In Search of Cinderella
Cinderella is the world's most popular story. There are, literally, hundreds of variants of this folktale, These versions span from ninth century China to contemporary America.
A search for the "real" Cinderella might begin with the best known version, Charles Perrault's "Cinderella la or the Little Glass Slipper. " Perrault's effort found favor with the court of French King Louis XIV as did his other works, including "Blue Beard, ""Puss and Boots, ""Red Riding Hood," and "Sleeping Beauty." Perrault's version has become indelibly imprinted upon our minds as the "real" Cinderella since the release of Wait Disney's 1950 movie, "Cinderella or the Little Glass Slipper." These renditions are not folktales, but rather literary creations based loosely upon collections of folktales.
The German variant "Assenputtel" collected by the Grimms' brothers is more representative of the folktale as found in Central and Western Europe.in this version, the stepmother and stepsisters mistreat Assenputtel, the Ash Girl. she plants a twig on her mother's grave. The twig grows into a tree from which the heroine requests and receives gifts, including gold slippers. She attends a festival; the prince coats the stairs with pitch; Assenputtel's shoe adheres one sister cuts off her toe so her foot will fit into the shoe. The other sister cuts off her heel so her foot will fit into the shoe. perfectly into the shoe. She marries the prince. sisters. Assenputtel's foot fits Pigeons blind the evil sisters.
There are earlier and varied versions of the tale in Eastern Europe and Asia. Cinderella-like tales are cited in over 2000 sources. The Aarne and Thompson Type 510 A (folktale classification system) includes the five motifs in which the heroine:
- Suffers Persecution
- Receives Magic Help
- Meets a Prince
- Provides Proof of Her Identity
- Marries the Prince
Love could be the universal theme linking these tales from diverse cultures. Love appears in folklore as the mutual responsibility as reflected in traditionally arranged marriages and as romantic attraction. In almost every version, the heroine meets, marries, and lives happily with her "prince." variations, however, involve neither traditional nor romantic love. Often the parties barely know each other or the heroine substitutes as the bride only at the last moment. "Fiddler on the Roof" reflects the traditional love story, while "Romeo and Juliet" portrays romantic love.
It is said, "everyone roots for the underdog." Is not "Cinderella" a tale of the underdog overcoming insurmountable obstacles? In the vast majority of versions, the heroine improves her station in life, gaining respect comfort. In most versions, however, the heroine is passive and does not resemble the classic underdog who meets with success despite overwhelming adversity. "The Turtle and the Hare" or " David and Goliath" represent the tale of the classic underdog.
Does the evidence support a case for sibling rivalry? Older sisters vie for dominance and debase the youngest. There are variants, however, in which the antagonists were not siblings, and yet the story worked just as well. Sibling rivalry is more clearly represented by "Cain and Abel," "Jacob and Esau," and "Joseph and His Brothers."
The mother-child relationship may, however, be more important here than sibling rivalry. This tale is one of parent-child conflict, and great mother archetype of the collective unconscious rules. The great mother represents good and evil. The natural mother personifies goodness, while the step or surrogate mother embodies evil. The bad mother dominates, inflicts guilt, and inhibits the growth of the child's individuality. The good mother helps the child grow away from domination and degradation toward autonomy. This may explain the tale's appeal to the unconscious. "Electra" and "Oedipus Rex" are, however, the classic stories of parent-child conflict.
None of the explanations provided a compelling answer to "Cinderella's" popularity. I listed the five motifs of Type 510A tales plus the additional motif of "punishment of persecutors." I plugged in numerous variants from around the world. See the chart appended for examples. I found the answer. Of all the many facets of this story that appeal to readers, perhaps the most significant element deals with justice. The heroine is rewarded with a satisfying marriage and life. The persecutors are punished for their misdeeds. Good is rewarded; evil is punished. Justice! "Cinderella" is the ultimate tale of justice.
Aarne, Antti and Stith Thompson. The Types of the Folktale. Helsinki: Soomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1961.
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976.
Cox, Marian Roalfe. Cinderella, Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants of Cinderella, Catskins, and Cap O' Rushes, Abstracted and Tabulated, with a Discussion of Medieval Analogues, and Nites. London: Folk-lore Society by David Nutt, 1893.
MacDonald, Margaret Read. The Storytellers' Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children. Detroit: Gale/Neal-Schuman, 1982.
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother, An Analysis of the Archety-oe. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1963.
Rooth, Anna Eirgitta. The Cinderella Cycle. Lund, Sweden: Gleerup, 1951.
Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. Berkeley: U of California P, 1946. von Franz, Marie-Louise. Problems of the Feminine in Fairytales. New York: Spring P, 1972.
von Franz, Marie-Louise. Interpretation of Fairytales. Spring P, 1970. New York