3 Chapter 3 The Animal Wife

“The Fisher Boy Urashima”

“Chonguita the Monkey Bride”

“The Swan Maiden”

Note: These links will take you to the versions of the stories in this e-book. You must read these versions. If you read other versions, some of the lecture and discussion may not make sense to you as there can be great differences among different storytellers’ versions of these tales.


The purpose of this chapter is to study tales of Animal Brides, with some comparison and contrast to Animal Groom tales. You may be less familiar with Animal Bride tales, though they are found throughout the world in one form or another, much like the tales of Animal Grooms. We will use similar techniques to study Animal Bride fairy tales: their meanings, what they are attempting to teach, what might be problematic about those teachings, and what those meanings say about our culture or the cultures from which the tales came.


Reminder about our general process

First: Do the reading and write your Journal Entry, which is due before the lecture.

Second—Listen to my lecture.

Third—Be prepared to contribute to Book Club Discussion (BCD) and Book Club Response (BCR).

Remember that the main goal of this work is meant to give you a start on ideas for the CRP.

Fourth—Using feedback from your Journal Entry and BCR, write and submit your CRP.



The Animal Bride Stories

We’ve already discussed possible themes of stories that present us with an Animal Groom. Now, we’re going to consider what it might mean to tell a story in which the bride is an animal.


Of course, we can’t resist—nor should we resist—the urge to compare and contrast Animal Brides with Animal Grooms. One very basic question involves the form of the Animal Spouse.

In many Animal Groom tales, the groom isn’t just an animal, but he’s also a Beast. He’s large, scary, maybe ugly, maybe even disgusting. Does that form extend to the Animal Bride? Can Turtle, Chonguita, or the Swan Maiden be described as monstrous in any ways? Are the Animal Brides different in this way? At least judging by our three tales, aren’t they more likely to be especially attractive, like the Swan Maiden and Turtle after she turns into a woman? Chonguita, though she isn’t described as beautiful at first, is especially skilled in the arts a woman is supposed to be good at, such as artwork and needlework. Her appearance is another matter, of course, and we’ll discuss that.


But the points before us now involve the differences between Animal Grooms and Animal Brides:

Whereas Animal Grooms are often especially beastlike and therefore threatening,

Animal Brides are usually overtly alluring in appearance or some other aspect of womanliness “womanly arts” (for example what were known as womanly arts, such as painting, drawing, and sewing). And these brides are not found in palatial homes, like the Beast and the Tiger, but in nature.


Based on those differences alone, we can already see some general cultural concerns (possibly leading the way to various themes) which constitute a near-paradox:

The Cultural Imperative to Marry


Key Takeaways

  • Warnings against Exogamy;
  • Warnings about women and nature:
  • The strong lure of nature paired with the strong lure of women.


Key Takeaways

So culture says, you must get married, but ____________________________________?



  • Warnings against exogamy—marrying outside the clan/tribe/community,
    • which is dangerous to the man—can become an outcast, courting danger with someone from unknown culture and traditions
    • and dangerous to the community, because it threatens the closed space and known cultural rules. Anarchy!
  • Warnings about women and nature—women in many cultures have been thought of as closer to nature than men are, and therefore more removed from civilization or less adaptable to civilizing influences—again, dangerous to the community. In some civilizations, this is an echo of the tale of Adam and Eve (which whatever you take the Christian Bible to be, is also a story).

Key Takeaways

The main idea is that many people in many cultures have seen women as less civilized and less civilizable than men, in terms of learning to go along with cultural expectations.

The point is not that everyone thinks this, but it has been a theme among many cultures worldwide.

In Christian cultures, this attitude may spring from the story of Adam and Eve, Eve being the one who was open to the advances of the Serpent and thus set in motion the events that would lead to the expulsion from the garden.

But regardless of the origins of this attitude, it has been pretty prevalent in human history, and we see this illustrated in Animal Bride stories.

Key Takeaways

The LURE of NATURE for BOTH women AND men.

This concern admits that both men and women are open to the lure of life beyond the confines and imperatives of culture, and both are therefore drawn to nature as a culture-free and tradition-free environment. (Of course, there’s no such thing as humans living in a culture-free environment, because humans bring culture and tradition with them, wherever they are. But still, many people believe it is possible to escape culture and tradition. But it’s not possible—don’t be fooled.)

Anyway, one meaning is that men, too, are often seduced by nature, as represented by animal brides, and they must guard against this kind of seduction because it can be dangerous to their happiness, humanity.

Key Takeaways

The cultural imperative to MARRY.

Marriage: cultural imperative for both men and women,

But matter of survival for women, in many cultures.

That is, women have ALWAYS had jobs outside the home. But it was complicated.

First, because most jobs that were open to women wouldn’t pay a living wage, so it could only serve as a supplement to a spouse’s salary.

Second, because upper-class women wouldn’t have had skills to get jobs, so they depended on either their family money or a good marriage to survive. They could sometimes get work as live-in governesses, but those jobs were often fraught with various threats, and you could be fired at any moment for any reason. No unions!

Third, lower-class women could get jobs, but they couldn’t earn enough money to live on—again, only a supplement to spouse’s earnings.

Finally, even when the middle class started to appear, women’s wages were generally not enough to live on.

Certainly, some cultures looked down on women working outside the home (and some still do disapprove of this). But the more common issue was that women just couldn’t get jobs that that would allow them to survive on their own, so again,

Marriage was an existential requirement—we all have to eat. Men are expected to marry also, but it was usually less of a survival issue. The figure of “the confirmed bachelor” is more culturally accepted than an unmarried woman, who traditionally arouses more suspicion.

So the imperative to marry is powerful, and it is supported by tales of a man who needs to marry so much that he takes an animal bride.

(Interesting side note: in modern sociology, researchers have argued that marriage is one of two major maturing influences on young men; the other is military service.)


So we have these two general concerns:

Key Takeaways

  • The cultural imperative to marry, but
  • Warnings against exogamy and the dangerous lure of nature.

Let’s look at each tale and see how they engage these concerns.


“Urashima the Fisherman”

The man, Urashima, goes willingly to be married to Turtle.

And although Turtle IS a figure of nature and does represent exogamy,

Their relationship is pretty egalitarian.

It is also companionate—they behave like companions: “Wandering every day among the beautiful trees with emerald leaves and ruby berries.”  In some versions of the story, they also talk everything over between them.

This is an old story, from a time when companionate marriage wasn’t much of a thing, so the equality between Turtle and Urashima is exceptional. (Though maybe not so exceptional in Japanese culture of that time—you’d want to look that up if you’re writing about this story.)

And yet, Urashima is ultimately punished, isn’t he? Maybe suggesting that companionate marriage is somehow dangerous?

Urashima goes home to see his family but ends up sad, lonely, and finally dead because he does a human thing: he forgets—what does he forget? This is when the two worlds clash—his and Turtle’s.

Turtle has warned him not to open the box

But he’s human so he forgets that warning

So does the story warn against the lure of Nature, as represented by Turtle?

Or maybe against something else:

Key Takeaways

Turtle has something many young women in fairy tales don’t have—agency! She’s not a passive object, but a subject in her own right. And we want to say, Good for her! Don’t we?

But Urashima’s ultimate punishment comes from this woman with her own agency,

She’s able to act on her own and to issue a command to her husband: Think of me, but  Do Not Open!

Does Urashima’s death suggest that this is a bad thing, this ability of Turtle to give him a command?

So here, the seduction and maybe even subjugation of the man by an Animal Bride—a creature of Nature—illustrates what about men and women and how they are culturally expected to interact with each other? With nature?

Should a man accept a woman’s having her own agency? Demanding things of him?

Should a man commune so closely with creatures of nature? What answer does the story suggest?

According to the story, who should be the subject (with agency) and who should be the object?

But, doesn’t the couple seem happy when they are together in a marriage of equality and companionship?

I’ll leave those questions for you to consider.


“Chonguita, the Monkey Wife” and “The Swan Maiden” will be covered in depth in class. Meanwhile, consider the brief preview of issues and questions noted below.

“Chonguita, the Monkey Wife”

Key Takeaways

  • Don Juan doesn’t want to marry Chonguita, but he does anyway. Why?
  • What is Chonguita’s father’s role in the story? What does he represent?
  • What does it mean that Chonguita walks beside her husband? What role has her mother played in this behavior of Chonguita’s?
  • Consider Chonguita’s performance in the tasks set by the king. What does her performance suggest about exogamy?
  • In the final scene, what might be the meaning of the sudden change of lighting after Don Juan throws Chonguita against the wall? Does light perhaps symbolize something about how we see or perceive things?


“The Swan Maiden”

Key Takeaways

Does the story involve exogamy and the dangerous lure of nature?

Does it also suggest these problems are especially associated with women? Why or why not?

The hunter kidnaps the swan maiden by stealing her feathers, so it’s easy to say he gets what he deserves in the end. But remember that characters do what they do for the story’s reasons. So if he feels the need to kidnap a Swan Maiden, what might that mean? What could be making him feel that way?

What might it mean that it’s the hunter’s mother who helps him trap the Swan Maiden?

Most of the story follows the hunter’s feelings and actions. Why do we learn so little about the Swan Maiden’s experience and feelings? What is the story saying in this way?

Notice how fast the story moves from the kidnapping to the couple “living lovingly and contentedly together.” What might that quick transition suggest regarding cultural demands or the Swan Maiden’s perspective?

In some versions of the story, the hunter and his Swan Maiden wife have children. But still, she leaves the family behind as soon as she gets her feathers back. What does the story seem to be teaching about women in this way? What different ways are there of reading this feature of the story?




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