Where last we left our heroine, she was making her own trouble.
Hey, don’t look at me like that. She was. Yes, her parents sold her to a witch. Yes, said witch locked her away. None of that means Rapunzel wasn’t responsible for her own decisions.
Nobody said she had to let down her hair for the Prince. Nobody said she had to do him any favors. And certainly nobody said she was under some sort of obligation to let him in again—repeatedly. Nothing prevented her from saying “Come back when you’ve got something for me, baby.” Indeed, in the earliest version the Grimm brother collected, Rapunzel spilled the beans to the witch when she complained of pregnancy symptoms. Rapunzel, clearly, is neither clever nor innocent.
Not that all her troubles should be laid at her door.
This was the first “boy” she’d ever seen. First thing we girls often look for in the is that age-old question—“Can I marry him?” We don’t all do it, but we do come naturally warped that way. So, she sees a fella in her tower window, and he wants to see more of her. How is she to say no to that??
Plenty of responsibility is due his way, though. He should have asked some very pertinent questions. What’s your mom doing, keeping you here? Why do you let her in, if all she does is lock you away? Did there used to be a door? He knew from the start he was walking into a dysfunctional family—he should have been paying attention. But this begs the question of his motives. If the prince was there for her, then he should have indicated a plan to rescue her and help her establish a new home.
But when he meets Rapunzel and declares his love, he doesn’t rescue her. He keeps her in her tower, and comes back to visit. Often. As convenient as it is for him to find a pretty girl in the woods who thinks he’s wonderful and stays right where he leaves her, this isn’t responsible behavior. So, when the witch discovers their shenanigans and exacts her punishment on both of them, the reader is willing to follow along. The reader does not cry “unfair!” and hurl curses at the witch. The reader’s imagination follows the boy and girl out the window into the next phase of their adventure.
However sad or hopeful that may be.
As writers, creating characters who your readers love—EVEN IN FAILURE—is quite a challenge. Giving them flaws that cause their problems helps. Making these flaws things that can be overcome helps, too. (The Greeks had a word for this too: HAMARTIA. It means "a wrong committed in ignorance." It is sometimes used in the Bible to mean "sin," in the context of a moral deficit.) Cinderella and Snow White had their circumstances against them—Rapunzel has her own character to overcome. And, clearly, a girl who can unlearn her mistakes is a girl worth climbing a tower for.