Finding the Way in Perrault’s Contes

Allen Wood (Purdue University)

The encounter with the marvelous at the center of fairy tales rarely take places at home, and Perrault’s contes exemplify this adventure into the realm of the mysterious Other in an Other Place. Protagonists try to find their way, both literally and metaphorically, along the pathways and symbolic passages that they explore or create. The journeys in Peau d’âne and the eight prose tales are charted using three defining distinctions: 1) the Proppian opposition between Absentation and Departure; 2) Protagonist as Subject (active) or Object (passive) of the journey; 3) Goal orientation versus Errance. The study’s purpose is to go beyond and analyze a «poetics of the road» (Saupé) in the tales, and to understand basic uses and meanings of the journey. As seven of the nine tales end in marriage, the separation from home involves individuation and maturation, and most importantly leads to the basic cultural imperative of exogamy, avoiding the fundamental taboo or «error» of incest. Each conte will be examined, with particular attention paid to Le petit poucet and Peau d’âne.