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Read “The White Cat” by Madame d’Aulnoy (France, 1697), available here:
Consider the following questions to help you read carefully and critically:
Keep in mind our discussion of motifs and morphology (plot structure). As you read, note any resemblances between “The White Cat” and other fairy tales you’re familiar with? What motifs do you recognize from other stories? Does “The White Cat” share any plot structures with other stories you know?
Why does the king set a task for his sons? Is the reason he tells them the true reason for his decision? What themes are set up by this way of beginning the story? Based on the opening, what expectations do you have for the story?
How does the young Prince meet the white cat? How is her world (her palace, her community, their behavior and customs) described? Why do you think the author chose to include these details?
What are the three tasks the king sets for his sons? How does the youngest Prince win out over his brothers?
On the Prince’s third visit to the white cat’s palace, what shocking request does the white cat make and why? Why do you think the author included images of violence in this otherwise whimsical tale?
What secret does the white cat reveal about her origins and family? What do we learn about her parents? How do you think we are meant to view their characters, and judge each of their actions? How do you know?
What do we learn was the reason that the white cat was transformed by the fairies? How does the author create sympathy for the white cat, and ensure that we are on her side? (Consider the way her character has been established, the descriptions of the fairies and their actions, the description of the love between her and her beloved King, etc.)
We’ve all heard many stories in which someone (usually a woman) has to be rescued from a terrible fate by her true love. What twist does Madame d’Aulnoy give to this motif? What are the conditions for the white cat to be transformed? What do you think this is supposed to teach us?
What moral is proposed at the end of the story? Do you agree that this is what the story demonstrates?
???? To get us started thinking carefully about the meaning of “The White Cat,” let’s begin by examining its connections to other stories.

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