Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cinderella: A Story of Transformation

Step #1: Cinderella is a maid

In almost all of the Cinderella-type fairy tales that we read, the Cinderella of each story transforms from a poor, lowly servant into a wealthy, beautiful princess, envied by her stepsisters and stepmother alike. This transformation is possible with the help of a fairy, animals, or some other magical helper who aids Cinderella in running away from her father’s incestuous desires, completing ruthless tasks demanded by her stepmother, or the like. In real life, our form of “magic” can be considered to be money. In these fairy tales, whatever the fairy helps Cinderella to do could easily be achieved by money in the real world. Paying for a taxi and a hotel could substitute the fairy magically bringing Cinderella’s trunk along with her as she runs away in Perrault’s “Donkeyskin”; the white doves pecking out the rotten lentils in the Grimm Brothers’ “Cinderella” could be replaced with a hired maid; the fairy that gives Cinderella advice on how to cunningly avoid marrying her father in Jacobs’ “Catskin” could be replaced by a therapist. In the ways that magic helps these Cinderellas of the tales, money can help people in real life. Of course, just because you have money and can pay for assistance, doesn’t necessarily make you happier or more fulfilled; it can still be a very superficial “fix”.

Step #2: Cinderella gets fairy godmother

In these tales, the end goal of the fairy’s help is Cinderella meeting the prince and getting married. In life, it is also possible to marry a rich spouse and have your financial needs met; however, if this is your sole reason for marrying him/her, a divorce is probably in your near future. Of course, none of the tales tell us what happens after the prince and Cinderella wed, except for the occasional consolatory sentence, “they lived happy ever afterwards” (“Catskin”). In reality, a marriage based on wealth isn’t likely to last long; however, in these stories, the weddings of the prince and Cinderella aren’t completely superficial—there is the element of their character. For example, in the Grimm Brothers’ “Cinderella”, the prince is willing to marry Cinderella even as he realizes that the woman he danced with is a maid. In Perrault’s “Donkeyskin”, Donkeyskin “watched him [the prince] with tenderness from a distance… ‘What a grand manner he has, even though he is dressed casually. How agreeable he is,’ she said to herself” (113). Many times there is mention of “love” and the inner character of the prince and Cinderella, which draws them to each other. Perhaps this is the part of their marriage that ensures that they live happily ever after. More so than in these fairy tales, however, marriage in real life needs love, commitment, and friendship to last.

Step #3: Cinderella is married and lives happily ever after

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