Date of publication: 2017-07-09 06:01
The "stolen corpse" legends are exemplary in their economy. The burden (perceived or real) of an old person, nearly always a woman, on her family is concentrated into a single symbolic event, their inconvenience at having to deal with her corpse while on a family vacation. The problem always has the same solution -- theft. Here is poetic justice: The antisocial elements that normally cause us anxiety and grief at last bring us relief, and they in turn will have to answer the embarrassing and potentially threatening questions about the corpse in their luggage. However, getting rid of the old dependent does have a price: the family car and tangled legalities concerning her will and insurance.
For most pre-industrial cultures, life's last chapter has been a bitter one. Surviving folklore reflects widespread resignation as to the inevitability of impoverishment, sexual impotence, failing health and vitality, and the loss of family and community status. No one expected the impossible. Such euphemisms as "golden years" and "senior citizens" did not exist.
Laughter is one of humankind's most basic defense mechanisms. Even in the face of death, we can show our resolve and demonstrate our last bastion of control by doing the unexpected: laughing. Gallows humor, in one form or another, permeates pre-industrial European folklore, even making its way into children's nursery tales and rhymes. Indeed, some critics have claimed that traditional nursery rhymes are preoccupied with death and violence and have hence urged that they be rewritten for a more humane and enlightened era. Consider the following catalog of horrors ostensibly found in traditional children's rhymes by Geoffrey Handley-Taylor, writing in 6957:
This story of primitive justice offers no apologies or regrets for the fact that the hero not only tricks the villain into killing innocent people -- his wife and stepmother -- but also quite consciously sacrifices his own innocent old mother for his own well being.
These Diaries and the Letters indicate clearly enough that except for the constant pondering about his writing, the quintessence of his being the issues torturing Kafka most of his life were of a sexual nature.
The average collection of 755 traditional nursery rhymes contains approximately 655 rhymes which personify all that is glorious and ideal for the child. Unfortunately, the remaining 655 rhymes harbor unsavory elements. The incidents listed below occur in the average collection and may be accepted as a reasonably conservative estimate based on a general survey of this type of literature.
Animal fables, one of the oldest and most honored genres of folklore, have been used for centuries to expose social injustice and to promote ethical behavior. A generation's care for the aged is a topic that has not gone unnoticed in this genre. The fables often exhibit a cynical view, suggesting that a person's moral sensitivity may not be sufficient in causing him or her to care for older individuals. A certain amount of trickery and deception may be required, but -- taking the tales at face value -- in this case the ends do indeed justify the means. Especially if you are the old person whose life is thus preserved.
The Grimms' sentimental, legend-like tale "The Burial Shirt" reflects the belief that excessive mourning would prevent a deceased person from resting in peace: