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Atwood's Rapunzel Syndrome in the Painted Door

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Atwood’s Rapunzel Syndrome in “The Painted Door”
Ever since it’s publishing by the Brothers Grimm in the early 1800s “Rapunzel” has become more than just another short story, it’s become an element of literature. The struggle between a woman and the ties holding her from happiness has become a vital part to an increasing number of literary works both Canadian and otherwise. Canadian literature can often be placed under Margaret Atwood’s literary analysis “Survival a Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature”. In this it is stated that women in Canadian literature frequently suffer from Rapunzel Syndrome (209).
In the Rapunzel Syndrome there are four elements: Rapunzel the main character; the wicked witch who has imprisoned her [...]; the tower she’s imprisoned in [...]; and the Rescuer (Atwood 209).
Sinclair Ross’s short story “The Painted Door” is an example of how all of these elements can be present in Canadian literature. The Rapunzel Syndrome requires a wicked witch who imprisones Rapunzel to her tower. In “The Painted Door” John can be seen as this wicked witch who is responsible for trapping his wife, Rapunzel to her tower. After deciding to visit his father before the storm his wife expresses genuine concern about the undertaking. John disregards her pleas to stay and convinces her that she will be safe. Although John is at fault for trapping his wife he is by no means wicked. He loves his wife deeply and has only good intentions in mind; keeping his father and her safe from the storm. The protagonist’s tower in the painted door is seen, in physical form as her cottage. She can not leave simply because the storm would defeat her almost as soon as she left. However, apart from the cottage, her tower can also be seen as “the attitudes of society” (Atwood 209) symbolized in this case by John, who society says she must love, respect and never leave. She feels that “[a]ll farmers’ wives have to stay alone [and that she] musn’t give in” (Ross 102). She wants company but feels that brooding, or self pity is not the way she should be thinking since these are feelings society does not support.
Steven, in “The Painted Door” can be seen as the rescuer; a handsome young man who gives the protagonist company and temporarily relieves her of her tower (her percieved responsibilities as a wife). The protagonist notes that “there had always been Steven […] – almost as long as John – ever since the night they first danced together” (Ross 114). In noticing this the protagonist compares John to Steven (the rescuer) who she reluctantly realises is more attractive and gentle than John. She succombs to this idea and has an affair that momentarily allows her an escape, which in turn only causes more problems once it ends. Atwood describes the rescuer as insignificant and not very helpful (209). While this description does accurately portray Steven, he can also be seen in relation to the rescuer in the original “Rapunzel” story; who slays the wicked witch and wins the heart of Rapunzel. Steven unknowingly does play a part in slaying the wicked witch (John) when John sees them having an affair upon his return home. John then leaves and freezes to death because of this.
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Atwood’s Rapunzel Syndrome is very present in “The Painted Door”. All elements required to complete the syndrome are present; Rapunzel in the form of John’s wife; the handsome prince in the form of Steven; John as the wicked witch; and Rapunzels tower which can be seen as both the cottage and society’s views on her. Because of the presence of all of these elements “The Painted Door” can be seen as an example of what Margaret Atwood sees Canadian literature as.
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(NEW PAGE)
MLA WORKS CITED

Atwood, Margaret. Survival A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.

Ross, Sinclair. Favourite Canadian Stories. Toronto: Random House, 1983.…...

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