The English folk tale of unknown origin, "Jack and the Beanstalk," is a classic story of a boy named Jack and his mother who live in poverty. Jack's mother sends her son to town to sell their last possession, a cow. Jack sells the cow to a man who gives him five magic beans. Jack returns home to his angry mother, who throws the beans out the window, sending Jack to his room without supper. Come morning, Jack discovers a beanstalk extending far into the clouds; climbs it and finds a castle where a mean and evil giant lives. A fairy tells Jack that it was the giant that killed his father many years ago, and stole all the towns' possessions, leaving famine and poverty behind. Jack then steals a golden egg, a bag of gold, and a magic harp in three visits, and is hailed as a hero when, at the end, he kills the giant.
A memorable part of the story is a lyrical song sung by the giant:
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I'll grind his bones to make my bread."
Another interesting part of the story is when the wife of the giant helps Jack, by giving him food, and hiding him so her husband doesn't see him. The idea here of course is that the giant must be a very evil person if even his wife has turned against him.
The fairy tale, with its colorful, well-illustrated characters has been a folklore favorite for centuries. The story was written during a time when famine was rampant and massive poverty was taking place across England and Europe. The story puts a young boy in a desperate situation, his mother and he are starving, and things look hopeless.
The story provides mystery, magic, and conflict, and shows how a lowly person can overcome adversity even in the worst of times. Brave Jack is viewed as a hero providing his mother with riches after hiding, and stealing back what the giant took from the people, and finally killing the giant.
The underlying theme of desperation, and revenge, as well as the killing however, could also be viewed as brutal, depending on one's perspective. The fearful rhyme of the giant and his words against the English are viewed as prejudice.
The story airs mixed messages: it is good to be courageous, but is it good to take revenge by becoming sneaky and stealing? Children don't noticeably make these distinctions, and the book is viewed as a brave and daring adventure where the hero (Jack) triumphs over the evil (Giant), and everyone lives happily ever after.