her life partner. She wasn’t given the opportunity to see if her life partner matches with her expectations as she is supposed to spend her rest of life with this man.
The financial stability should not be the sole criteria to select a life partner. The linkages between financial stability and future security were relevant when women were not financially independent. But in today’s time, when women are financially independent and standing on their feet, this criteria doesn’t seem that important.
The girl’s heart went cold whenever she thought of the bridegroom.
We all have faced situations, where we know what is going to happen but often struggle to explain the rationale behind it. We say, ‘we knew it.’
Women are generally considered more intuitive, as they draw upon signals or cues they get from both external and internal situations. But the society generally, undermines this skill as science does not back it and is frowned upon by logic-based society.
The rich man insists that the girl should come and meet him at his place. The girl felt a little uncomfortable, but the rich man was quite persistent that she come to his place passing through a thick forest. He tells her that he has organized a party where he has invited his friends.
The girl though a bit uneasy, carried some lentils and peas in her pockets and reaches a dark and desolate forest. She went into an isolated house as asked by the rich man. The moment she enters, a bird in the cage cried…
Turn back, turn back thou pretty bride,
Within this house, thou must not bide,
For here do evil things betide
The bird in the cage is symbolic of breaking free from the conventions of the society. Bird also represents our inner voice, feelings, and desires as they are trapped and hidden inside because the norms of the society force us to suppress them. The dark forest represents the fear of the unknown as after marriage girls are often unsure about their future.
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
― Maya Angelou
At last, she found an old woman in a cellar who tells her that this house belongs to thieves. The thieves are cannibals who will cook and eat her after marriage. The old woman hides the girl at the back of the barrels and asks her to be as still as a mouse.
The old woman represents the innate knowledge and wisdom which guides the girl in the troubled times.
The thieves come back with another girl at night. The second girl pleaded them for mercy and requested them to spare her life. They sedated her and then cut her into pieces.
The sexual violence is rooted across the patriarchal societies and is often a dominant theme in folklore and myths.
One of the thieves noticed a gold ringer on one of her fingers. He was unable to remove the ring from his finger, so he chopped the finger. The finger with the ring flew and fell into the lap of the girl who was hiding behind the barrels. The old woman tricked them into abandoning the search at night and asked them to have dinner.
At the dark of the night, the old woman and the girl run away from the house of robbers. They traveled all night and reached the father’s home in the morning. The girl narrated the entire story to her father.
On the set wedding date, the robber disguised as a rich man comes to the house of the girl with the wedding party. As they sat down at the dinner table, each wedding guest was asked to tell a story.
When the turn of the girl came, she told the entire story of what happened that day and showed the chopped finger as the evidence.
The cut finger symbolizes the sense of judgment, intelligence, and bravery of the young girl who took heed when her inner guide spoke to her.
I think the story broke all the stereotypes associated with typical fairy tales and folktales where the girl proved that she does not need a man to save her.
She took charge of her life and used whatever was available to her as her tool and derived power from the same. The folktale has a realistic and practical ending where the villagers hand over the robbers to the police.
Thankfully, the story did not end with the change of heart of robbers or the girl suffering at the hands of them.