Fairy tale takes a considerable place in children’s literature. The fairy tale mostly depicts “supernatural” characters that are involved in the supernatural events. In the majority of cases, the main characters of fairy tales are animals, princesses, witches, etc.
According to the dictionary of literary terms and literary theory, a fairy tale is a story “about the fortunes and misfortunes of a hero or heroine who, having experienced various adventures of a more or less supernatural kind, lives happily ever after” (Cuddon and Preston 302). As any other type of literature, fairy tales are based on specific themes and conflicts.
There are four main types of conflicts in literature: man vs society, man vs others, man vs nature and man vs self. The conflict is closely related to the plot. The conflict can be identified at the beginning or in the middle of the story, and it is usually solved at the end. The actions and thoughts of the main characters lead to the resolution of the conflict.
In this paper, we are going to focus on two types of conflicts in two children’s stories, White’s Charlotte’s Web and Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess, and how the main characters overcome the obstacles and hardships they face in order to survive in the worlds they live in.
The relations between conflict and plot
There is dependence between plot and conflict. The plot is what is happening in the story and it is a more general term. Plot is centered on the main conflict of the story and its resolution. Thus, the conflict usually defines the plot and actions performed by the man characters. In the stories under consideration, there are two common basic conflicts: man vs society and man vs others.
In both stories, the conflicts are defined at the very beginning of the plot. Fern Arable, the daughter of the farmer in the Charlotte’s Web rebels against the parents who want to kill a piglet that was born “abnormal”. She protects the pig referring to parents’ consciousness, “the pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?” (White and Williams 3).
These words also identify the second conflict, man vs society. Thus, we can predict that a pig (that stands for a man) will “struggle” with the farmer Homer Zuckerman (who stands for society).
In The paper Bag Princess, the first conflict that appears to the reader is man vs others. When the dragon kidnaps Prince Roland, princess goes to rescue her fiancee and fight against the dragon. The second conflict, man vs society is presented when Princess Elizabeth puts on the paper bag regardless her social position of a Princess when her royal dresses are destroyed.
The plots and problems in two stories are different, but they are defined by the same conflicts. In addition, both stories are concluded with “decisive resolutions”.
Comparison and contrast of main characters and conflicts
As it has already been mention, both stories are based on two forms of conflict: man vs others and man vs society. The main characters (Princess Elizabeth and Wilbur) rebel against their nature and social norms. Even with his appearance Wilburn goes against norms, “one of the pigs is a runt.
It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything” (White and Williams 1). It is a social opinion that is put into words of Fern’s mother. However, despite this lack, the pig loved life and place where he lived, as well as had many friends.
Princess Elizabeth also goes against social norms and wears a paper bag even regardless her status, “not burn was the paper bag. So she put on the paper bag and followed the dragon” (Munsch and Martchenko 1). Her appearance also did not matter to her. Thus, in both stories, the authors put forward the idea that appearance is not important. What is important is the beauty of the soul.
The conflict man vs society has two levels in both stories. Wilbur is a pig and according to social norms it should be slaughtered, “Wilbur didn’t know what to do or which way to run. It seemed as though everybody was after him” (White and Williams 19). Thus, Wilburn goes against society two times: the first one was when he was born a runt, and the second times, when he escaped his fate.
In The Paper Bag Princess, the plot revolves around two central conflicts: self against other, in which the struggle is between the main character, and others (Princess and dragon), and self against society, in which Elizabeth combats societal pressures (Galda 11).
She defeated the dragon and passed a long ways to save prince in order to marry him. However, she was met with the words, “… you are wearing a dirty old paper bag.
Come back when you are dressed like a real princess” (Munsch and Martchenko 8). In that moment she understood that all she aspired to was a fake and that she would better stay single and independent than live with a person who does not worth her.
Thus, she tells her former fiancee, “Roland, your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum” (Munsch and Martchenko, 10). So she rebels against her social responsibility to marry prince and chooses her own path.
Both heroes achieve their aim, however they do this in different ways. They have to overcome different obstacles and hardships in order to survive in the worlds they live in. Wilbur is struggling for his life and Elizabeth is struggling for the life of her fiancee.
Wilburn has a strong support from his friends and he is willing to pay them back with love and kindness. Elizabeth should struggle with the difficulties on her own. She has to take right decisions that can save her life.
Conflict is one of the main “parts” of any work of literature that defines the plot and, sometimes, the theme of it. There are four main forms of conflict: man vs nature, man vs self, man vs others and man vs society. Thus, both stories under consideration, Charlotte’s Web and The Paper Bag Princess are based on the same conflicts: man vs society and man vs others.
Both characters struggle against their social roles and other characters to rescue themselves from difficult situations. Regardless the fact that both heroes struggle with similar conflicts, they are pot in different situations and thus solve their problems in different ways.
Wilbur is saved due to his will to life and strong support on behalf of his friends. As opposed to Wilbur, Elizabeth is forced to struggle against her enemies on her own. Both stories end up in decisive solutions of the conflicts.
Cuddon, John Anthony, and Claire Preston. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998.
Galda, Lee, Bernice E. Cullinan, and Lawrence R. Sipe. Literature and the Child (7th Edition). California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2010.
Munsch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Illus. Michael Martchenko. Buffalo: Annick Press, 1980.
White, Elwyn Brooks. Charlotte’s Web. Illus. Garth Williams, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.