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Phenomenon of Cinderella Tales

Cinderella is one of the most popular characters in the history of the world’s fairy tales. This character could be modified in some ways by certain national cultures and in other ways by other cultures but the very essence of the story about Cinderella has always remained unchanged. It depicted the life of a young girl. This life was full of misfortunes, sufferings, and hardships at the beginning but then turned into a happy living together with her beloved Prince. On the way to her happiness, Cinderella had to overcome the evil deeds of her stepmother and stepsisters and live long years under their constant oppression. Her father was a weak personality who could not defend her, so her only relief was her mother who had died long ago. She helped Cinderella through magic to become a pretty lady and meet the Prince at the King’s ball (Dier, 2008).

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However, the similar plot lines of the tales about Cinderella from Russia, Germany, France, Georgia, and other countries display differences in minor details (eThemes, 2008). This paper will focus on the analysis of the similarities and differences between various tales about Cinderella and on the understanding of the reasons for those changes in the past and present.

To start with, it is necessary to consider the similarities between the Cinderella fairy tales from various cultures. The major similarity between them is the central character who can be named differently but still display the same features and experience the same hardships during her life (Dier, 2008). It is a young girl called either Cinderella or Cinder Made, Cinderwench, Katie Woodencloak, Trembling, or some other names, who lives with her father and a stepmother after the death of her mother (eThemes, 2008). Her sister of sisters are selfish and proud which makes them tyrants who do not let Cinderella walk out of the house and leave all the work about the house for her. This character is central in all the stories about Cinderella worldwide as far as the issues of the unfairness of life have always troubled mankind irrespective of race or religion. Thus, the major similarity of all stories and fairy tales concentrating on Cinderella is the focus on the character of a poor girl who then becomes happy while her oppressors are defeated.

The next similar feature of the fairy tales of this kind is the presence of the image of death that exists in these tales indirectly but rather obviously. They all start with the death of Cinderella’s mother which makes her father marry once again. And it is the stepmother that tortures Cinderella since then on: “Once on a time, there was a king who had become a widower.” (Ashliman, 2005, Norway). This similarity is rather depressing but it still comprises a substantial part of the plot of all stories. This situation provides the development for the very plot as far as stepmother’s appearance and all Cinderella’s misfortunes came after her father married for the second time.

Consequently, the image of an evil stepmother is another similarity of all the Cinderella fairy tales, while in some of them it is accompanied by the evil father or both parents oppressing one of their daughters whom they love less: “…but the ugly one was the favorite with her father and mother. So they ill-used the youngest in every way…” (Ashliman, 2005, Scotland).

Nevertheless, positive images that help Cinderella are also the common feature of all Cinderella stories. Even though they differ from tale to tale, it is obvious that their role in the story is the same – they are to support Cinderella and assist her in looking for her dream of love (eThemes, 2008). In the European Cinderella tales, these positive images are usually reflected either by godmother’s character or by the spirit of Cinderella’s dead mother, while Norwegian, Scottish, and Irish tales use the images of bulls, birds, and other animals: “Well, amongst the cattle was a red calf…” (Ashliman, 2005, Scotland); “Now in the herd there was a great dun bull, which always kept himself so neat and sleek, and often and often he came up to the princess, and let her pat him.” (Ashliman, 2005, Norway); “The pigeons flew in again, and said, “Cinderella, do you want us to help you sort the seeds?” (Ashliman, 2005, Germany) The Chinese version of Cinderella uses the image of a magic fish in this role, but in all cases, these images serve the purposes of making a balance between the good and the evil in the tale.

Nevertheless, the differences are also observed in the fairy tales about Cinderella (eThemes, 2008). They play minor roles but are also important for the understanding of the cultural peculiarities of the nations that created these tales. Thus, the main part of the differences concerns the characters of the tales that either helped or oppressed the main characters as well as the setting of the conflict, IN other words, the life of Cinderella can develop in the house of a poor man, or a royal family. But still, her problems remain the same – her relatives or parents torture her and she is on her way to happiness. Another group of differences in the Cinderella tales is the way of her going to the ball. It is carried out either with the help of magic birds, or a magic tree, or a fairy godmother of the main character or in some other ways.

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Thus, for example, in the German variant of Cinderella, her father is a good person who although can not defend her from the evil stepmother and sisters. The conflict is thus not only between Cinderella and her relatives but between her father’s desire to help her and his inability to do this while “no one took pity on her” (Ashliman, 2005, Europe). At the same time, the French Cinderella can find at least some relief in the pity of her younger step-sister who is not so selfish as her mother or sister: “Only the younger sister, who was not as rude and uncivil as the older one, called her Cinderella.” (Ashliman, 2005, France)

The same can be said about the social position of Cinderella’s family. In some of the tales, namely in Ireland, Norway, etc., Cinderella is a royal daughter and her misfortunes are results of her father second marriage or rudeness of her sisters: “King Aedh Cúrucha lived in Tir Conal, and he had three daughters, whose names were Fair, Brown, and Trembling.” (Ashliman, 2005, Ireland). In other tales, however, Cinderella is a daughter of an ordinary man or a poor peasant who has to work hard to care for his family: “There was and there was not, there was a miserable peasant.” (Ashliman, 2005, Georgia).

Further on, the positive images also differ in the stories about Cinderella. Thus, in the European version of the tale a hazel tree with a little bird helped Cinderella get to the King’s ball, while in French Cinderella, the godmother of the main character is the positive image that assists Cinderella in her pursuit of happiness. The images that helped Cinderella could also be pigeons, bulls, red calves, or other creatures (Tatar, 1999). Their choice in this or that culture depended upon its traditions and beliefs. Thus, in France, the movement of the Enlightenment promoted the dominant role of the human being in society which was reflected in the character of the godmother. At the same time, in Norway, Scotland, or Ireland, appreciation of animals and their role in people’s life was great which found its reflection in tales (Tatar, 1999).

Thus, it is obvious that Cinderella tales have some similarities and differences under the cultures they were created in. The modern modifications of the Cinderella story are also close to their past equivalents but are adjusted to the modern settings and conditions. For example, Disney’s Cinderella Story is a classical fairy tale about Cinderella with the features of a Hollywood love story and a happy end (Dier, 2008). At the same time, the 2005 movie Year of the Fish, is a modern version of the Chinese Cinderella who came to the US looking for a better life and had to go through some hardships to finally find it (Familiar tale, cool fish, 2008). All the variants of Cinderella tales considered in this paper have their similar and different points and are the reflection of the development of the human culture in different countries. Cinderella tales are an important phenomenon in the world’s culture and they should be studied further.

Works Cited

  1. Ashliman, D. L. Cinderella. 2005. University of Pittsburgh. Web.
  2. Dier, Christopher. Cinderella: A Quest for the true Cinderella.  2008.
  3. eThemes. Literature: Cinderella Stories. Emints National Center. 2008.
  4. Academic Search Premier. Dominican University Rebecca Crown Library, River Forest, IL 2008.
  5. “Familiar tale, cool fish” The Seattle Times. 9 (2008). Academic Search Premier. Dominican University Rebecca Crown Library, River Forest, IL.
  6. Tatar, Maria. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

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