Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Ever Changing Cinderella

The first “Cinderella story” that I had been told came from my mother. It was a big fat lie, at least in the eye of my preschool-aged self who found a great many differences in the story I had been told and the “real” story that everyone else had known. For one thing, my Cinderella was a doctor. She never married the prince, never sought help from a fairy godmother, nor did she ever seek out wealth through romance. In contrast, Disney’s Cinderella (the one everyone but I was familiar with) kept kindness and beauty close to her heart. She was graceful and seemed to have the magical ability to talk to animals. Everyone loved her, except for her evil stepmother and stepsisters who were simply jealous of her lack of personality. Looking back, I should have found my mother’s retelling of Cinderella much more appealing. The girl saved her village from an infectious disease by building a hospital and becoming a doctor; she single-handedly convinced the prince to give funding to the hospital by winning her over with her charms, wit, and intelligence. She stood out from the other girls because she was more than a pretty face. In contrast, the Disney’s Cinderella seeks romance and a night of fun at most, and her prince falls in love with her beauty, completely disregarding everything else about her. But the classic Cinderella story has evolved over time, reflecting our society’s view of women. In the third grade, Disney’s shallow, objectified, helpless, and simply-a-princess-out-of-sheer-luck Cinderella redeemed herself in the book, Ella Enchanted. She kept all the magical elements of the original story and all of the more historical “kingdom” elements. However, compared to the Perrault version, published in 1697, and the Brothers’ Grimm version, there is a drastic change in the expectations and values in women. Ella in Ella Enchanted may have a fairy godmother and an evil stepmother but she wins over the prince with her sense of wit, humor, and bravery in addition to her natural beauty. Her main focus in this story is not to marry the prince, but to gain her independence. She refuses his marriage proposal by saying, “No, I won't marry you. I won't do it. No one can force me.” (Levine) as an act of disobedience. At the same time, Ella is not untouched by the traditional gender roles imposed upon her. When the prince chooses to dance with her out of all the other ladies at the ball, she feels honored. Although she seeks her own freedom, her desire for marriage, romance, and status is undeniable, as shown by this passage, “‘would you favor me with a dance?’ Over all the others I was his choice! I curtsied, and he took my hand. Our hands knew each other. Char looked at me, startled. ‘Have we met before, Lady?’” (Levine) As society itself changes the perception of women and their values, the classic story of Cinderella is retold to reflect those changes. The more modern retellings add wit, humor, and intelligence to the list of characteristics that Cinderella is known for rather than sticking to the original “kindness of heart” and beauty only. 

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