Jack and the Beanstalk – Jack’s Transformation “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an example of a Buildungsroman. As the tale progresses, Jack evolves from an immature person into a mature, self-assertive person. While minor differences exist in various versions of the tale, such as those between Joseph Jacobs’ and Horace Elisha Scudder’s versions, the tale can always be read as Jack’s quest for maturity. Some critics, however, analyze the tale as one in which Jack remains spoiled and immature. While they make points which support their claims, careful analysis of the tale will reveal that Jack’s struggle to grow up and to achieve maturity is representative of the difficult process of adolescent (especially male) maturation and the process of adolescent socialization.
Some critics, as previously stated, maintain that Jack does not mature or learn any lesson during the tale. For example, Nell B. Byers writes that Jack is “a fellow who makes what would not be thought of as a prudent investment; who is not above trickery in outwitting the giant’s wife; who steals the giant’s treasures; and who, having killed the giant, lives with his mother happily ever afterward in affluence” (26). Byers’ statement would lead one to believe that Jack does not change very much. Granted, a literal reading of most versions of the tale supports Byers’ statements. Jack appears to be an immature, spoiled brat, or worse. Yet, a deeper reading is required to fully understand the tale’s meaning.
Another critic, William Mayne, comments on Jack’s lack of maturity and morality in Joseph Jacobs’ version of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” In this version, Mayne claims that Jack “went up to another land where he had no right to be, and set o…
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Byers, Nell B. “Porridge For Goldilocks.” Education Digest March 1949: 25-26.
Jacobs, Joseph. English Fairy Tales. 3rd ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1967.
Mayne, William ed. Book of Giants. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1968.
Scudder, Horace Elisha. “Jack and the Beanstalk.” The Children’s Hour: Folk Stories and Fables. Ed. Eva March Tappen. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1907. 23-33.
Utley, Francis Lee. Introduction. Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. By Max Luthi. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1970. 14-15.
Wolfenstein, Martha. “Jack and the Beanstalk: An American Version.” In Childhood in Contemporary Cultures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955. 243-45.