Cinderella --- German Fairy Tales (5)
December 2, 2017 11:20am CST
The story in a nutshell: A widower with a daughter marries again. The step-mother and the two daughters she has brought with her treat the girl like dirt and make her do the basest jobs in the household. She has to sleep by the hearth in the cinders. Because she’s always dirty, they call her Cinderella. The king organises a festival for his son during which he intends to find a bride. The two bad sisters get pretty clothes from their mother, but Cinderella is forbidden to go. She visits her mother’s grave and asks the tree growing there to send her a dress. A wonderful dress and shoes fall down and she goes to the king’s court. The prince falls for her at once and wants to know who she is. But she escapes. This happens another time but after the third night, he manages to get one of her shoes. He sets out to find the woman whose foot fits into the shoe. The bad sisters cut off parts of their big feet to trick the prince but in the end, he finds Cinderella, the rightful owner. They marry and live happily ever after. The roots of this story are very old, the first traces can be found in Ancient Egypt. It was also known in Rome, in China, in Persia to name but a few places. More than 500 variations of the fairy tale have been counted. The last words of Cinderella’s mother before her death are, “Dear child, be good and pious, and then the good God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you." She follows her mother’s words willingly and doesn’t utter any complaint even when she’s treated outrageously by her stepmother and her step-sisters. One can say that the more they torment and humiliate her, the stronger she becomes. She internalises her situation, she doesn’t rebel, she doesn’t admit to herself the emotional and material deprivation she experiences. At the core of the fairy tale is a woman who runs away from herself, who waives a dignified life in order to obey her dead mother. The so-called Cinderella complex defines a woman’s fear of independence and the unconscious wish to be taken care of by others. Only when the festival is announced has she reached the maturity and does she have the inner strength to rebel against her step-mother. First, she’s hesitant and hides from the prince but she gains more and more self-confidence and in the end passes the shoe-test without ado. The shoe is an old symbol of female sexuality (the foot glides smoothly into it). Her development is complete, she’s turned from a girl into a woman.
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The French version by Charles Perrault is more poetic. Cinderella goes to the ball with a pumpkin converted to a coach by a fairy, the coachman was a rat before becoming a coachman, the horses were mice, and the lackeys were lizards (lackeys had the reputation to be lazzy like lizards). And indeed, the coach, coachman, etc, would be again pumpkin, rat, etc if she was not back at midnight. It is the Perrault version that was used for the Disney Cinderella cartoon.
• Saco, Maine
Many so-called fairytales were only later adapted to be suitable for children, for many of the originals had dark plots and messages. In truth, there isn't much to be learned from the cleaned-up versions. Thanks for this information.
• Winston Salem, North Carolina
I remember first reading the story of Aschenputtel as a youngster and being a trifle startled by the differences from the Americanized Cinderella. In the version I was familiar with a fairy god-mother provided the gown, and the stepsisters didn't mutilate their feet in an attempt to pass the shoe test. Isn't it funny what we remember.....
• United States
I suppose Mr. Walt Disney was responsible for the fairy godmother who helped Cinderella get that dress and those glass slippers. The stepsisters cutting parts of their feet was a shocker to me. I wish Cinderella's father has stepped up and done a bit more for his daughter since he was alive and well, but that would have done away with Cinderella finding her becoming an independent woman, perhaps.
• United States
I never thought of the story that way, although since the first time I heard it I wondered why in the world Cinderella would put up with that treatment. I don't remember hearing the mother's last words except in the movie "Ever After", but I heard the story first from Grimm's Fairy Tales. My mom skipped over the part about cutting off foot parts (wise woman!) but I learned it when I was about 9, reading the old fairy tale book. I don't know whether Cinderella was strong to live like that or cowed by her mother's last words but it's a nice story. The danger is that many girls will think being compliant will be rewarding and they'll reach adulthood having learned to accept abuse as a regular part of life.
Cinderella is by far my favorite fairytales - and there are so many real life Cinderella type situations , and so many movies. I was captivated by "The Slipper and the Rose" starring Annette Crosbie and one of my favorite actors Richard chamberlain. This reminds me, I should find that movie and watch it again.