Cinderella is one of the world’s best loved children’s fairy tale of all time. Most of us grew up on this tale about the child who was spurned by her step mother and sisters, mistreated and eventually she faced a good fortune because of her own forgiving ability and beautiful nature. Although the story is purely fictional, elements from true life are also present in the story and the cultural background of the writer does not influence the flow of the story. In the first place, the name Cinderella gives a glimpse of who is the heroine of the story. We can tell that her name comes from word “cinder” (meaning the ashes from the fire) and therefore she is a child of the ashes. It is a rather beautiful sounding word although it implies something less. Every child while listening to the story will enjoy the sound of her name.
Cinderella is the story of a little girl whose mother died when she was very young and her father remarried and brought a new wife and her daughters into the family home. It is interesting to note that the father disappears from the scene and we do not get any glimpse about him at all in the unfolding story. Children while reading or hearing the story do not notice this anomaly, but when adults reading it, they wonder “where is the father in all this?” It is shown as he remarries, brings a new family into his home and then, completely vanishes. According to Grimm’s version of the story, he is only seen periodically when he goes to the town and asks what gifts he should bring for his step-children. He obeys to bring his step-children dresses and beautiful adornments and to his own, biological child, he brings a branch of a tree as she had requested. He seems to be quite oblivious to what is happening in his family and almost becomes a non-person. This makes it easy for a woman to come into his home and to control it, moreover to neglect his own child whom he should have protected and sheltered from such kind of abuse.
The Cinderella in Grimm’s fairy tale version is a stronger personality than the one in the Walt Disney edition. Grimm’s Cinderella, although downtrodden and mistreated by her step-mother and sisters, is able to use feminine wiles to get out of the situation and to get what she wants. She asked her father for a branch as a gift as stated earlier, which she plants at her mother’s grave. She nurtures it and as a result it grows into a strong tree. Cinderella used to sit near that tree weeping, praying, and expressing a wish. A white bird throws down whatever she wished.
In Walt Disney’s version of the story, Cinderella is portrayed as a rather romantic figure, dreaming and hoping for better times. We see her tossed into the ashes, speaking, with her step mother and sisters, and greatly humiliated. In the story, she weeps into the ashes and the mice come to her rescue. In both stories, charming prince calls a ball as he is looking for a lovely wife and he is hoping to find one among the wonderful ladies in the castle.
Cinderella’s family was invited to the ball, but everyone assumed that Cinderella should stay at home as they regarded her as the not suitable “ash” girl, and not good enough for such an event. It is extremely surprising that her father stayed completely in the background and never under any circumstances stay for her defense as it would have been expected. Therefore, Cinderella was expected to stay at home, cleaning and scrubbing and after that, to fall asleep – in the ashes, as usual. However, despite the terrible hardships that Cinderella endured, and the feeling of being downtrodden, she would be reduced to great humility, we are shown that she actually had the feeling of what she wanted more from her life than just to clean and scrub for the rest of the family. In fact, she had her own dreams and aspirations.
Through all history, it has often been assumed that women and girls should just follow the path that is laid out for them and they had to accept this blindly and do what is expected of them. If Cinderella followed her path, she would have been the slave of her family till the end of her life. Instead of this, she took her destiny in her own hands and changed the course of her history. As a result, she attended the prince’s ball and enjoyed herself tremendously.
In Grimm’s story, Cinderella used the tree that had grown up when she planted the twig to make a wish. Furthermore, the bird in the tree gave her dress and the adornments that turned her into a beautiful woman that no one could not recognize her. At the ball, she intrigued the prince and this instigated a nationwide search for the beautiful girl that he wanted to marry. In Walt Disney’s version, the prince instigated a search for a girl by means of the lost glass slipper that every girl in the kingdom was struggling to fit into. Cinderella’s own step sisters were struggled and even damaged their feet trying to get into the glass slipper. All was in vain. Cinderella came since she was the last girl in the kingdom who was given a chance to try it on, moreover it slipped on easily enough.
In Grimm’s story, Cinderella’s step sisters made everything possible to fit the slipper. This brings us to thoughts about the gender inequalities that existed at that time, moreover they exist even today. In this story, strong male figure are largely absent. The female members of the family are forced to take drastic measures in order to find their place in society. There seems to be little influence from the male family members- in this case, the father. The story is based on a girl, Cinderella, and her cruel step mother and sisters. There are no brothers at all.
We can also view Cinderella’s development as a docile and obedient creature into a mature woman who is able to forgive her family for all evil they have done to her. Moreover, she is able to grasp hold of her future and steer the course of her destiny. There are many Cinderella’s in today’s society. Women who are downtrodden but yet they find ways to pick themselves up and to achieve their various dreams and aspirations. In these fairy tales, beauty is often seen as the path to future happiness. The story of Cinderella is no different. The word “Cinderella” has often been used to describe women who are struggling through various challenges, particularly abuse, and those women who seem to be downtrodden, in today’s society. There are some references to Cinderella’s cunning in the use of the magical tree at her mother’s grave. I would beg to differ in this regard. Cunning implies some malice, however, Cinderella is looking only for her own survival. As a human being, she must be credited with having her own dreams and desires. One of these desires should be the wish of freedom to decide one's own future. She succeeds in this through wisely looking at her options and using what is available to her at the time.
The story is told at a time of Cinderella’s late teens or, at least, early adulthood, and this is a great time for development for any person. The story shows all typical levels of development that normal girls go through – anxieties, including fear to please their parents – that all young people on the verge of their future, go through. She is seen as a character with a lot of patience as she endures all that her step-family throws at her. Her biological mother was dead and her father was largely absent from her life, although he does appear sometimes.
At the end of the story, Cinderella emerges as the victor. She is triumphant in more than one way. First and foremost, she has won her prince, and secondly, she has done it with humility and graciousness. She is dressed in her usual shabby attire when the prince finds her, but her beauty shines through.
One of the themes of this story is the comparison of inner and outer beauty and Cinderella encompass both. We were told that her step sisters also possessed with physical beauty but their inner ugliness canceled it out. Cinderella, on the other hand, is unattractive at first sight, as she is made to sleep in the ashes, and she cleans and scrubs all day long and is dressed in rags. Her two step sisters, for all their finery, become ugly because of their behavior. This tale should teach us that inner beauty is what values the most because you can have a beautiful physical appearance but an ugly inner life will make one ugly through and through. Cinderella has managed to overcome all this.
Often, and especially when we are children, we read this tale as a damsel in distress kind of tale and yet it is more than that. Grimm’s rendition of this tale is somewhat harsher than Walt Disney’s version. We see the step sisters doing all possible in order to make their big feet fit into the small slipper. At the end of the story, birds peck out the eyes of these girls at Cinderella’s wedding. Walt Disney’s version is more romantic. We see Cinderella flying in the clouds. She is very excited about the prince’s ball even though she knows she will not be invited. Her sisters made fun of her when she asked them whether she can go. She helped them to prepare for the ball with her head in a daze. Eventually, she decided to attend the ball through her own efforts and with the help of a great deal external factors. Although magic and other external factors played a great role in her getting to the ball, it is very clear and it is primarily her own initiative to made her to get what she really wanted.
We often see fairy tales as happy ever after tales, where there is usually a damsel in distress who gets rescued. We see this is in some other stories such as “Sleeping Beauty”, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and several others. In all these stories, however, the rescued females show personal strength of character and a determination in mapping out their own future. Snow White was quite firm with the dwarfs. Another hero Rapunzel was also shown as quite a strong character. Therefore, female characters in these fairy tales are shown as multifaceted characters with their own strengths and foibles.
To conclude, although Grimm’s version of Cinderella has some marked differences with Walt Disney’s, there are also many similarities. Some of the differences are in a reflection of the different times that they were written in. When the Brothers Grimm wrote Cinderella in the early 19th century, the times were different from when Walt Disney produced his version in the 20th Century. The Brothers Grimm were writing from a more realistic background and some of the images were quite crude – such as the step sisters doing all possible to fit into the small slipper. The Walt Disney story was portrayed from a more romantic perspective – more like looking at the world with rose tinted glasses. A modern re-telling of Cinderella from our own time would once again produce a different perspective. As society develops, and as different trends take root in society, so perspective changes are to be expected. We all enjoyed these stories in our childhood and youth, and can still enjoy them in our adulthood because they take us back to simpler times. Although, fairy tales are written for children they are the reflection of society. This was a true story in the 18th and 19th century and it is still true today. Cinderella is a classic tale for more than one reason. It has become so much a part of our psyche that the word Cinderella has now acquired a meaning of its own. We all talk of so-and-so being someone’s Cinderella. Looking at these tales, we can trace the relationships between the sexes and this is true of most literature today. This story is remarkable for the strength of the female characters and the absence of the male characters, even as family members. This should give us issue for thoughts. Society is made up of two sexes and both should play active and equal role in the development of society.