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Annotations for Brave Little Tailor

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by D. L. Ashliman


The annotations for theBrave Little Tailor fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations which appear on the Brave Little Tailor Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Brave Little Tailor to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.

Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.

I have included the Grimms' notes to the tale as translated by Margaret Hunt followed by SurLaLune's textual annotations.

The Grimms' Notes For the Tale

The first half is taken from two stories from Hesse, which compliment each other. The second from the place where the Tailor leaves th giants, and betakes himself to the King's court, is from a somewhat rare little book, Wegkürzer, a very amusing and unusually diverting little book by Martinus Montanus of Strasburg (1557, in l2mo. p. 18-25). This part can stand alone, but as it fits naturally to what has gone before, it is here joined to it, and therefore re-written. In the first edition may be seen the unaltered copy. Allusion is made to the story by Fischart, in Gargantua (254b), "I will kill you like the midges, nine at one blow, as the tailor did," and in Flohhatz (Dornavius), 39b.

"Horst nicht vom tapfern Schneiderknecht [1],
Der drei in einem Streich zu todt schlecht."

Also in Simplicissimus (chap. ii. 28), "and has surpassed the tailor's title, 'seven at one blow.'" And in Fabelhans (16, 3) "five at one blow." The number naturally changes; we likewise hear of "nine-and-twenty at one blow." If the giant here squeezes water out of a stone, it perhaps has some reference to a passage in Bruder Wernher (M.S. 2. 164b):

"und weiz doch wol e ich ein argen zagen [2]
getwunge uf milten muot,
daz ich mit riemen liehter twunge einen stein,
daz man in an der ader lieze bluot."

And a passage in Freiberg's Tristan alludes to the tailor's cunning when he takes a cheese instead of a stone,

5190. "und nam den kaese in sine hant [3],
der wiiletôre Tristrant
grief sô grimmeclich dar in
daz im durch die vinger sin
ran daz kaesewazzer."

A part of this story is from a Lower Austrian story in Ziska, p. 9. The little tailor begins his journey, and enters the service of the giant, whom in the distance he had taken for a mountain. "What wages am I to have?" he asks. "Three hundred and sixty-five days every year, and, when it is leap-year, one day more," answers the giant, "does that satisfy thee?" "Yes, all right, one must cut one's coat according to one's cloth." The giant orders him to fetch a pitcher of water. "What! a jug of water! why not bring the well itself, and the spring too;" says the boastful little tailor. "What!" growls the giant "the fellow can do more than roast apples!-he has a mandrake in his body." After this he tells the tailor to cut some logs of wood in the forest, and to bring them home. "Hey day, and why not bring the whole forest?" When he has brought the wood, the giant desires him to shoot a couple of wild boars. "And why not rather shoot a thousand of them at once with one shot, and thyself as well?" "What," says the giant in a fright, "that is enough for to-day; go to bed and sleep." The next morning the giant goes with the tailor to a marsh which is thickly overgrown with willows. "Now my man, seat thyself on a branch like this, and let me see if thy weight will bend it down." The tailor seats himself, holds his breath, and makes himself heavy in order to bend the branch; but as he is obliged to breathe again, and as he unfortunately has not got his goose with him, to the giant's delight it springs up with him so high in the air that he is never seen again. The story is spread over the whole of Germany. It is found in the Büchlein für die Jugend, p 171-180. In Kuhn, No. 11. In Stober's elsass: Volksbuch, p. 109; in Bechstein, p. 5; in Ernst Meyer, No. 37; Vonbun, p. 9; Zingerle, p. 12; Pröhle's Kindermärchen, No. 47; in Swedish in Cavallius, pp. 1-8; in Norwegian in Asbjörnsen, p. 40; in Danish in Etlar, p. 29, in the tale of a valiant young shoe maker's apprentice. Nyerup describes the rhymed treatment of this version in his work on the Danish Volkbücher (Almindelig Morskabsläsning i Dannemark og Norge. Kiobenhavn, 1816), pp. 241, 242. The hero strikes fifteen flies dead at one blow with his garter, the renown of which great deed is so spread abroad, that a prince takes him into his service, that he may deliver his country from a wild boar. The animal devours a fruit which causes sleep, and is easily killed by the shoemaker. He then overcomes the unicorn, and lastly a bear, which he shuts up in a brickmaker's oven. There is likewise the following characteristic story in Dutch, from a book on folk-lore published in Amsterdam. Van Kleyn Kobisje, alias Koningh sonder Onderzaten, p. 7. 14. (King without subjects). It is to be found also as a supplement, in an almost identical form in another Dutch book on folk-lore; Clement Marot, pp. 132-133, under the title of Hans Onversagt. "Little Kobisje was sitting by his cutting-board peeling an apple, and left the parings lying on it. He made a fly-killer, and when the flies settled on the apple-parings to eat them; he killed seven at one stroke. He leapt up from the table, imagining that he had performed a valiant deed, and had thus become a great man; sold all he had, and caused a pretty shield to be made for himself on which he had inscribed, "My name is young Kobis the dauntless, I slew seven at one stroke." Then he went to a far-off country where a King ruled; placed his shield on his breast, went behind the King's palace, and lay down on a high hill, where he knew he was accustomed to pass.

At length the sun began to shine brightly, and the King could not imagine what it was that was glittering so, and immediately sent a nobleman thither. When the nobleman came up, he was alarmed when he read, "My name is young Kobis, the Dauntless; I slew seven at one blow." He went back and told the King what he had seen, who instantly sent two or three companies of soldiers thither with the nobleman, to give him courage, and conduct the stranger to court with the respect and honour due to such a knight. They went thither as the King had ordered, and approached and examined him, but none of them would be the first to speak to him. At last one of the crowd was bold enough to take a spear and touch the sole of his shoe with it. Up he sprang with great vigour, and they fell on their knees, and entreated him to be pleased to go to the King, which he did. When he came to the King, he was treated with great respect. Meanwhile he was informed that he might become the King's son-in-law, but that there were three difficult things which he must first do for him. In the first place there was a wild boar which did a great deal of mischief, and no one could capture it. Secondly, there were three giants, who had made the King's forest so dangerous that any one who traversed it was a dead man. Thirdly, several thousand foreigners had invaded the land, and the realm appeared to be in great peril. He accepted these conditions, and they told him the way to the place where the wild boar lurked. Full of courage he left the court. He was, however, so terrified when he heard the wild boar that he wished himself back again by his cutting-board. The wild boar came rushing on him with such fury that he looked for a safe place to escape to, espied a ruined chapel, and took refuge in it. The wild boar followed him, but with all speed he sprang through the window over the wall, and shut the door of the chapel. No sooner was the wild boar secured, than Kobisje went to the King, who said to him, "How didst thou catch the wild boar?" The other replied, "I seized it with great force by its bristles and flung it into the chapel, but I would not kill it, for I wanted to present it to you." Then there were great rejoicings at court, and he went in search of the giants, and had the good fortune to find them asleep. He took his bag and filled it with stones, climbed up a high tree, and threw a stone at one of them, who thought one of the others had done it, and began to scold, and tell him to leave off throwing stones, or he would box his ears soundly. He threw stones at the second, who likewise began to swear. The third was treated in the same way. He got up, drew his sword, flew at the other, and stabbed him and he fell down on the ground. Then he attacked the other and after a long struggle both fell to the earth exhausted. Kobisje seized the opportunity, came down and took the sword of the dead one and stabbed the two others, cut off their heads, and went back to court again. The King asked him if he had performed the task? He answered, "Yes." On this the King enquired how he had done it. He answered thus, "I took one giaut by his legs and belaboured the other with him till he dropped down dead, and I paid off the other in the same coin. And as the one I was holding by the legs was half dead, I struck him with such force against a tree that it flew up six feet high into the air.' Again there was great joy at court, and he was held to be the greatest man there. Then he once more made ready, and the nobles of the court with him, and he had an army of brave men of whom he was the general. Having taken leave, he began his third task. He bade the troops march onwards, and followed on horse back. But as he had never cidden on horseback he had great difficulty in keeping his seat. When they had arrived at the place where the enemy was, he ordered his troops to draw up in order of battle, and was soon told that all was ready. He did not know how to turn his horse round, drew the wrong side of the bridle, spurred his horse, and it went off with him full gallop towards the enemy. As he could not hold the bridle fast, he clutched at a wooden cross by the wayside, which broke off and he held it tightly in his arms. When the enemy perceived him, they thought that he was the Devil, and began to fly, and those who could not escape were drowned. The others unloosed their ships from their moorings and sailed away. After this victory, he returned to his noblemen, and the whole army, and told them of his conquest, and how he had completely routed the enemy. He went to the King, and informed him of the victory, and the King thanked him. Moreover he had him proclaimed his suc cessor to the throne. The wedding-day was fixed, and great preparations were made for it. When the wedding had taken place, he was held in high esteem, and always placed next the King. It hap pened however that nearly every night Kobisje dr that he was sitting by his cutting-board once more, and his mind was always filled with this or that thought about his work, and he cried aloud, "Courage, courage, bestir yourselves, in six or seven hours you will leave off work," for he was fancying that he was giving his apprentices something to cut or sew. The princess was alarmed, for she thought that he must be possessed by the Devil, as he was always babbling, "Courage! Courage!" She accused her father of having given her to a book-binder, and not a great lord. The father resolved to place a company of soldiers by his bed-side who were to take him prisoner or kill him if they heard him say this. He however, was warned, and when he was in bed he thus exclaimed, "I have overcome a wild boar, I have killed three giants; I have slain an army of a hundred thousand men, and shall I be afraid of two or three companies of soldiers to-night?" and he jumped out of bed and went fiercely towards them. On hearing him, they fell head over heels from the top of the stairs to the bottom. Those who lay dead, or had lost legs and arms, were very numerous, and those who ran away, took such news to the King, that he said, "My daughter ought to be wiser than to affront such a great knight!" Soon after this, the King became ill and died, leaving the throne to Kobisje, which he accepted, and ruled over the kingdom in peace. The English story of Jack the Giant Killer is allied (Tabart Collection, 3. 1-37); and No. 17 in Müllenhoff. Also some incidents in a Tyrolese story, Zingerle, p. 108. The Persian story, Amint the wise (Kletke's Märchensaal, 3. 54) likewise belongs to this group. It is even known among Laplanders (see Nilsson' Ureinwohner des skand: Nordens (Stockh. 1843), p. 31. In a Russian ballad in Wladimir's Tafelrunde (see further on), Tugarin performs in earnest what the little tailor only pretends to do, and throws a stone so far that it never comes back at all. The saga of the conquered wild-boar is also to be found in the Buch von den sieben weisen Meistern, p. 36, 37.

[A very good story, The Giant and his Boy, which is told in Rae's White Sea Peninsula, ought to be given here. "A boy once served a giant who, wanting to try his strength, took him into the forest. The giant proposed that they should strike their heads against the fir-trees. The boy anticipating this, had made a hole in a tree and covered it with bark. They both ran, the boy burying his head in the tree while the giant only split the bark. 'Well,' said the giant, 'now I have found a boy who is strong.'

"Then the giant wished to try who could shout the loudest. The giant roared till the mountains trembled, and great rocks tumbled down. The boy cut a branch from a tree, saying he would bind it round the giant's head for fear it should burst when he shouted. The giant prayed him not to shout, and said they would try instead who could throw the farthest. He produced a great hammer which he threw so high in the air, that it appeared no larger than a fly. The boy said he was considering which sky to throw the hammer into, and the giant, fearing to lose his hammer, asked the boy not to throw at all.

"In the evening the giant asked him when he slept the soundest, and he answered, at midnight. At midnight the giant came and aimed heavy blows at the bed. In the morning when the boy, in reply to the giant's enquiries, said he had felt some chips falling on his face during the night, the giant thought he had better send him away. This he did, giving him as much money as he could carry."-TR.]

1: Hast thou not heard of the bold tailor's apprentice who killed three at one blow?
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2: And know that rather than vent my fierce anger on a person of generous temper, I would crush a stone with my girdle, so that (one) could draw blood from its veins.
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3: And the willing fool Tristran took the cheese in his hands and pressed it so fiercely, that the whey ran through his fingers.
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Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

SurLaLune's Annotations

1. The Brave Little Tailor: Source is Martinus Montanus' Wegkurtzer (Zipes, Complete, 729). This is one of 11 tailor tales (Zipes, Brothers, 84).

The title character is similar to the German folk heroes Dummy and Thumbling (Tatar, Annotated, 101). Maria Tatar in The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales sees the tailor as a trickster figure (97). Terri Windling describes a trickster as "a paradoxical creature who is both very clever and very foolish, a culture hero and destructive influence".

Additional note provided by Heidi Anne Heiner: Trickery is one of the most popular methods for dealing with the evil in fairy tales. This implies that the trickster has experienced and accepted evil within him or her self, allowing "insight into the strategy of the adversary" (Jacoby 1992).
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2. Little tailor: Tatar points out that the word "little" was added by Wilhelm Grimm to make the story appeal more to children (Annotated, 101).

Tailors were poor and not highly regarded by society because they were seen as weak men (Zipes, Brothers, 84-85). The saying "Nine tailors make the man" that illustrates the reputation of weakness that tailors had (Evans 1059). Tailors were poor in part because the Industrial Revolution had weakened the guilds (Zipes, Brothers, 85). Tailors traveled to find work and were no longer required to join guilds (Zipes, Brothers, 85).

Tailors were seen as "shifty and dubious characters, reflecting the attitudes of townspeople toward men who were often out of work and wandered from town to town" (Zipes, Brothers, 85). But the tales also show tailors "bent on overcoming difficult obstacles and desirous of becoming respected citizens of society" (Zipes, Brothers, 85). Jack Zipes points out that all the Grimms' tailors are journeymen or apprentices, not master tailors (Brothers, 84).
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3. Delicate head: This could be reference to the weakness of tailors.
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4.  The woman who had hoped: Maria Tatar and Jack Zipes differ on their interpretation of the jam buying sequence. Tatar sees it as an illustration of the tailor's frugal nature (Annotated 102). Zipes, on the other hand, sees it as illustration of a stringy tailor (Brothers 86).
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5.  Made bigger and bigger stitches: Tatar believes that the tailor's working before eating is a triumph "over the pleasure principle, making it clear that the tailor is a man who understands discipline" (Annotated 102).

However, big stitches do not hold as well as small stitches. This could be an indication that the tailor is not focused on his work because of the waiting meal, that he is not a good tailor or that he has a wandering mind and always looks towards the future.
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6.  Seven: Seven can symbolize each day of a person's life in fairy tales (Bettleheim 84).
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7. A girdle: A girdle is "a belt or cord worn around the waist" (Oxford 340).

The tailor does not lie for he doesn't say flies; he just knows how to manipulate words to his own advantage (Tatar, Annotated, 102).
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8.  With joy like a lamb's tail: The lamb is connected to children and innocence. This comparison shows the tailor's nature and could also connect him to a child reader.
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9.  Resolved to go forth into the world: This refers to the fact that tailors would travel to find work. Zipes writes, "there is little doubt that the tales tend to characterize the hazards and vicissitudes in the lives of tailors as they traveled from town to town and job to job in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries" (Brothers, 85). Tailors are also portrayed in the tales "as a wanderer, someone in search of a better situation than tailoring" (Zipes, Brothers, 86).
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10.  Bird: The taking of both the bird and the cheese show the tailor's resourcefulness and his luck (Tatar, Annotated, 102). Birds usually have a positive role in tales (Biederman 39).
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11.  Giant: Giants, in ancient times, symbolized raw nature before it was tamed by man (Biederman 152). In legend, giants "are usually clumsy, malicious figures, ultimately overcome by the hero's courage and cunning . . . " (Biederman 152). Giants in Norse myths fought the gods and tried to destroy the culture of the gods (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 179). In folklore, "giants appear as powerful but rather stupid and unnamed beings who wreck havoc" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 179). In the Bible giants are the offspring of fallen angels and women (Fernand 89).
The term giant was also used to describe an exceptionally tall person (Evans 459).
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12.  Ragamuffin: The noun means a "child in ragged or dirty clothes" (Oxford 686).
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13.  A mighty oak tree: An oak tree is sacred to the thunder god in various ancient religions (Evans 770) and means endurance (Biederman 243).
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14.  Three tailors rode forth from the gate: It is unclear if this was an actual song or if the tailors are replacing some other group. It should be noted that the Scandinavian version of the Grimms' "The Knapsack, the Hat, and the Horn" has three tailors as the main characters (Kinnes).
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15.  Cherry tree: To dream of cherries means "you will gain popularity by your amiability and unselfishness" (Miller 139). The cherry tree is also associated with the cuckoo (Evans 217), a bird who lays its eggs in other bird's nests, allowing them to tend the chick.
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16.  Cave: A cave can mean returning to the womb, and can also refer to Plato's allegory of the dark cave (Biederman 61-62).
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17.  It was midnight: Midnight is seen as the witching hour because it was, supposedly, when witches held their Sabbath (Evans 1161-1162).
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18.  Sound sleep: Tatar states, "sleep represents a state of supreme vulnerability, and it enters the tale three times in connection with duplicity and intrigue" (Annotated, 107). This is the first time that sleep appears.
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19.  Grasshopper: Grasshoppers were "regarded as the type of careless improvidence, of light-hearted enjoyment of the present moment, without the thought of a morrow" (Phipson 394).
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20.  Came to the courtyard of a royal palace: This is the end of one sequence and the start of another. Tatar writes,

The first part of the tale recounts the pranks played by the tailor, showing how he outwits creatures of brute strength. His adventures have a serial quality - self contained and leading to no particular goal. The second phase of his journey is marked by the performance of Herculean tasks . . . By forming an alliance with the king and solving the problem of brutes and beasts laying waste to the land, the tailor wins the hand of his [the king's] daughter and is entitled to enjoy a fairy tale ending. (Annotated, 105).

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21.  The King: A king can represent the end of "all the hero's travels and adventures on his way to education and maturity" (Biederman 196).
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22. The soldiers: Both the soldiers and the huntsmen would be viewed as being stronger than the tailor.
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23.  Two giants: These giants serve as part of the transition from one part of the tale to another (Tatar, Annotated, 107). Two is the most fatal of all numbers, and, according to Pythagoras, was associated with strife, disorder and evil (Evans 766).
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24.  Ravaging: Destruction, plundering, laying waste (Oxford 691).
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25.  Beautiful princess: The princess' selling point is her beauty and her dowry of half the kingdom.
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26.  Forest: The forest is a place of a change. Jack Zipes write of the forest in this tale, "the forest, or the great wide world, is the domain where the tailor is given a chance to change and where his fate is decided" (Brothers, 86-87).
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27.  They lay sleeping: This is the second instance of sleep (Tatar, Annotated, 107).
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28.  Repented of his promise: Tatar points out that the king's action is based on class bias (Annotated 108). The king is not breaking the promise because of concern for his daughter but because of the class of the tailor.
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29.  Unicorn: The unicorn introduces an exotic element into the tale (Tatar, Annotated, 109). It was first mentioned by Ctesias around 398 B.C.E. and called a ferocious fighter (Landalh, McNamara, Lindow 420). The unicorn is associated with virginity and purity, though the virgin hunt and test is a late edition (Shepard 56). In addition, the animal is associated with knights because "he [the unicorn] was fierce and proud and dangerous to his foes, as a knight should be, and he was also gentle; he had the dignity of solitude; he was beautiful and strong" (Shepard 73).

In pre-Christian times, one horned animals were associated with kingship and sovereign power (Shepard 77). The unicorn appears in several heraldic arms.

As late as 1733, alicorns (supposed unicorn horns) were found in parts of Europe (Shepard 264). There still is one in St. Mark's Venice (Shepard 107).
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30. Wild boar: Like the unicorn, the boar appears on several heraldic arms and is closely associated with nobility for it can symbolize ferocity and courage (Biederman 45). It also appears in German personal and place names as Eber (Biederman 45).
This is the third task. Three in fairy tales can stand for the id, ego, and superego aspects of the mind (Bettleheim 102).
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31.  When he has fallen asleep: This is the third and last instance of sleep (Tatar, Annotated, 107).
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32.  The wild huntsman: This is a reference to the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt was first mention by Tactius in the first century C. E. and is popular in northern European countries (Berk and Spytma). It is also called Wotan's Hunt (Odin's Hunt) because it is sometimes led by Odin. However, the leader of the hunt changes depending upon time and country (Berk and Spytma). The hunt was made up of the souls of the fallen and /or supernatural creatures such as ghosts and witches (Berk and Spytma). While the Hunt could bring fertile fields, it was seen as a harbinger of death and war, and it was dangerous to be out when the Hunt was a field for one could become a member of the hunt, be hunted by it, or simply die (Berk and Spytma).
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33.  To the end of his life: The tailor succeeds because he uses his skills (Zipes, Brothers, 87). Jack Zipes says that the hero in such tales "demonstrate a distinct willingness to rectify social injustice particularly when they are class related" (Brothers, 87).

Tatar states, "The tale not only celebrates the wit, cunning, and ingenuity of tailors but also articulates is disdain for those who consider these honest tradesmen unworthy suitors" (Annotated, 111).
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Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.


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©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 1/2003; Last updated 7/7/07