Cinderella: A comparison of multiple Cinderella Tales
The number of variants of the classic folk tale \”Cinderella\” is unknown but over 700 have been recorded, the earliest dating back to the ninth century. In China, during the ninth century, Tuan Ch\’ng-Shih recorded a story about a girl, her family, and a magical fish. Eight centuries later a French lawyer by the name of Charles Perrault recorded a story of Cinderella in which she rises from poverty to royalty with the help of a fairy godmother. And, from Africa originated one about a slave girl who, with the help of magical frogs, captures the heart of the chief\’s son. Although on the surface these stories discuss a girl who rises from the ashes and becomes a princess they are also largely about the manifestation of one of her parent\’s love, even after death.
In Perrault\’s version the father is characterized as a nobleman though his role in Cinderella\’s life is very limited. Her mother had died and the father had remarried. Perrault reinforces her father\’s neglect by saying that if Cinderella would have complained to her him \”[h]e would have scolded her, for he was entirely under his wife\’s thumb\” (Perrault 600). The African Cinderella\’s father had two wives. One, Cinderella\’s mother, he could not abide, while the other he adored. When Cinderella\’s mother died he put Cinderella in the hands of his remaining wife, who made Cinderella a slave. In the Chinese version Cinderella\’s father loved her very much but he died, thus, familiarly, leaving Cinderella in the hands of her cruel stepmother.
The role of Cinderella\’s stepmother and stepsister is mainly to belittle, control, and mistreat Cinderella, which they accomplish by giving her the roughest work, worst food, and no respect. The stepsister\’s fate varies among the three versions, and the stepmother\’s is only mentioned in the Chinese version. Perrault has Cinderella marry her stepsisters to two noblemen and everyone lives happily ever after. In the African variant the stepsister dies by the sword of the chief\’s son when he chops her into little pieces. Finally, in the Chinese one, both the stepmother and stepsister were killed by flying stones.
The godmother, the frog, the fish, and the man from heaven are all manifestations of Cinderella\’s deceased, loving parent. The fairy godmother, an angel-like being, appears when Cinderella starts crying, and asks her, \”What is the matter?\” (Consider a mother\’s reactions if she were to see her daughter crying.) She then gives Cinderella magnificent clothing and jewelry, a coach befitting a princess, and men to escort her. Similarly, the fish who only stuck his head out of the water for Cinderella and the man who solaced her when she cried are both manifestations of her loving father taking care of his daughter. Then there is the frog. Although the story implies that the frog behaved altruistically towards Cinderella out of gratefulness, I believe that it was a manifestation of her mother, especially because of the allegorical significance of swallowing and then vomiting her back up, a kind of rebirth.
Support for this parental visitation interpretation is furthered by the advice Cinderella receives from the parent\’s incarnation. \”[Cinderella\’s] godmother warned her above all not to stay out after midnight,\” and Cinderella promised she would not (Perrault 600). Innately, parents want to control their children\’s behaviors by making rules and regulations, for example, setting evening curfews. That rule is apparent in both Perrault\’s version and the African one. The frog, or mother, tells Cinderella to leave the dance when the dancers start dispersing. The Chinese Cinderella did not have that rule but the man from the sky, her father, nonetheless, told her where the fish bones were buried, what her stepmother had done to the fish, and what to do with the bones.
All three variants rely on a magical entity to assist Cinderella. In each version the embodiment of Cinderella\’s deceased parent is imbued with magical powers that are needed to save her from her plight. The man from the sky uses the fish bones from his previous existence, the frogs spew out beautiful gifts, and the fairy godmother creates regal accoutrements. We are led to believe that the magic emanates from the parent\’s undying love.
A variation of the Cinderella theme is often repeated in movies, such as: \”Wuthering Heights,\” \”Ghost,\” and \”Second Time Around.\” Usually, a dearly loved spouse dies, leaving the other alone to cope with the world, but at the same time benignly watching over them. Sooner or later the widowed spouse encounters a crisis that cannot be faced without the intervention of their guardian angel spouse, whose varied incarnations save the day. The comfort that comes from the belief in a love strong enough to transcend death might explain why this theme is universally popular in literature, cinema, and even religion.
Bettelheim, Bruno \”\’Cinderella\’: A Story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts\” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 7th edition. Ed. Behrens, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2000. 638-45
Ch\’ng-Shih, Tuan \”A Chinese \’Cinderella\’\” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 7th edition. Ed. Behrens, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2000. 621-25
Perrault, Charles \”Cinderella\” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 7th edition. Ed. Behrens, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2000. 598-602
Skinner, Neil \”The Maiden, the Frog, and the Chief\’s Son (An African \’Cinderella\’)\” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 7th edition. Ed. Behrens, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2000. 625-27