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Analysis of the tale Cinderella Essay

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Updated: May 25th, 2020

Introduction

When children read fairy tales they idolize the main characters, mimic them, and consider how they interact to be the most ideal way of behaving. Therefore, when female characters are obedient and passive, young girls will act obediently and passively; when male characters are emotionless, and think only in a logical way, boys will pick up on that trait and learn not to give in to their emotions.

Cinderella, by the Brothers Grimm, is a popular fairytale that has been passed down generation to generation, and retold in various ways, but always as a story of ideal love and happiness that is told to amuse children of all ages. What is rarely considered is what the fairytale is subliminally telling us through its specific word choices (Robinson, 2010).

After the story is broken down into phrases and then analyzed in terms of gender, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs, what begins to stand out are some pretty disturbing messages. In our criticism of Cinderella, we asked the questions: “What is the disposition of gender in this artifact?” And, “How does the disposition of gender affect the behavior of children under the age of ten?” Then we recast our extractions or phrases in the light of gender, and we found the affect this lighthearted fairytale truly has on children.

In order to come to this conclusion though, it is necessary to go through the process of extraction and it is important to understand where the story of Cinderella comes from and what it is about. Then we will explain the method we used to analyze Cinderella and what the story told us. So, here we are at the beginning with the history of the story, Cinderella.

Context

According to Thomas O’Neill (1999), Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, wrote a story collection called Children’s and Household Tales where Cinderella was included. Brothers Grimm had a very difficult childhood as their family had a lot of financial problems. More so, their father died when they were small children.

At one point a man from the school let them use tales books from the library and they were so fascinated by those tales that they eventually started writing their own. The first edition of their book of fairy tales was published in 1812. The purpose of writing those fairy tales for them was to protect the German oral tradition.

Their work did not have, in fact, any illustration, but there were scholarly footnotes. Initially their goal was not to entertain or educate children. After the brothers realized that their tales were attracting children’s attention around Europe they decided to soften their books.

Their fairy tales did not reach success during their lifetime. It happened only after their death. Later on their fairy tales were translated into more than 160 languages and in the USA it is possible to find it in 120 editions. Their fairy tales have been slightly modified to adapt to the contemporary needs and changes in the society. Their fairy tales have been regarded as socially powerful and containing hidden meanings.

Some of the characters have been regarded as evil, like the step-mother of Cinderella. In fact, during the World War II they were banished because they were considered to encourage the Nazi’s persecution. Plus in the 70s they were considered to be sexist in Europe and in the USA (Robinson, 2010). However, as we know they have been slightly modified during the years but those fairy tales still contain gender roles meanings.

Content

Before dying, the wife of a rich man advises her daughter to be “good and pious” (Brothers Grimm, 2010, n.p.). The daughter obeys and spends much time visiting her mother’s grave. When the rich man remarries, his new wife brings her two daughters. Together, they treat the man’s daughter terribly; they take away her nice clothes and give her an old gown, they call her a kitchen wench and force her to cook, clean, and wash from morning till night.

The girl has to complete various tasks from dawn till dusk, and she often has to sleep in the cinders. This is why she looks rather dusty. This is how the new name, Cinderella, appears. When Cinderella’s father goes to a fair, he brings back beautiful dresses, pearls, and jewels for his step-daughters; for Cinderella, he brings back a branch from a hazel bush. The girl plants it on her mother’s grave. Once it grows into a tree, Cinderella sits beneath it, weeps, and prays; whenever she expresses a wish, it is granted.

The king announces a three-day celebration. He hopes that his young son will fell in love with one of the beauties during the three balls. Cinderella weeps because she wants to go to the ball, too. However, the step-mother does not want to let the girl go to the balls. Instead, the mean woman makes Cinderella pick lentils out of ashes.

The step-mother sets a particular deadline: Cinderella has to complete the task within two hours. With the help of birds, Cinderella succeeds. The step-mother gives the same task to the poor girl, but now Cinderella has to do it within an hour. The birds help her again and she finishes in time. Her step-mother, however, still denies her request and they leave without Cinderella.

Cinderella weeps beneath the tree at her mother’s grave, and a bird throws down a dress and slippers. She goes to the ball, where her step-mother and step-sisters do not recognize her. All night long the king’s son dances with her only. When Cinderella wants to leave, he wants to come, too, but she escapes into the pigeon-house. Her father and the king’s son hew the pigeon-house to bits but do not find her. The father wonders if the unknown maiden is Cinderella.

On the next day, Cinderella receives an even more beautiful gown, and when she arrives at the ball, everyone is astonished at her beauty. The king’s son dances with her all night long, and when she wants to leave, he wants to follow her, but she escapes into the garden and climbs a tree. The king’s son waits and her father cuts down the tree but they do not find her.

On the third day of the ball, Cinderella receives the most beautiful gown and gold slippers. She dances with the king’s son all night long. When Cinderella escapes from the king’s son, her left slipper is stuck on the staircase. The prince claims that he will marry the girl who will be able to put the slipper on.

The eldest step-sister tries on the slipper first. The shoe is too small, so the mother makes her cut off her big toe; once the shoe fits, the king’s son takes her as his bride. When he sees blood trickling down her foot, he realizes she is a false bride and takes her back home.

The younger step-sister tries to put the slipper on. However, she fails to put it on because of her large heel. Thus, the step-mother tells her daughter to cut it off. The prince takes her as his bride, but when he sees blood running out of her shoe, he returns her as well. The young prince asks Cinderella’s father whether the latter has another daughter. The man says “no,” but he tells the king’s son of the kitchen wench his late wife had left behind.

The prince insists that they call Cinderella, and when she tries on the slipper, it fits perfectly. The happy prince understands that this is the girl he has fallen in love with and takes her to his palace. On the day of the wedding, two pigeons sit on either side of Cinderella and poke out the eyes of her evil step-sisters; they are forever blinded.

Description of Method

When analyzing the Cinderella artifact, the approach group 2 used was an analytical method. By using this method, the group managed to write down all observations and then specify these observations by cutting the cards based on gender, male or female. Separating the cards into gender specific cards allowed an easier separation of male and females based verbs, adjectives, emotions, and possessions.

The subcategories of verbs, adjectives, emotions, and possessions allow observations to occur because creation of tables of male and female side by side show differences and similarities of males and females in verbs, adjectives, emotions, and possessions.

Procedural Steps

  1. Read the entire Cinderella story.
  2. Extract any sentence that contains any form of gendered references.
  3. From the extracted data create a Master List with all gendered references.
  4. Cut up the Master List into strips that could be divided.
  5. Divide the strips based on if the phrases are female specific or male specific.
  6. Once separated glue specific phrases of female onto one color and male onto another card (example: Blue = girls, Pink= Boys).
  7. Take the male phrases and find those that have verbs within them.
  8. Write down the verbs in Table 1.
  9. Place male verbs back within the male pile.
  10. Go through and find cards with male adjectives.
  11. Write down the male adjectives in Table 2.
  12. Place male adjectives back within the male pile.
  13. Go through and find phrases that show male emotions and disposition of gender.
  14. Write down the emotions and disposition of gender in Table 3.
  15. Place male emotions and disposition of gender back within the male pile.
  16. Go through and find phrases that show male possessions.
  17. Write down the male possessions in Table 4.
  18. Set the male pile aside and retrieve the cards with female phrases.
  19. Go through and pull out cards that contain female verbs.
  20. Write down the female verbs next to the male verbs within the table 1 chart.
  21. Place all female verbs back within the female pile.
  22. Go through and find phrases that contain female adjectives.
  23. Write down the female adjectives in table 2 next to the male adjectives.
  24. Place all female adjectives back within the female pile.
  25. Go through and find phrases that show emotion and the disposition of gender.
  26. Write the emotions and disposition of gender in Table 3 next to male emotions and disposition of gender.
  27. Place all female emotions and disposition of gender back within the female pile.
  28. Go through and find phrases that contain female possessions.
  29. Write the female possessions next to the male possessions in Table 4.
  30. Once all tables are complete, observe data and discuss differences between male and female.

Findings

It is important to note that female adjectives, verbs, emotions and possessions prevail in the story. For instance, 52 male verbs are used in the story. At the same time, 73 female verbs are used in the story (see Table 1).

As for adjectives used, the story contains 5 male adjectives and 31 female adjectives (see Table 2). As far as emotions and the disposition of gender is concerned, 2 units represent male and 33 units represent female (see Table 3). Finally, analysis units representing possessions and the disposition of gender shows that female unites prevail as well. Thus, the story includes 42 units representing male possessions and the disposition of gender, whereas 73 units represent female possessions and the disposition of gender (see Table 4).

Table 1: Verbs and the Disposition of Gender

Male Female
Turned (3)
Took (10)
Rode (4)
Bought (4)
Broke off
Asked
Riding
Danced (5)
Followed (2)
Employed (2)
Celebrated
Gave (4)
Recognized
Picked (2)
Taken
Dance
Reached
Approached
Escaped
Follow
Insisted
Bring
Stained
Caused
Work
Planted
Wept (5)
Cried (5)
Swallowed (3)
Mocked
Run (3)
Leapt (2)
Wash
Sprang (3)
Danced (2)
Work
Ran
Seated (3)
Get up
Turned
Escaped (4)
Obeyed
Bowed
Jumped (2)
Forced (4)
Begged
Stood (2)
Carry
Cut
Departed
Closed
Laughed
Drew
Rides
Put (5)
Empty (3)
Washed (2)
Sleep
Cook
Brought
Clambered
Climbed
Prayed
Lay (2)

Table 1 demonstrates the male verbs and female verbs separately. The dominated male verbs are “took” and “danced.” The dominated female verbs are “wept” and “cried.”

Table 2: Adjectives and the Disposition of Gender

Male Female
Positive Rich Proud (4)
True (6)
Beautiful (5)
Young
Negative Anxious (2)
Old (2)
Dirty (2)
Dusty
Late
False
Sick
Unknown (2)
Only (2)
Foreign (2)
Black of heart
Pale
Vile

Table 2 illustrates the positive and negative adjectives of male and female. The dominated positive adjective of male is “rich”, and negative ones are “anxious” and “old.” The dominated positive adjectives of female are “true” and “beautiful.” The dominated negative adjectives of female are “dirty,” “unknown,” “only,” and “foreign.”

Table 3: Emotions and the Disposition of Gender

Male Female
Anxious (2) Wept (5)
Delighted (2)
Glad (2)
Laughed
Proud (4)
Weary
Cried (4)
Pain (3)
Terrified
Believe (3)
Sick
Wish (5)
Prayed

Table 3 depicts the words that describe the male emotion and female emotion. The dominated emotion of male is “anxious.” The dominated emotion of female are “wept” and “wish.”

Table 4: Possession and the Disposition of Gender

Male Female
Bride (4)
Wife (1)
Son (18)
Horse (8)
Step-daughter (7)
Palace (2)
Hat (2)
Beauty
Grave (12)
Foot (4)
Feet
Clothes (6)
Slipper
Face (3)
Shoes (2)
Bedside
Knife (2)
Chamber
Thought (2)
Gown (3)
Heel (3)
Lentils (2)
Hands (2)
Daughter (2)
Step-mother (3)
End (2)
Eyes (2)
Stocking
Peas (2)
Hand
Toes
Shoulders
Parents
Father (2)
Step-sisters (2)
Shoe
Back (2)
Injury
Dress
Mother
Daughters
Room
Fortune

Table 4 dwells upon the male and female possession. The dominated possessions of male are “son” and “horse.” The dominated possessions of female are “grave,” “clothes,” and “foot.”

Discussion

In our extractions what becomes apparent very quickly is the difference in character between men and women. What is interesting about these differences is that they are the same gender differences that we are socially conditioned to believe for all our lives, as to how the ideal man or woman should act. According to the story, Cinderella’s mother tells her to be “good and pious” which lays down the groundwork for gender disposition (Brothers Grimm, 2010, n.p.).

Women are passive and emotional in the story (as seen in table 1), they react but they do not cause things to happen. The women also make wishes and pray (as seen in table 3). Admittedly, there are lots of girls who want to throw pennies in a fountain so that their wishes come true. It emphasizes the passive personality trait. Women or girls are supposed to pray and hope their dreams will come true; men with their aggressive nature are supposed to make things happen themselves.

Women do the housework and react to men in very different ways, usually fighting over eligible men, and in this story, even to the point of cutting off different parts of their feet to land the ideal man (as seen in table 2): the rich, powerful prince. The men show no emotion other than anxiety and they use force to achieve their goals.

The women are very emotional: they mainly cry, they are weary, they are in pain, and then, they have the opposing behaviors of delight, laughter and gladness (as seen table 2). Men own property, they own land, they own horses and according to these findings, they also own women. The women, at an eligible age are passed from their fathers to their future husbands ( as seen in table 4).

The data in Table 4, possession and the disposition of gender, reports that women compared with men, have ten different possessions each referring to body parts. The men’s list in Table 4 does not show any body parts.

The data also shows seven wardrobe objects belonging to the women’s side and when the same data is compared with the men’s side only the word “hat” appears. The data on the woman’s side also shows kitchen and food objects, while men have no such items. When compared with men’s possessions it looks as if women are objectified and recognized especially by their body’s parts and clothes.

Women own things like clothing, physical beauty, and food items. What this tells our young readers is that girls are supposed to do what they are told. Girls are supposed to have dreams but not to fulfill the dreams themselves, but to hope they happen. It is okay for them to cry, because girls are not supposed to have control over their emotions. Girls are supposed to be fixated on their appearance, concentrate on what they are supposed to wear and what they look like.

Boys are supposed to be in control, they are supposed to dominate, to own, and to achieve (as seen in table 4). As our original question stated, the children when they read these actions or behaviors will follow them, in order to be the ideal man or woman. This poses an issue to the generations of children who read this story, for the girls will not bother to attain goals if they want to be like Cinderella, instead they will hope the things just happen.

They will act like Cinderella does in a world where Cinderella’s mindset is no longer relevant. The boy’s behavior of aggression and force will be considered excellent by standards today but, with girls, struggling with these issues, it will be far harder for them to conform to a real life where fairytales and the Prince Charming are irrelevant. Instead of changing tomorrow, young girls will wish and dream for a better tomorrow.

Upon analyzing the data, a problematic pattern emerges, as Table 1 (Verbs) and Table 4 (Possessions) show. Cinderella promotes the idea that men are active and powerful, whereas women are passive and domestic. Most of the female verbs have to do with domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, and washing (see Table 1).

None of the male verbs have anything to do with domestic labor. Similarly, when analyzing possessions, females have more possessions pertaining to household items than males do. Males, in fact, possess other people, but women possess kitchen utensils, their own bodies and little else (see Table 4).

This disparity is highly problematic because young, impressionable children are the recipients of folktales like Cinderella, and stories like this foster a distinction between what boys and men do, and what girls and women are supposed to do. This story both reflects and promotes the chauvinistic ideas of men being the breadwinners and women being the submissive homemakers. Although stories do not explicitly state these ideas, they are embedded in the language and plot of the stories.

Reference

Brothers Grimm. (2010). Household Tales: Cinderella. Web.

O’Neill, T. (1999). Guardians of the fairy tale: The Brothers Grimm. Web.

Robinson, O.W. (2010). Grimm language: Grammar, gender and genuineness in the fairy tales. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Appendix I

The List of the Raw Data

Male Female
Verbs and the disposition of gender Turned (3), Took (10), Rode (4), Bought (4), Broke off, Asked, Riding, Danced (5), Followed (2), Employed (2), Celebrated, Gave (4), Recognized, Picked (2), Taken, Dance, Reached, Approached, Escaped, Follow, Insisted, Bring, Stained, Caused, Work Planted, Wept (5), Cried (5), Swallowed (3), Mocked, Run (3), Leapt (2), Wash, Sprang (3), Danced (2), Work, Ran, Seated (3), Get up, Turned, Escaped (4), Obeyed, Bowed, Jumped (2), Forced (4), Begged, Stood (2), Carry, Cut, Departed, Closed, Laughed, Drew, Rides, Put (5), Empty (3), Washed (2), Sleep, Cook, Brought, Clambered, Climbed, Prayed, Lay (2)
Adjectives and the disposition of gender Positive: Rich
Negative: Anxious (2)
Old (2)
Positive: Proud (4), True (6),
Beautiful (5), Young
Negative: Dirty (2), Dusty, Late, False,
Sick, Unknown (2), Only (2)
Foreign (2), Black of heart,
Pale, Vile
Emotions and the disposition of gender Anxious (2) Wept (5), Delighted (2), Glad (2), Laughed, Proud (4), Weary, Cried (4), Pain (3), Terrified, Believe (3), Sick, Wish (5), Prayed
Possession and the disposition of gender Bride (4), Wife (1), Son (18), Horse (8), Step-daughter (7), Palace (2), Hat (2) Beauty, Grave (12), Foot (4), Feet, Clothes (6), Slipper, Face (3), Shoes (2), Bedside, Knife (2), Chamber, Thought (2), Gown (3), Heel (3), Lentils (2), Hands (2), Daughter (2), Step-mother (3), End (2), Eyes (2), Stocking, Peas (2), Hand, Toes, Shoulders, Parents, Father (2), Step-sisters (2), Shoe, Back (2), Injury, Dress, Mother, Daughters, Room, Fortune
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