Puss in Boots is one of the classic fairy tales by Charles Perrault. It is about a miller who dies and divides his wealth amongst his three sons. The first son gets the mill, the second gets a donkey, and the last born gets a cat. The youngest son is annoyed with the cat as inheritance and strategizes to kill him and selling his skin. However, the cat promises to make him proud as long as he gets it boots. With boots and a little bag, the cat sets off to make his master proud. Perrault’s Puss in Boots is a clear illustration that even the smallest gift can yield the most significant impact. The youngest son is devastated at first by his inheritance, but later on, he learns he got the best inheritance. Formalism and mythological approaches suit best in analyzing the fairytale.
Formalist criticism is a literary approach that calls for an in-depth study of literature. It perceives literature as a unique aspect that can only be evaluated in its way. It was developed during the early twentieth century and later influenced the development of New Criticism in the 1930s. Formalists believe all elements essential for understanding a literary work are embedded in the work itself. Mostly, formalists focus on the aspect of form that entails structure, style, tone, imagery, and symbolism in a text while other literary theories examine how literature relates to external social, cultural and political aspects, formalism focuses solely on the internal elements of a literary text. Formalist critics such as Roman Jacobson and Viktor Shklovsky stressed on the importance of form in their analysis of literature (Klarer 21). Formalism is believed to be making a comeback after being displaced by other theories in the late 1970s.
Formalist approach to Puss in Boots entails examining the story’s form, structure and styles in it. Firstly, the fairytale begins with the youngest son of a miller receiving a cat as his inheritance then later he laments after realizing his eldest brother got a mill and the middle brother a donkey. The cat, however, uses trickery and deceit to bring his master wealth, power and marriage to a princess. For instance, the cat kills a rabbit and takes it to the king and says it is from Master Carabas. The cat says, “Sir, I have brought you a rabbit from my noble Lord, the Master of Carabas” (Perrault 14). The cat goes on tricking the King until the Princess is engaged to the miller’s youngest son. In this, the cat is the main character in the fairytale. Apart from deceit and trickery, the cat also portrays characteristics of bravery. He plans everything very well to make sure his master is contented. The miller’s youngest son is also another character depicting aspects of discontentment and despair. The central theme of the fairytale is that even the smallest thing can have the most significant impact. Personification as a literary device is used in the fairytale whereby the cat can speak, carry bag and wear boots.
The main benefit of the formalist approach is that it enables the reader to interpret the text without focusing on external aspects. The reader does not need to understand and relate social, cultural and political elements in the text as the meaning solely is found in the text. The approach also plays a crucial role in developing close reading and in-depth analysis skills. For instance, readers of Puss in Boots do not need to know about Perrault social background. Instead in the formalist approach, the emphasis is placed on Perrault’s language use in the fairytale. The formalist approach also has its disadvantage because it is too restrictive and prescriptive in the interpretation of meaning. It ignores historical, moral and gender aspects in literature. For instance, in Perrault’s Puss in Boots readers are restricted to analyzing the tale’s structure, form and stylistics without relating it to a particular historical period. As a result, the formalist approach does not provide a whole interpretation of literary works.
Mythological criticism also called archetypal approach is a theory that analyses a text by examining the recurring myths and archetypes, images, character and symbols in literature. An archetype refers to “a symbol usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one’s literary experience as a whole” (Frye 24). The archetypes are found throughout literary works regardless of time and place. Some popular archetypes include water, which is associated with creation, birth and resurrection, colors, numbers and symbols such as the Chinese Yang-yin that represents the union of opposite forces. Mythological critics perceive literary works as an opportunity for human beings to express their desires, expectations, and fears. The archetypal approach takes Carl Jung’s collective unconscious ideas into consideration. Jung explains how myths developed among different cultures and how they play an essential role in those cultures’ literature (Jung 23).
Mythological approach to Perrault’s Puss in Boots entails identification of various archetypes and what they represent. Fairytale is a concept many people, especially children admire although it is highly considered as a myth. Puss in Boot qualifies to be a fairytale as it has a protagonist, antagonist, magic, transformation, and archetypes such as number three. The archetype number three is evident several times in the tale. Firstly, the miller had three sons; then Puss came up with three plans to trick the king, and finally, the ogre transforms into different animals three times. The number three is often associated with unity, and often children identify themselves as number three in the family after their parents even though there may be other siblings.
Puss in Boots also explores progression from one stage of life to another. The archetypes manifest the sequence in the story that draws attention to miller’s youngest son. Millers are known for grinding maize or other grains to flour which is used to make bread, often associated with childhood. The son, therefore, is sufficiently fed and consequently no need to become independent. However, things take the wrong turn when the miller dies. The son cannot have bread and thus cannot eat which is an archetype indicating he is unprepared for the next cycle of life as a result, he turns to Puss for help. The Puss, therefore, plays a crucial role in his transformation by planning for him to swim in the river to meet the king. After swimming the miller’s son transforms into a confident Master Marquis. He also gets clothes from the king thus reinforcing his new stage of life. It also represents his acceptance in life which makes Puss, a hero of the fairytale.
One of the advantages of archetypal criticism is that it examines different symbols and what they represent in literature. Many literary works portray events which have various meanings. The archetypal approach, therefore, identifies these meanings and other symbols in a literary work. For instance, the princess in Puss in Boots is a typical aspect of a fairytale. The approach plays a crucial role in expressing various universal beliefs, feelings, and ideas concerning literature. However, the theory ignores the author’s contributions to literary work. It also tends to ignore societies influence in literature. There is also the aspect of confusion in interpreting different symbols in myths as people are often interested in concrete ideas. For instance, fairytales may be interesting for kids, but adults may question their existence.
Formalist criticism and mythological criticism complement each other in various ways. Firstly, they both entail a close reading of a text to identify multiple elements. Formalism involves close reading to determine the form, themes, and imagery in literary works. Mythological approach, on the other hand, entails close reading but in pursuit of the meaning of symbols and objects used in literature. Also, both approaches ignore author and society’s contributions in literature as they focus on literature itself. For instance, in Perrault’s Puss in Boots, readers applying both formalism and mythological approach will ignore the author’s place of birth, education, work and relationships. The two approaches have brought to light some aspects I had not considered in the text. For instance, the formalism approach has brought out the central theme of the fairytale which has also helped bring out the style of personification which is the act of attaching human characteristics to inanimate objects and animals. In the tale, Puss is an animal that can speak and walk in shoes. The mythological approach helps to understand the concept of archetypes and the various types of archetypes ranging from numbers to symbols.
In conclusion formalism and mythological approach are necessary for understanding various aspects of Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault. Formalism approach entails the study of the structure and language of literary text without examining the external factors such as social cultural or political influences. Mythological approach on the other hand often focuses on the recurring archetypes, images and symbols found buried in the human mind such that they result in the same response in everyone. Some universal archetypes include; colors, numbers, and symbols such as the Chinese Yang-yin. In Perrault’s Puss in Boots, formalism helps in understanding the plot as well as literary stylistics such as personification. Mythological approach assists in the identification of various archetypes such as number three and the Puss as a hero.
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