Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Deeper Look at Cinderella

Cinderella, or the little glass slipper by Charles Perrault
& Aschenputtel by the Brothers Grimm

*I read these classic fairy tales in the Classics of Children’s Literature (6th Edition) by John W. Griffith and Charles H. Frey. Published by Pearson in Upper Saddle River, NJ in 2005.

Perrault’s version: Cinderella’s mother is not given much thought but her father takes a second wife and soon Cinderella falls victim to the nasty behavior of a stepmother and two stepsisters. They take her belongings and leave her with nothing but the cinders near the chimney. The King holds a ball and while she is forbidden to go, Cinderella must help her stepsister get ready for the grand event. Cinderella is incredibly kind to her stepsisters despite their mocking and teasing. Once, the stepsisters have left for the ball, Cinderella begins to cry but soon after her fairy godmother appears and turns ordinary objects and creatures into a grand coach and horses and provides her with a beautiful gown, so that she may go to the ball. Cinderella is the most beautiful lady at the ball and wins the attention of the Prince but she must rush off before midnight. Similar events take place on the second night of the ball, only Cinderella leaves behind one glass slipper. The Prince sets out to find the lady whose feet fit into this elegant glass slipper. The two stepsisters try and fail and everyone is quite shocked when Cinderella fits the slipper. She marries the Prince and forgives her stepsisters for their unkind behavior.

Reaction: Perrault focuses heavily on the fashion and external beauty in his version. Cinderella seems to overcome her had life because she is made beautiful not necessarily from her good nature. I prefer the Grimms’ version.

The Grimms’ version: Aschenputtel’s mother dies and Aschenputtel is heartbroken but does her best to be pious and good so that her mother and God will always be watching over her. Her father remarries shortly after the death and the stepmother and two stepsisters are relentlessly evil, abusive, and nasty to Aschenputtel…the father fails to notice any of the ill behavior. The father goes to a fair and brings back requested items for his daughters. The stepsisters wanted fine clothes and jewels and Aschenputtel requested the first twig that struck her father’s hat. The hazel twig the father brings for Aschenputtel is planted at her mother’s grave and as she weeps for her mother, the twig grows into a magical tree that produces wish-granting birds. Aschenputtel calls on the birds’ help when her evil stepmother and stepsisters throw lentils into the fire so that Aschenputtel will not have time to go to the ball. However, she does complete the task and has time to go but her stepmother lies and forbids her to go. The birds bring Aschenputtel a beautiful dress of gold and silver and she attends the ball for three nights…each time escaping at midnight and hiding from the Prince to keep her identity hidden. The father cuts down Aschenputtel’s hiding places in an attempt to find the girl the Prince seeks but she always manages to flee and the father cannot believe his dirty daughter would be the one. On the third night, the Prince leaves pitch on the steps and one her golden shoes is left behind. The Prince seeks to marry the lady whose foot fits in the shoe, so the evil stepsisters cut their foot to cram it inside. The birds give away their dishonesty and eventually Ashenputtel tries on the gold shoe and produces the matching shoe and marries the Prince. The evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out at Aschenputtel’s wedding as a punishment for the ill behavior.

Reaction: While some might say that this version is too harsh or graphic for children, I believe otherwise. Children are very well aware of the injustices and cruel nature of the world and the Brothers Grimm should be admired for not sugar coating life in their tales. The stepsisters were relentlessly cruel and there are consequences for committing evil behavior. I am also appalled that the father did not stick up for his daughter but I do think this is an accurate depiction of how life was lived in the time the tale was written.

In addition to my reaction, I will share my written response to my History of Children’s Literature Professor’s discussion question: As thematic motifs, do you think “recognizing the loved one” and/or “going down to get up” function in a different way in Grimms' than in Perrault’s tale?

Fairy tales typically highlight major themes or motifs as a means of emulating familiar rites of personal development. Perrault’s Cinderella and the Brothers Grimms’ Aschenputtel are no different—motifs are in great abundance in both versions of this classic tale.

The “recognizing the loved one” motif is more easily identified in the Brothers Grimms’ Aschenputtel. It seems logical that the loved one would be Aschenputtel but she receives no love or care from her living “family” members. Instead, Aschenputtel’s deceased mother plays the role of the loved one. Aschenputtel “went every day to her mother’s grave and wept” (p. 56). Her mother was not only caring, good but also religious. The Brothers Grimms’, like many other classical children’s authors sought to teach children and adult about personal development and this religious aspect sends a message that God looks after those who are good.

Aschenputtel’s love for her deceased mother and obedience in keeping her promise to be “pious and good” (p. 56) was rewarded with the magic of the hazel twig. The hazel twig not only brings a fantastical element to the tale but also provides an object or symbol for the mother to be recognized. Aschenputtel’s fallen tears for her mother causes the twig to blossom into a magical tree that produces wish granting birds. More specifically, doves, which have religious significance to further hone in on that message of being “pious”. In Perrault’s version, religion is not intertwined in the function of this motif.

“Going down to get up” is without a doubt my favorite of the fairy tale motifs. As much as I enjoy Disney movies, their versions of classic fairy tales give an impression that success is granted through beauty and love. Perrault and the Brothers Grimms clearly establish the theme that one must first struggle before achieving success. This message/motif not only more accurately reflects the rites of personal development but also emphasizes a pattern of resiliency, which many children can connect with or at least be empathic to. For example, in Perrault’s version, Cinderella sleeps in the “garret” (p. 17) on top of all her other duties and chores. According to The Free Dictionary [Online], a garret is a cramped, possibly unfinished attic with a pitched roof. Clearly, this is a poor location for a girl to sleep and a symbol of Cinderella’s lowly position in her family. “Going down” is again emphasized, as she must help her stepsisters prepare for the ball she cannot attend. However, because Cinderella stayed true to her “rare goodness and sweetness of temper” (p.17) throughout the downs, she was able to go “up” with the help of her fairy godmother. The Brothers Grimms’ version reiterates the same functionality of the “going down to get up” motif as Perrault. Case in point, Aschenputtel is held “down” by her grief, the relentless demands and abuse from her stepmother and stepsisters, and the cluelessness of her father before she is able to “get up” and win the love of the Prince.

*Picture citation:  https://www.google.com/search?q=cinderella+charles+perrault&client=firefox-a&hs=Vwp&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=ppKbUcX_BsmgqwGJl4BY&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAQ&biw=1366&bih=638#imgrc=djCz7HRIESahsM%3A%3BvqzHzijgdDIksM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fcdn2.bigcommerce.com%252Fserver1600%252F5bcaa%252Fproducts%252F149065%252Fimages%252F127206%252F800036__75505.1339063479.1280.1280.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.moesbooks.com%252Fan-illustration-from-charles-perraults-ceudrillon-cinderella-by-gustave-dore-charles-perrault-gustave-dore-mb-800036%252F%3B362%3B460

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