The famous tale “Cinderella” has mostly been thought of as a story with an obvious message that children should understand. It teaches about good and evil, describing two distinct forces and personalities that display what people must be like and what kind of behavior should be avoided.
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But not a lot of individuals know that there are several versions of the fairy tale and the interpretations, as well as moral messages, are numerous in the story. In reality, “Cinderella” teaches children and adults how life can sometimes be hard without parents while efforts and sacrifices take long time to be rewarded, and that evil is constantly present by the side or kindness (Ulanov 139).
An article by Elizabeth Panttaja called “Cinderella: Not So Morally Superior” looks at the tale from a different perspective, analyzing true issues of the main character’s morals, the ability to reach justice and the role parents play in the family. The fact that Cinderella always has “good” on her side and uses “magic” to become more superior has been questioned (Panttaja 658).
The classical “Walt Disney’s Cinderella” is filled with beautiful things, righteousness being rewarded and evil punished. It is made obvious that Cinderella is taking on a hard life and must face the rough relationship with her sisters and stepmother (Campbell 642). But in some ways, the role that the “bad parents” play is negated.
Cinderella’s mother or father usually dies in the beginning of the tale but, as Elizabeth Panttaja mentions, they stay with her during her life in different forms.
They visit her as many animals, as spirits from the other world or as fairies and magicians. The contrast in the relationship between her real parents and the stepmother is made obvious, to display how a proper parent should behave. So, Cinderella does feel the support of her mother or father through the magic of animals, reinforcing the necessary support a child must have growing up.
The negative behavior from her sisters and stepmother is a very valuable part of the lesson, as they also shape Cinderella’s character. Without their influence she would not have learned how it feels to suffer for no reason and wouldn’t know how it is to do things in vein and not be repaid in kind for her own selfless acts. Another point that the author of the article mentions is that there are no real descriptions of love or passionate relationship between Cinderella and the prince.
It could be understood that it is a children’s tale and this would not be needed or children would not simply realize the details and facts about love. But at the same time, it is possible to assume that this a tradition that was instilled in the society where the ruler of the land chooses his wife and this becomes a form of a deal where the woman has no choice but is forced into marriage.
An idea that it was Cinderella’s and her mother’s trick to full the prince into believing that she is special, is taken by Elizabeth Panttaja (Panttaja 660). This seems somewhat imprecise of the tale because no one really forces the prince to make his choice and the fact that he was blinded by her beauty and glamour cannot be accepted because it would mean that the prince was shallow and unwise.
Almost every version tells of how the person of high rank, be it prince, chief or any other character, has a conversation with Cinderella and by spending some time together, he realizes that she is a good person. The common theme of all versions of “Cinderella” does teach highest morals, no matter what interpretations are examined.
The oldest version of the tale is considered to be the Chinese one, “written about 850-860 A.D.” (Ch’eng-shih 633). It is a story where the girl also gets abused by her stepsisters and stepmother, after Cinderella’s father dies. She then befriends a fish in the pond that gets killed by the stepmother. Then, a man in a form of a spirit, tells Cinderella to take the bones of the fish and keep them, and in case she needs anything, she can pray and it will be done.
This proves right and Cinderella is said to have received many riches. The story ends like any other, with a king taking her to be one of his wives (Ch’eng-shih 634). It is interesting to note that in the Chinese version and several others, Cinderella becomes one of several wives. This is very much reflective of the time and social beliefs that the stories were written in but it lowers the unique and special nature that Cinderella has in the modern versions. She is being discovered as not one of a kind but as one of many.
Also the riches that she receives from the “wishing bones” seems somewhat uneven with the modern version and it is not clear why Cinderella, described as a humble and simple person, would need all the jeweler and expensive things (Otnes 235). Perhaps, it was included so that children would be lured into the story by the sparkly diamonds and the great reward that Cinderella has received, comparing to her stepsisters and stepmother.
An African Cinderella, called “The Maiden, the Frog, and the Chief’s Son” follows a widely known theme of abusive parents and the later reward of marrying a chief’s son but the difference is that here, the frog is “vomiting up” all the beautiful things that the poor girl needs (Edgar 638). This can be explained that the people who told the story were very close to nature and so, this could confirm the fact that the frog was one of the characters.
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Even though it might seem unappealing to the children today, this story shows that children of the time this story was written or told were much different. To them, nature and its processes were a part of life and this shows that their morals and understanding of the surrounding environment was much deeper than it is of children today. Another version, called “Oochigeaskw—The Rouch-Faced Girl” which is a Native American version, goes even further and describes a girl who is physically abused and has many scars.
The general theme of suffering from stepmother and sisters is consistent with the other stories but in this tale, the prince is called “The Invisible One” and is described as the great spirit of nature and the entire world. He stays invisible to all women except his sister and only a person with a good heart and true connection to nature can know what he looks like (“Oochigeaskw—The Rouch-Faced Girl” 640).
The poor, scarred girl is the only one sensitive enough that she has found her escape in the beauty of existence. This story has a very deep meaning that is connected not only to good and evil but also to the world and all the living things, as well as natural physical objects. It is evident that Native People were very much in tune with the world and this reflects in their stories.
“Cinderella” has always been regarded as a children’s story and people have forgotten the details, once they have reached a certain age. The deep morals and life lessons that are described in the short story have been elaborated on, but the true meanings are often overlooked. In an article by Bonnie Cullen called “The Rise of Perrault’s Cinderella” a version by Perrault is analyzed and the story of an abused girl is aligned with “bourgeois life” and wealth (Cullen 650).
This could be taken as a valid point because some tales do have an extreme focus on the riches and the benefits that Cinderella gets from being “acquainted” with fairies and magic. But it could be assumed that the authors created such a contrast and riches for a specific purpose, which is to show children and adults the two extremes of life.
The close connection to the past and modern world can be seen in the unfair division between classes. Some people are forced to live in worst conditions, health problems and little food while others do not think twice when buying houses, cars and boats.
One thing for sure, is that “Cinderella” tales are filled with references to real people and conditions that are present in the environment. Even though some things are exaggerated, the truth, respect and human suffering are very much the same, teaching people on how to live right and what are the valuables of a proper person.
Ch’eng-shih, Tuan. “A Chinese Cinderella”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 11th Edition. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Harlow: Longman Publishing Group, 2010. 633-634. Print.
Cullen, Bonnie. “The Rise of Perrault’s Cinderella”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 11th Edition. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Harlow: Longman Publishing Group, 2010. 645-669. Print.
Edgar, Frank. “The Maiden, the Frog, and the Chief’s Son”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 11th Edition. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Harlow: Longman Publishing Group, 2010. 635-638. Print.
Grant, Campbell. “Cinderella”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 11th Edition. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Harlow: Longman Publishing Group, 2010. 641-642. Print.
“Oochigeaskw—The Rouch-Faced Girl”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 11th Edition Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Harlow: Longman Publishing Group, 2010. 639-640. Print.
Otnes, Cele. Cinderella dreams: the allure of the lavish wedding. Los Angeles, United States: University of California Press, 2003. Print.
Panttaja, Elizabeth. “Cinderella: Not So Morally Superior”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, 11th Edition. Ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Harlow: Longman Publishing Group, 2010. 658-661. Print.
Ulanov, Ann. Cinderella and Her Sisters: The Envied and the Envying. Philadelphia, United States: Daimon, 2008. Print.