Date of Performance/Collection: 4/15/18
Primary Language: German
Other Language(s): English
Informant: There once lived a boy named Conrad, who loved to suck his thumbs. He sucked his thumbs day in and day out, and when his mother told him not to, he did anyway. Finally, his mother gives up, and tells him that if he keeps sucking his thumbs, the tall tailor will find him and cut his thumbs off.
But, as soon as Conrad’s mother had left the room, he immediately began to suck his thumb again. But, his mother had not been joking. The door burst open and a tall man with a pair of huge shears ran into the room and chased Conrad down, cutting off both of his thumbs.
Now Conrad has no thumbs.
Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US. However, he lives abroad in a small town in Germany, where he has access to a wide range of German folklore. He also speaks German fluently, which offers him greater understanding of German culture as well.
Background: My informant heard this story from his parents when he was younger, although he clarified that it was in a joking light, rather than a serious one. He seemed to think the tale was useful for keeping rowdy or otherwise disobedient children from retaining bad habits or bad behaviors.
Analysis: This story struck me from the moment I heard it as quite brutal. Cutting off a child’s thumbs is an uncharacteristically serious punishment for as small a transgression as thumb-sucking. However, it did strike me how the seriousness of the tale reflected the culture of Germany itself. Germany, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, has developed a culture of strict order, one that especially stresses the importance of a superior’s orders. This tale is reflective of this cultural attitude – the child, after displaying disobedience, is given a brutal punishment as recompense. I especially enjoy this tale for its short and to the point attitude. This is a story to listen to and heed the warning of. It isn’t told to entertain children. It is told to caution them.
Annotation: Consult this source for another version of this tale
Hoffman, Heinrich. “Struwwelpeter.” The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb, Virginia Commonwealth University, germanstories.vcu.edu/struwwel/daumen_e.html.
Annotation Comment: This is an alternative source for this tale found in the Virginia Commonwealth University database. It doesn’t seem to diverge significantly in terms of narrative, but interestingly, this version seems to be prose. Since the story is translated to English, and the words are in English, I’m inclined to believe this is a modification further down the line. Furthermore, the story has an author attached, an impossibility for folklore, which makes me think that this prose-form of the tale was a modification by Mr. Hoffman to the original.