Hansel and Gretel: social context

Hansel and Gretel: social context

General Social Context

  • “Hansel and Gretel” is a traditional German fairy tale and is part of the collection of stories compiled by the Brothers Grimm. The social context of the story hails from the early 19th century.
  • The story was published during the time of industrialization. This circumstances made vast numbers of people slipping into poverty and the society going through major changes, relevant aspects to be considered while interpreting the story.
  • Ultimately, understanding the social context of “Hansel and Gretel” aids in revealing the deeper themes present in the tale, beyond the surface-level plot. Much of the story’s cultural significance and impact come from its roots in the social conditions of the early 19th century Germany.

Poverty and Famine

  • The story can be examined within the framework of poverty and famine. They were widespread in Europe during the era. This explains why the woodcutter’s family in the story suffers from severe food shortage and ultimately makes the desperate decision to abandon the children.

Role of Women

  • The role of women is another critical theme regarding the social context. The stereotypical wicked stepmother archetype reflects the societal views of the era. Women were often treated as scapegoats in times of crisis, as seen in the stepmother’s portrayal.

The Forest and Societal Fears

  • The forest in the story underscores the wilderness that was often associated with danger and the unknown during those times, resonating with societal fears.


  • Religion also plays a role in the social context; Christian principles such as sins being punished (the fate of the wicked witch) are evident. This was typical in this era, reflecting the deep religious beliefs of European societies.

Class Conflict

  • The theme of class conflict is subtly represented. The protagonists are poor children who manage to overcome an old, wealthy witch, drawing parallels to the class struggles of the time.

Patriarchal Societal Structure

  • An essential part of comprehending “Hansel and Gretel” is understanding the patriarchal societal structure of the time. Hansel, being the older brother takes on a protector role, consistent with the traditional male roles of the era.