10 Symbols in Goose Girl

by Tolovaj

The Goose Girl is packed with symbols and hidden meanings as every classic fairy tale should be. Are you ready to look behind the curtain?

Goose Girl is a very characteristic fairy tale with numerous well-known elements which can be found in other classic stories for kids. The main character (namely princess) starts her personal quest in high social and economic position just to be defeated by forces from outside (namely her treacherous servant) but with a help of an indisputable authority (namely king, father of her fiancee) and a pinch of magic regains her status and finishes the story in even better position than before.

Such plot is the most popular in fairy tales (same is true for a huge part of fiction), yet not enough for a successful story. To become truly evergreen it has to possess some elements which are, with a bit of practice, easily recognizable in other 'classics' as well. Here is a top 10 list of characteristic elements in The Goose Girl with short symbolic interpretations and other not so obvious meanings.

1 All kinds of treasures

In the beginning, the princess leaves her kingdom to marry a prince living in a distant country. Mother queen gives her daughter gold and silver etc., but it doesn't take long to find out how futile was the queen's attempt. The princess, no matter what precious objects she had, was unable to protect her or her possessions. Her servant simply overpowered her.

maximilian-liebenwein-goose-girl

2 Handkerchief

Apart from material stuff, the princess got a handkerchief from her mother. It is a very intimate object, symbolizing their connection. When she lost it while drinking water from the brook, the powerful bond between mother and daughter was lost. The princess was somehow forced to grow up.

The power of Goose girl inspired creation of hundreds of stories with related themes
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3 Three drops of blood

Blood carries loads of magical powers. It was blood which first reminded the princess she is not acting as her royal pedigree demands from her. Blood is a life source and can be the messenger of death too. The princess lost these drops together with the handkerchief, with their white and red combination symbolizing the end of innocence.

Blood is also present in several other fairy tales. The most famous example is probably Snow White, where the queen pricks her finger and looking at the blood in the snow wishes for her child with cheeks red as blood.

4 The promise

The princess was forced to promise not to tell anybody the truth about her (and servant's) origin. While some would believe such a promise doesn't count, she sticks to it. Her determination to keep her royal word symbolically shows she still thinks about herself as a member of royalty. She simply doesn't want to break her word no matter how and to whom it was given.

The power of a given word is present in fairy tales pretty often, with The Frog Prince definitely be the most famous example of all.

There is a whole article on the importance of a given word in fairy tales:

https://wizzley.com/promise/

smith-goose-girl-jessie-wilcox

5 Hair

Human history has a very special place for hair. It has strong symbolic and even magic powers. Some societies were almost obsessed with hair. It was used as a love token, a secret ingredient of magic potions, sacred part of one's individuality, a souvenir, jewelry, ... Several civilizations still closely relate hair with someone's position in society. Young girls can have long hair which is considered as an object of beauty, but married women should opt for shorter, more practical hairdressers.

Cutting or shaving one's hair was (and still is) a popular way of punishment but also kind of ritual necessary to become a member of a certain group (like an army, skinheads, Buddhist monks, ..). While long hair traditionally belongs among the most feminine symbols, many also see it as a representation of one's power. The most famous example of power in one's hair was definitely Samson from the Bible.

In The Goose Girl, her hair definitely represents power and freedom, especially when it's combined with her obvious control of the wind. The golden color of her hair shows her royal origin. The color of gold is always related to nobility on a symbolic or more earthly level.

goose-girl-arthur-rackham

6 Horse(s)

A horse represents vitality and strength. This strength is by no means limited to the physical world only. When the princess is forced to get off her horse, she clearly admits her defeat. Because a horse represents a status symbol, she is also symbolically dethroned. Horses are known as very loyal animals. When the false princess demands the killing of the horse she actually destroys the last bond of the real princess with her old position. But the horse's head is still talking and reminding the princess (who became a goose girl) who she really is.

At the end of the story, two white horses are used as a tool to punish the false princess. The cruel punishment, by the way, was her own idea.

punishment-of-servant-in-goose-girl

7 Geese

A goose is often related to silliness (you silly goose), but on a symbolic level represents loyalty, trust, bravery, and teamwork. Geese are known by their devotion to their offspring, fighting fearlessly for the safety of the goslings if necessary. There are stories about sick geese who were unable to follow the flock and were not left behind. One healthy goose stayed with an ill-one until it got better or died. Geese are known by their tremendous ability to travel long distances, fighting extreme natural obstacles with outstanding orientation and surprising adaptability.

When the princess became the goose girl, she occupied the lowest position in the castle. More valuable animals were too valuable for her. And she actually became an assistant to the little boy who was in charge of the geese! But geese obviously inspired her to follow her true call and gave her the strength to find a way back to her royal position.

willy-juettner-goose-girl

8 Water

Water is one of the most important symbols of all. It brings life as a drink, it helps plants to grow, providing our food, but can also take lives if somebody drowns. There are numerous situations in classic fairy tales where water plays a crucial role, often intertwined with the most important transformation of the main character(s).

goose-girl-and-servant

In the fairy tale Little Brother and Little Sister, drink of water transform the boy into a roe.

In Hansel and Gretel, a large body of water needs to be crossed before they can return home, to their father.

It is water where the princess lost hergolden ball in The Frog Prince and her soon-to-be-a-husband appears.

The princess in The Goose Girl is overpowered by the water, forced to drink from the brook like an animal, denied of her golden cup and eventually stripped by all her possessions.

9 Wind

The wind is a symbol of breath, another crucial element of life. While invisible, wind causes many obvious changes, demonstrating its power in many ways. When we see the goose girl controlling the wind, we see a princess clearly stating she has enough.

She lost her throne, she lost her precious luggage, she lost her horse, she became the lowest member of society, but when the boy tries to grab her hair, she shows she wouldn't take it anymore. Somebody who has power over wind definitely has the power of his or her own destiny. The goose girl clearly doesn't want to be a victim anymore.

10 Iron Stove

An iron stove actually connects two symbols. One is the material itself. Iron is associated with magical powers in many societies. Especially its protective force fascinated people for centuries. You can kill with iron and you can make armor of iron.

Making an iron from ore is not an easy task. Somebody who works anything related to iron (miner, blacksmith, ...) is a person who deserves respect. 

king-as-helper-in-goose-girl

Even possessing objects made of iron gives the owner some of its power. In the case of The Goose Girl, iron works as a medium providing her an opportunity to stay faithful to her royal word yet protecting her true status at the same time. She can say the truth into the iron stove (not knowing somebody will listen on the other side) and still not 'telling anybody' keeping her given word.

A stove is very similar to an oven. It's a symbolic representation of the womb, enabling the goose girl to be symbolically reborn - just like Hansel and Gretel needed an iron oven to free themselves from the witch's hut.

camille-pissarro-shepherdess-of-geese
Resources

All used images are in public domain. You can find all (and much more) with additional info on:

https://topillustrations.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/goose-girl-in-pictures/

More amazing facts about this fairy tale can be read here:

https://wizzley.com/goose-girl/

And there is an in-depth article about The Goose Girl and Falada:

https://hubpages.com/education/The-Goose-Girl

For a good measure you can visit two addresses about two most famous adaptations of the story:

http://justcoolstuff.over-blog.com/2017/12/the-goose-girl-by-harold-macgrath.html

http://artyoushouldknow.canalblog.com/archives/2019/02/04/37072704.html

Updated: 04/26/2019, Tolovaj
 
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Should we mention more symbols and reveal more hidden meanings in the Goose Girl?

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Tolovaj 27 days ago

Hi, blackspanielgallery, thanks for stopping by. I believe I already mentioned Samson. And yes, two of four basic elements are there (or three of five according Chinese traditional beliefs). We can easily find fire and earth in important roles in several popular fairy tales. It's obvious such elements add some kind of universal appeal which differentiate classic and contemporary tales.

blackspanielgallery 27 days ago

As for the strength associated with hair, consider Samson.

As for wind and water, they are two of the four basic elements of ancient Greece, Earth, water, wind and fire. Perhaps this is a more basic symbolism beneath the surface, getting basic.

Tolovaj on 04/26/2019

Hi, DerdriuMariner, thanks for you comment. Sayings related to animals come from non-critical observations where only part of the reality is considered. Pigs are actually very intelligent and clean animals, but due their sensitive skin they need constant source of moisture, what leaves them dirt as the best natural option (maybe they'll design showers and moisturizing creams in future, but at the moment it is what it is). So we created phrases like eat like a pig, dirty as a pig or even sweaty as a pig (pigs don't sweat at all). Similar is with all animals, including geese.

The origin of the phrase silly as a goose is unclear, but it seems different nations all over the world use it and most of them use silly, foolish, stupid etc. for all poultry (including hen, turkey, duck, ...). It's very likely related to their dependence on farmers when they are domesticated. You'll hardly find a hunter who would say something disrespectful about wild geese or wild turkeys.

I recently wrote a series of 10 articles where are real people and events related to fairy tales. goose girl was not among them (and not among next 10 I intend to write at the end of this year), but i am pretty sure we could find some kind of relationship (maybe through coat of arms of a certain family) if we dig deep enough. In such cases it's very hard to say how much of the fiction influenced reality and how much of truth found its way to a written fiction.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/25/2019

Tolovaj, Thank you for the symbolic reading of the fairy tale about the goose girl. Why do you suppose that such counterproductive, untrue sayings as eat like a pig (they're selective and pace themselves) and silly as a goose (they're good parents and thoughtful team members) arise?
In a different but related direction, there's a trend among some fairy tale analysts to equate them with actual events and people. Would you say that's possible with the goose girl?

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