Modern advances in psychology allow us to take a fresh look at fairy tales known to everyone from childhood, finding new meanings and interpretations that differ from the usual ones. The moral of the story is much more contradictory, complex, and ambiguous than the usual interpretation. In the article “Cinderella: Not So Morally Higher,” Elizabeth Panttaya successfully offers a modern perspective and disassembly of the Cinderella tale, emphasizing the influence of the mother’s character on the plot and other characters, as well as her unusual resemblance to her stepmother, and for the most part I am ready to agree with the author, preserving the usual tale interpretation for its direct mission of teaching children goodwill and kindness.
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The article expresses unpopular opinions about the Cinderella tale. Firstly, the main strength of this fairy tale lies not in the long-suffering story of Cinderella herself but in the person of the deceased mother incarnated through nature (Panttaja 509). Secondly, Cinderella’s mother has much in common with the stepmother’s character: she also wants a bright future for her daughter and uses various tricks to achieve this goal (Panttaja 509). Contrary to the usual moral of the story, which asserts that the Cinderella family is much more morally exalted than the family of the stepmother and sisters, the author puts forward the opposite hypothesis (Panttaja 510). Finally, the article claims no romantic relationship between Cinderella and the prince (Panttaja 510). Below is a critical analysis of these statements.
The author successfully tries to convince the reader that the positive characters of the Cinderella fairy tale have opposing sides. The structure and construction of the essay are designed in the style of increasing contrast: the author gradually moves from describing the main driving force of the tale to the most powerful arguments, in particular, about gouging out the eyes of pigeons for the stepmother’s daughters (Panttaja 509). Moving from more to less, the reader has the opportunity to fully rebuild from the ground up an opinion about the character of Cinderella’s mother. The author’s narrative language is highly accessible; given that we are talking about a fairy tale, this article is not an in-depth literary review full of scientific terms from linguistics. In this regard, the author tries to use rhetorical methods of persuasion, balancing logos and pathos. Paphos is used for new appreciation, redefining the characters of the goodies through the new prism that Panttaja opens; logos are used to support her points of view, which are logically connected with examples from a fairy tale or with the help of psychoanalysts. Finally, to displace the popular point of view, Panttaja uses selective citation to support its thesis. Since the author works within the framework of one fairy tale, the number of examples is minimal, but for each view, Panttaja gives at least a phrase from the original text that supports her opinion. In general, the structure and content of the essay dramatically contribute to the strength of the author’s persuasion.
Similarities between Mother and Stepmother
The author finds a very unobvious but extremely remarkable parallel between the characters of the mother and stepmother, who in the usual reading are considered the protagonist and antagonist, respectively. It turns out that these two characters pursue the same goals and have a similar nature, which is highly unusual for the classic confrontation between heroes and antiheroes on which the author focuses. The apparent difference between mother and stepmother is that Cinderella’s mother influences the plot with the help of magic; thereby, her character is connected with divine powers (Panttaja 510). The author immediately indicates the boundaries of her point of view, citing the difference between the characters. Panttaja continues to use this technique to avoid objections to her point of view: for example, she still considers the mother-led character of Cinderella to be conscientious and benevolent (Panttaja 510). Panttaja, in its convictions, is far from the original language of the tale, which is more sublime. Thus, the author achieves a better conveyance of her theses to a more significant number of readers; however, because of this, she can substitute concepts in her interests: to neutralize the romance of the love of the prince and Cinderella through the argument of a calculating marriage (Panttaja 510). Finally, it is also worth noting the organization of this particular thesis: the author achieves her goals, forcing the reader to at least think about the possibility of the similarity of these opposite characters in the plot, leaving space for the final decision for the reader.
Although the structure and content of the essay achieve their goals, forcing us to rethink the moral of the Cinderella tale, I cannot entirely agree with some points of view. Compared to her mother, Cinderella does not have the proper influence on the plot but remains an example of virtue and humility. Although the author pointed out that the character of Cinderella is worthy of imitation, her role in the whole fairy tale and the morality of the work is unrivaled, more significant than that of her mother. In the end, the plot moves primarily through the actions of Cinderella, who follows the advice of her late mother, and yet the main character is free not to follow them and do her own thing. In addition, Panttaja uses psychoanalysis to reevaluate feelings but does not specify aspects of its application. The author gives her point of view, supported by emotions and logic, which resonates with the readers, but there is no scientific basis. Consequently, one can quickly agree with the author’s points of view due to the incredible power of persuasion, but with detailed analysis, the theses seem contradictory.
I partly disagree with the author’s point of view, which states the fundamental similarity between mother and stepmother. Comparing the constant derogatory attitude of stepmothers and sisters, behind which there is only narcissism, which does not cross physical boundaries in its influence, magic in the mother’s person has much more power, revenge, and cold calculation. The instructive side of the moral of the tale suffers from this since, as a result, the wrong conclusions can be drawn from the ending of the story. It seems that this tale is about two rival mothers, one of whom can only manifest her character through the forces of nature but also stops at nothing and goes too far. The mother’s strength begins to manifest only after the vicissitudes of fate concerning Cinderella and attacks from the stepmother’s family as a defense mechanism. As the level of outright humiliation increases, so does the mother’s magic. In my opinion, this demonstrates a strong bond built on the love of mother and daughter. Cinderella is honored with it since she accepts all the gifts without pride and expectation, maintaining her conscientiousness until the very end, and she accepts victory without gloating. The instructive side of the tale remains valid even in the interpretation of the author’s article.
In her work, Pantajja cites the unusual moral of the Cinderella fairy tale, constructing her work convincingly enough and supporting it with examples, but in the end, most of her points of view turn out to be contradictory. Nevertheless, this fact does not detract from the author’s dignity in the possibility of building a structure and filling a convincing article. The work shows that the opposite sides can be driven by common goals, and the nature of the driving forces is often ambiguous. Even in such an ambiguous reading, the fairy tale can still teach a child the correct and respectful attitude towards others and show a strong bond of parental love, which the author of the article says, finishing her work on a positive note.
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Panttaja, Elisabeth. “Cinderella: Not So Morally Superior.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum, edited by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen, Longman, 1996, pp. 508-511.