This fairytale has many variants. The story is known with different tittles in different countries. However the main line of the story remains the same, a maiden’s hand is chopped by member of her own family.
Who is the maiden, why her family wants to cut her hands?
In the modern version written by Brother Grimms, the poor maiden is the daughter of a poor miller. The devil offers wealth to him in exchange of his beautiful daughter. After three years, the time comes for the devil to take the daughter away. The devil can only take sinful maiden and because the miller‘s daughter keep her hands clean, which is a symbol of being sinless, the devil is unable to take her. Angrily the devil asks the miler to chop her daughter’s clean hands; otherwise he will take him instead. The miler does so.
Looks like the above version is gruesome enough, but in the earlier versions the story is even more dreadful. In an old African version, the father chops the maiden’s arm and breast because she refuses the father’s sexual advances. In its Italian version written by Giambattista Basile, the maiden, Penta, is a princess. His brother falls in love with her beautiful hands and wants to marry her. She refuses the incestuous marriage and she cut off her own arms.
In the Russian version written by Alexander Afanasyev, the maiden is an orphaned girl who lived with his brother. His brother’s wife is so jealous of her husband attention on his sister, so she cut the head of her own baby off and tells her husband that the maiden did it. The angry brother then cut the maiden’s hands. Horrible!
Giambatista Basile. Image via Wikipedia
Why hands? Why not chopping her head instead? Some folklorists believe that taking the hands is a symbol of taking the maiden’s independence because losing hands means inability to take up any activity in life.
The maiden marries a prince, is it a happy ending?
In the modern Grimm’s version, after the devil fails to take her, she set out into the world and marries a prince who is impressed by her kindness. The prince even made her hands of silver. The Italian version says the maiden is thrown into sea by his brother. She was rescued by a fisherman but the fisherman’s wife, Nuccia throws her again into the sea out of jealousy. This time she was rescued by a prince who then marries her. In other earlier versions, other than the Italian, the maiden one way or another is finally saved by and married to a prince.
So all versions now says she marries a prince. Is it a happy ending? Well, not yet. It is still a long long way to happiness for the maiden.
The final ending
Soon after the marriage, the maiden gives birth to a son when the prince is away on a battle. The antagonist (the devil in modern version and the jealous wife or other jealous female characters in earlier versions) are not happy seeing the maiden and the prince together. So using tricks they accused the maiden had given birth to a deformed child.
The maiden and her son fled the castle. In the modern version she is rescued by an angel, meanwhile in the earlier version a witch protects her until the prince find them and they all live happily ever after, finally.
Girl without hand is one of dark fairytales that still convey good moral message though it is brutally presented. It is a story of a girl who with her persistence, courage and strengths beats her grief and fear and finally triumphs.