Gingerbread man is a timeless classic from the treasury of international folklore. At first sight it doesn’t look like an ordinary fairy tale with a hero, trying to achieve seemingly impossible goal and after a series of encounters with different characters and magic transformation achieves the goal and lives happily ever after. We could say its most distinguished quality is playfulness and great tempo, not originality of characters of development of plot. It’s exceptionally suitable to tell it not only to, but also with children.
It’s about a pair of older people who wished for child until the lady of the house bake a gingerbread man who becomes alive and run away. Gingerbread man runs on the road and challenge everybody who is near enough with words:
“Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!”
This is of course only one of hundreds variations with new being created almost every day.
1. This typical folktale with its simple plot and repetitive form is clearly aiming at the audience from lower social class. But good rhythm is not the only weapon of the story. In fact it posses all the popular elements of the fairy tale, though they are not fully developed. The magical transformation happens at the beginning (biscuit becomes alive), series of encounters is series of brief and almost identical encounters (but the tension is built due the cumulative repetition), and one of the characters actually achieves the goal – eats the gingerbread man (but this is a fox, which is usually villain in fairy folklore.
2. Gingerbread man carries huge symbolic power.Some see it as a symbol of Adam, who was made of dirt, in the earthly colored cake. Other try to relate it with Jesus. Bethlehem, his birth place can be translated as ‘house of bread’ and gingerbread houses are well known Christmas tradition, celebrating Jesus’ birth. And some connect the playful character with Santa Claus … Thanks to astronomical price of spices ginger bread was for centuries reserved for nobility and it still symbolize abundance and wealth. Gingerbread became very popular for making decorative houses after publishing Grimms’ Hansel and Grethel, where the kids arrive to the witch’s hose, made of gingerbread.
3. The story has multiple morals. One obviously tells us everybody, no matter the age, gender, wealth, etc., can achieve anything if only wish hard enough. Old woman gets a boy! But on the other hand we learn nobody can’t defeat everybody. Sooner or later somebody faster or smarter will get you. Another important message is to not trust one’s appearance. Fox in many versions acts as a nice, helpful character but only until he gets a chance to eat the gingerbread man. There is also a very realistic message, which is not very often in most popular fairy tales. It tells us many will try to achieve the same goal, but maybe only one will get there in the end (or only one can be the winner).