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Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Study Guide

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Course Hero, "Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) Study Guide," April 26, 2018, accessed June 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Grimms-Fairy-Tales-Selected/.

Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | The Cat and Mouse in Partnership | Summary

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Summary

A cat befriends a mouse and is so persuasive about her fondness for the smaller animal that the mouse agrees they should set up house together. The cat warns that they must plan for winter, or they'll go hungry. "And you, little mouse, cannot venture anywhere, or you will be caught in a trap someday," adds the cat.

They buy a pot of fat but can't decide where to store it. Finally the cat suggests hiding the pot under the altar at the church, where no one will dare steal it. All goes well until one day the cat feels hungry. She tells the mouse, "My cousin has brought a little son into the world and has asked me to be godmother." They agree that the mouse will stay at home.

The cat, who has no cousins, goes straight to the hiding place and pulls out the pot of fat. She licks off the top layer and spends the rest of the day relaxing in the sun. At home, the mouse asks what the newborn kitten was christened. "Top Off," says the cat.

Soon the cat feels hungry again. "I am again asked to be a godmother," she tells the mouse, and repeats the same action as before. This time, though, the cat eats half the fat in the pot. Back at home, she says the new kitten's name is "Half-done." The mouse is surprised at these odd names but doesn't suspect anything.

Yet again the cat gets hungry, and yet again the mouse agrees to keep house while the cat "goes to the christening" of her new godchild. This time, the cat finishes off the fat and tells the mouse that her new godchild is named "All-gone."

Winter comes, and the companions run out of food. The mouse remembers the pot of fat and suggests that the two of them enjoy it together. Of course the pot is empty when they take it out at the church—and now the mouse understands what the cat meant when she spoke those odd names. As she berates the cat, the larger animal springs forward and devours her.

Analysis

This simple story stands in marked contrast with "The Bremen Town Musicians," in which four animals team up to help one another and succeed. This one seems more like an Aesop tale with a clear moral: "Beware! People do not change their natures." The cat's treachery and the lazy names she produces for her "godchildren" clearly mark her as a villain, but the mouse overlooks her traits to its peril.

Modern readers may wonder why a "pot of fat" seems so appetizing, even to a cat. In the 20th and 21st centuries, excess fat in foods has become a problem for some. But humans and many animals have a predisposition to fat that dates back for millennia. The preindustrial European diet—especially for the lower classes—contained much less fat than the modern one. A French peasant was once asked what he would do if he were king. "I would eat nothing but grease, until I could eat no more," he said.

Unless a family owned a cow, they had no access to butterfat. Lard could be obtained by killing a pig, if one owned a pig, but rendering hog fat into lard was a time-consuming and messy job. Olive trees, a good source of oil, did not grow well in northern Europe. Nuts may be used for oil, but again, a lot of manual work was required for a relatively small output. Grains and in-season vegetables made up a large percent of people's daily meals, with meat a rarity except for the nobility. Fat, a rich source of energy, was therefore something many people craved.

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