These tales typify parental roles. There seem to be strong unchanging characteristics associated with fathers, step-mothers and biological mothers.
The father is shown in most stories as a powerless figure, unbothered by the plight of his biological children and gullible to the charms of his second wife. In ‘Aschenputtel’, Aschenputtel’s father never shows his disapproval on the way she is treated by her step-mother. One wonders whether he even disapproves in the first place.
In Hansel and Gretel, the father leaves his biological children in the forest to be starved to death. The repetitive misogynistic tone of the stories makes you believe that it was the step-mother who cajoled the father into performing this cruel act. Thus the presence of an evil, malicious and unreconstructed step-mother helps in exonerating the father of all his crimes. The father is insensitive irrespective of the absence of a step mother as seen in ‘King Thrushbeard’. Most of the tales conclude in delicious revenge or a ‘happily ever after’ consolation, while the father is part of neither.
The Grimm brothers lost their father at a young age and the absence of a father in their childhood is evident in the presence of an inconsequential father in the stories. We have low expectations from a widowed man playing the role of a single father even today. Are these stories partly responsible for that image in our mind?
There is no examination of the step-mother, she is the villain. Period. These stories have conditioned our mind to associate wickedness with step-mothers. The biological mother too is unexamined though she is portrayed as angelic. She is manifested in several forms, be it in the form of nature in the story of ‘Aschenputtel’ or in Hulda in ‘Mother Hulda’.
Hence, these structured tales with their recurrent plots and typified characters manage to set ingrained notions of rigid parental roles in society