The Vain Little Mouse

The Vain Little Mouse

The Vain Little Mouse ( _es. La Ratita Presumida) is a folktale about a little mouse and her many suitors.


There are many different versions of this tale, but the structure is common. In the first part of the tale, a little mouse is cleaning her house and finds a coin unexpectedly. Then she wonders on what she should spend this newly found money, and mentions a series of items (which vary according to the person telling the tale) that she systematically discards with various reasons.

For example: Will I buy a needle? No, because I could prick my finger. Will I buy a bunch of sweets? No, because my teeth will become rotten, and so on.

She finally decides on a ribbon to put in her tail to look more attractive.

In the second part of the tale, a rosary of animal suitors come to ask the little mouse to marry them, attracted by her enhanced beauty. To see if each suitor is compatible with her, she asks them what they will do at night. The suitor then replies with his characteristic sound: the dog barks, the horse neighs, the donkey brays, etc. She discards every one of them saying that they would frighten her.

Finally comes another mouse and he replies: "I'll sleep and be silent", to which the she-mouse agrees and they marry and live happily ever after.


There are many variants of this tale. In some versions of the tale the she-mouse is seduced by the answer of the cat, who sweetly meows when asked what he'll do at night. In this version the she-mouse marries the cat and she is usually eaten by the cat at the wedding night, though not always.

Other variants have a third part in which the he-mouse falls into a broth and dies, and even there is a fourth part, in which all the friends of the she-mouse harm themselves somehow describing their actions with a jingle, because they feel sorry for her. Each of these characters increase the seriousness of their self-destructive actions, singing a different jingle, but with parallelisms with the previous one.

The main character of the story can also have different representations such as a little ant or a little cockroach.


This tale seems to have been originated in the oral tradition and later moved to a literary form. Again, its literary form may have given birth to different variations. The earliest reference to this tale is found in Fernan Caballero's "Lagrimas" (1839) and "La Gaviota" (1856), but the complete tale is not written until later, in her compilation of tales "Cuentos, oraciones, adivinanzas y refranes populares" (1877). In this early version, the little she-mouse is actually a little ant, but she still marries a mouse, called Ratón Pérez. This little mouse ("ratón" in Spanish), would later inspire Padre Colomar, who would make him part of the Spanish traditional folklore by turning him into a sort of Tooth Fairy.

Fernan Caballero's version has the four parts explained in the previous section. The third and the fourth parts have a strong parallelism with the English Fairy Tale "Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse", first collected in Joseph Jacobs "English Fairy Tales" (1890). Joseph Jacobs found 25 variants of the same jingle scattered over the world from India to Spain, with a possible origin in India.

A second literary reference can be found in Carmen Lyra's "Cuentos de mi tía Panchita" (1920), in which, although she acknowledges it to be the same tale as Fernan Caballero's, she also leaves room for an oriental or African origin. In fact, the tale is titled "La Cucarachita Mandinga" ("Mandinga, the Little Roach") and "Mandinga" is just another name for the Mandinka people. This leads to believe of some influences from the slaves brought from Africa. The tales of the book became part of the Costa Rican folklore, but the Little Roach is also known in Cuba, Mexico and Panama. In Panama it became even more important as it is an imporpart part of Panamanian folklore after it was turned into a children's theater play by Rogelio Sinán and with music of Gonzalo Brenes.

In some versions, the cockroach is not "Mandinga", but "Mondinga" and in the Cuban and Caribbean version it seems to be "Martina". Additionally, the representation of the main character can also change from country to country, probably depending on the greater influence of Carmen Lyra or Fernan Caballero. Puerto Rican Pura Belpré's version (as told to her by her grandmother) was the first one published in te US, translated as "Perez and Martina: a Puerto Rican Folktale" (1932). In 1936 Calleja published another version "La hormiguita se quiere casar", in which the mouse in saved from the broth by the little ant.

There are a couple of contemporary versions that are worth mentioning, since they can easily be found in children's bookstores: Daniel Moreton's version ("La Cucaracha Martina: a Caribbean folktale"), which seems to take root in Belpre's version and Joe Hayes' version, which has replaced the roach with a butterfly in his tale "Mariposa: the butterfly" or "Mariposa Mariposa: the happy tale of La Mariposa the butterfly"

Educational value

The structure of this tale makes it suitable for personalization and adaptation to the particular children hearing it. It's also useful in order to teach the little kids about the animals and their different sounds, or to make them participate doing the sounds. Finally, some sense of danger can be taught to the audience in the first part of the tale, by mentioning objects that can harm them or things they shouldn't play with.

External links

* [ Version of the tale (in Spanish)]
* [ Fernan Caballero's version (in Spanish)]
* [ Version of the tale as it appears in "Cuentos de mi Tía Panchita" (in Spanish)]
* [ "La Gaviota" (in Spanish)]
* [ "La Cucarachita Mandinga", Theater Play by Rogelio Sinan (in Spanish)]
* [ "Tópicos literarios y motivos folclóricos en el cuento popular"]
* [ "An Overview of Hispanic Literature with Special Emphasis on the Literature of Hispanics in the United States"]
* [ "Cuento Folklórico y Literaturas del Siglo XIX"]
* [ English Fairy Tales and comparison with other countries]
* [ English version of "Martina the Roach"]
* [ Dual version (Spanish and English) of "Martina the Roach"]

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