This tale begins with two young girls, Blue-Eyes and the Turkey, dutifully going to town for their mother. The task of retrieving some items and returning safely reminds one of a good child. Like many other stories of this ilk, everything is ordinary and the children are well behaved.
Our first hint to imagination comes from the description of the fir trees near their home (568). This personification of the trees with their arms stretched out leads into believing the story will quickly evolve into a typical fairytale of sorts.
While walking down the road, these “good” girls come upon a “strange dark figure” at the edge of a wood. Their courteous manner immediately draws them into suspecting a person merely sleeping. As they grow nearer, the figure changes into an ill elderly woman. Their behaving nature does not form hideous creatures or hazardous traps in their minds; they see things innocently (569-570).
Once they have encountered the form, they realize it is a “wild-looking girl” with tattered clothing (570). Again, their imagination fails them. The object the girl has hidden beneath her cloak shows itself as a pear-drum and the girls grow curious about the small box attached to the side of the instrument. The girl proceeds to tell them of the little man and woman who stay inside the box until the music is played, where they appear and dance.
Intrigued by this lovely thought – the girls beg to see the mysteries within the box. They cannot see the people, however, because they are too good.
The girls return home explaining to their mother that they want to be naughty. Mother quickly explains that if they were to become naughty she would have to “send home a new mother, with glass eyes and wooden tail,” (574). The girls are horrified at this description. In all likelihood, they have never heard such strange things from their honorable mother, making it doubly true in their eyes. In the Victorian era, which this story unfolds, goodness would not allow for shabby dress, music and dancing, or invisible people who dance with secrets.
As the story unfolds, the girls never manage to be naughty enough to see the little people. The little woman will not dance for “make-believe naughtiness” for their hearts are too good (577). They have been naughty enough to send their mother away as she threatened to do. In risking everything for the small piece of magic, the girls sit alone, waiting for their mother to return. Surely, her tale of the new mother cannot be true…
Imagination runs rampant at the end of the story. The girls have cleaned everything in preparation for the return of their mother, only to find a strange person outside their door. They bar the door –no longer wanting the magic. When the witch breaks down the door, the girls so completely believe she is the woman with glass eyes and wooden tail that they never actually stop to see the face beneath the cloak. They scurry to the forest forever, never checking the truth – letting their imaginations get the best of them (582).
Zipes, Jack. “The New Mother.” The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: the traditions in English. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. 568-582.