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The Ugliness of Beauty Interesting title Essay

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Updated: Oct 16th, 2021

In his novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire illustrates the elements of beauty, pride and hard work, as previously portrayed in the classic fairy tale, ‘Cinderella.’ Beauty is given immense importance, and this, of course, refers to outer beauty. Gregory Maguire has given four kinds of beauty in his storyline. However, the theme of the story is to emphasis on inner beauty and character. In following with the traditional ending of fairy tales as applied to Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, the moral of the story is that beauty holds more significance than a thing of character. At times people say that “beauty is only skin deep”. This means that beauty is only a shallow quality of a person, and the actual eminence of an individual is his or her character. How does one believe so, if anyone who is physically unappealing is left to wander about and is unappreciated? The human morality prevalent in society does not allow for support of those who are not providing some form of beauty.

The character of Clara depicts physical human grace, beauty, and perfection. This is a seventeenth century tale, of how the prevailing conditions were harsh, and how plague and homelessness were threats to the ordinary man. Clara was simply a young girl, with innocence and such fascination, that she was more of an “object of admiration”, and was least expected to learn or do any household chores (Maguire 290).

Thesis: Each kind of beauty shown in the story is a different type. The physical appearance of a human and a flower differs. Plus, these are natural forms of beauty, whereas art and charity gestures are unnatural forms of beauty. The natural forms are God’s gifts bestowed upon man, while the latter two are those which are created and can be amended by man himself. The beauty of a person should be valued; if a female conforms to the present standard set by the society, she will be considered good (Lalumière). Though Maguire has not associated evil with beauty, he still implies that beauty holds significance, and the beautiful person is more likeable.

The two sisters who have moved into the painter’s house are both of opposite characters. Ruth is portrayed as handicapped and since she cannot talk much, is a quiet character. Iris is clever, and is helping to assist her mother with her attempts in reducing the risks of homelessness. They have suffered many hardships prior to the shelter availed at this new home.

Physical beauty holds optimum significance as the world takes beauty for character, and all physically attractive people tend to be more successful and better off than those who are not very physically appealing. This can be seen in the novel also, whilst comparing Ruth, Iris, and Clara. The latter two are more attractive than Ruth, and enjoy the admiration of people. Iris is good, in terms of good natured heart. She’s soft hearted and looks after Ruth. After meeting Clara she feels herself responsible for Clara too. She’s very simple, plain, interesting and admirable character.

In Maguire’s novel, the characters of Iris and Clara depict not only just physical beauty, but both are good by nature. Both stepsisters love Clara, as she loves them. Iris and Clara are the most valued characters of the story for the same reason. They seem to be objects of perfection, not because of their personalities, or inner selves, but due to physical attraction.

The second element of beauty mentioned is that of flowers, i.e., tulips. This aspect has not been elaborated much, except for the fact that “ugly” buds give rise to such beautiful flowers, tulips, which are the weakness of men. Van de Meer, or Clara’s father, has set up his tulip business, as it was the demand of that era, and has become a successful merchant. The tulip craze is the hot means of earning in Holland and Van de Meer is profiting well from them. Their beauty is found only after blossoming of the flowers from the oniony bulbs, which have been mentioned in the story. Again this depicts physical beauty, and is an object of significance only because of the beauty the flower withholds. Tulips are symbolism of physical beauty which is reproduced and admired repeatedly.

The artist, Schoonmaker, also known as the Master, is to attempt to paint the portrait of Clara, according to her father’s wish. Van de Meer wants to advertise his tulips and hence asks the master to paint them. However, Master suggested to paint tulip with Clara will enhance the painting and it more magnificent. It turns out to be a good piece, and the artist manages well with her, despite making paintings of objects with an element of negativity in them earlier. He was famous for painting alter pieces, through objects that were not physically attractive or had something missing in them. However, the element of arts itself has been shown as a beauty. Art is a beauty because it is alterable, and anything can be changed according to what is in the mind of the painter, and the famous notion that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” can be made to believe and cherished (Scalon).

Charity holds significance in the novel because when Margarethe left England with her two daughters, as the only way they survived was with the charity or the little help. They suffered from a hard time, with no shelter, and were literally begging to feed their stomachs. Thus charity is a beautiful action to be carried out by individuals, for the helping of others. Despite its advantages, it is a tough thing to do, as in it becomes intolerable to be begging for food occasionally. Nevertheless, it helps save lives, like it made Margarethe and her daughters survive on their trip from all the way from England.

The beauty of the girls, Clara being very good looking and Iris being plain, but also attractive, holds importance in this novel. The beauty of arts and charity has not been praised as much compared to physical natural beauty of these two individuals (Scanlon). Maguire has given preference to human beauty in comparison to material beauty, and that is what is important. Whatever is visible to the eye is of utmost value, which also makes people feel good.

Some instances make significant the beauty of certain things, in comparison with others. For example, the beauty of Iris and Clara withheld such eminence in the portraits made by Schoonmaker, which helped in marketing, as in those days the appearance of women was a highly valuable aspect, given much attention to. The portrait would sell off for good money, thus benefiting Clara’s father.

The novel is similar to Cinderella, in that it also contains one character of beauty, against one stepsister, Clara, and a step mother who is not very kind to her. The character of Clara is also similar to Cinderella’s character, because Clara wishes to work with the ashes and is hopeful of staying away from the realities of life, which were then pertaining to physical beauty, and Cinderella was also a cinder-girl, burning away coal for most of the time.

The main similarity to “Cinderella,” is the stepmother/stepsister/sisters aspect, and the presence of the unkind step-mother. Beauty in its deepest sense is whatever appeals to the eye, and this was the most significant element of women’s lives at that time (Schwartz). Unfortunately, even in today’s world, often times no matter how strong a character you may hold, preference and benefit is bestowed upon only the physically appealing people. Physical beauty may enable you to cover any milestones set, but only character alone leaves you amidst nothingness.

Works Cited

  1. .” Amazon.com. Web.
  2. Lalumière, Claude. “.” Magazine 2000. Web.
  3. Maguire, Gregory. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. New York: Regan Books, 1999.
  4. Scanlon, Donna. Rev. of by Gregory Maguire. Rambles Online Magazine 1999. Web.
  5. Schwartz, Gary. Rev. of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. Art in America. 2001.
  6. Waitley, Denis. Qtd. On Brainyquote.
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