Friday, January 29, 2010

The Witch Is Not To Be Blamed

So for my Rhetoric of Grammar class read a piece by the Ancient Greek sophist Gorgias in which he defended Helen (of Troy) and claimed that she wasn't at all to blame for the bad things that she is usually associated with. Well my Professor assigned us to try and copy his style, in all of its florid grandeur, to do the same with a persona of our choosing. The person we were to defend was supposed to be someone who is traditionally looked down upon for some seemingly unforgivable crime or flaw. My classmates all chose actual figures from history or pop culture such as Britney Spears, Napoleon, and Michael Jackson. I took a somewhat different route, I chose to defend the witch from Grimm's Hansel and Gretel. Here follows a copy of that defense. (Bear in mind this was written late at night/early in the morning and, at some points, lacks clarity. I apologize for this.)...(Also I realize some of the rhetorical tropes such as alliteration are very over top. Such was Gorgias' style.)

Encomium of the Witch from Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel


[1] Perhaps the clearest of all evils that we have been taught to avoid is the old woman living alone in the woods. These old women have, western cultural and artistic expression, been treated with a harshness that is hardly deserved. From Aesop to Anderson, Mother Goose to Grimm, Disney to Dreamworks these poor women, who merely strive to live their lives as best they know, are vilified and demonized, denigrated and victimized time and again. Ultimately they are denounced, denunciated and damned to the life (if they are lucky) or death (if they are luckier) of those unlucky enough to be labeled with that most hideous title, witch. While many share this sad fate, the kindly old grandmotherly “witch” from Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel stands out for the unfair denouncement she receives at the hands of society in being labeled a witch and being forced to suffer the consequences thereof, namely death by fire. My wish with this piece, though I have but little time to bring this wish to full fruition, is to set forth the innocence of Grimm’s witch with respect to the charge of maliciously cooking and eating children and show her to be as free from guilt as the innocents she purports to have born ill will.


[2] We know not anything about this witch. Her hopes, her fears, that which she enjoys and that which brings her tears all remain a mystery to us. We but know the overly biased and propagandistic viewpoint perpetuated unashamedly by the fairy tale teller. We know only that she lives in a home constructed of all the good foods that could possibly be imagined, she has, in the past, been known to consume children, and that she has threatened to do the same with Hansel and Gretel. But as for her character, the woman inside, she could have been anyone. We can’t know with certainty who she is. However, in Grimm’s writing there is still evidence enough to exonerate the witch, and show that she deserved not the fiery end to which she was condemned. While her actions are known well the world around, it is the motives driving her actions that tell the true story. While motives can only be inferred, there is evidence of those motives, which I will present, that prove conclusively that she is worthy of vindication.


[3] The eating of children is a heinous offense which is not easily overlooked, but the witch of the tale cannot be held responsible without first accounting for her circumstances and motives. Whether it was result of the economic hard time, that she was aged far past her prime, or that she had a fantastic recipe featuring children and a hint of thyme, clearly, she was not guilty of any crime.


[4] Hard times bring out the savage inner beast in all of mankind. When food is scarce and the little that there is doesn’t come close to making it all the way around the table, the world, as with one common consent, divides up into two parties, the strong and the weak. The strong make a show of looking out for the weak, but in the end, the weak fall victim to the strong. It’s survival of the fittest. Lamentable though the fact may be, children are not the fittest and often do not survive. Hansel and Gretel had been abandoned to the mercy of the barbarian beasts of the forest by their parents. The children, having little chance of survival, were actually shown mercy by the old witch, for she adopted these young abandoned and gave them all they could eat. It matters not that she was just taking care that that fresh "meat" not go to waste. In such hungry times, she could hardly be blamed. In the end, the witch was merely doing that which was necessary for her to ensure her place among the fittest. She is far from the first to take to this course of action. The Jews during the Roman’s siege of Jerusalem resorted to a resembling course of action. The Irish were instigated to the same by Swift. If, then, the witch was but ensuring prolongation of her life, and in doing so following a previously established pattern for life in hard times, she must surely be acquitted of these supposed crimes.

[5] But if it was age that had driven the witch to be a bit touched in the head, she surely should not be shamed by facing the fate of a fiend blessed with all Earthly faculties. We dedicate great buildings and give much monetary support to institutions that immure the elderly so as to prevent them from being a danger to themselves and the community. If the witch was such a hazard to children, why was she left on her own? Clearly, then, the fault for the near death by baking of Hansel and Gretel lies directly with the witch’s own children. They faulted in allowing her to live alone and on her own at such an advanced age. Therefore, if unaware of what she’d done due to an aged lack of rational thought, the witch’s guilt ought clearly be set at naught.

[6] But the blame may reside in the fact that the witch owned a particularly tasty recipe for baked children. If this be true, then fault for her homicidally cannibalistic tendencies is surely not her own, but nature’s, for making her subject to her own appetites. While the capable cook is a tender young child’s best friend, a tender young child is a capable cook’s main course. A good dish is, in the best of times, hard to pass up. Passing up a great one, at times such as these, would be nigh unto impossible, especially if the main ingredient happened to wander to your house and take up residence with little to no persuasion.


[7] Clearly the Grimm’s witch of Hansel and Gretel fame has been undeservedly on the receiving end of much bad press. I have shown unequivocally that she was not at fault for her misdeeds. I have achieved what I set out to do and derive much pleasure in having done so.

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