Cinderella and the Universe

08Feb10

Cinderella Tales from Around the World at Amazon.com

I don’t know who said (approximately) that if you understand a flower, you understand the universe–it could have been Antoine de St. Exupery in The Little Prince, or Lao Tsu, or Giordano Bruno. But understanding Cinderella must also mean understanding an awful lot about yourself, or human psychology, sociology and cultural anthropology.

Yesterday I asked why the “deeper meanings” Schilling spoke of had to be hidden in fairy tales, and really in all good literature. I won’t answer that today, but a lot of people have talked about it, and I want to have my go at it in the future. But looking at a bit of what’s hidden in Cinderella might help.

In many versions of the Cinderella tale, the fate of Cinderella’s step-family is left vague. The story ends with Cinderella leaving to marry, and what happens to the step-mother and sisters is unimportant. Perrault’s version of the tale has Cinderella forgiving her sisters, and leaves them to marry lords in her court. The step-mother is not mentioned, nor is Cinderella’s father. In the German tale recorded by the Brother’s Grimm the step-sisters cut off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper, and are eventually blinded by the birds when they come to church for the wedding of Cinderella and the prince. The step-mother, as in the Perrault story, was not mentioned after Cinderella and the prince met.

Why is the step-mother not punished, though? Could it be the feeling that her treatment of Cinderella was warranted? Or was she too close to the real mother to punish?

But this is a subversive story. The unwanted little girl becomes a princess and her mean sisters are punished. You can categorize it as a sibling rivalry story as an adult, but the child just delights in it, because her motives are there disguised enough so as not to threaten, but open to unconscious recognition.

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One Response to “Cinderella and the Universe”

  1. 1 Karen

    I’ve noticed in a lot of early fairy tales, the punished (step) mother is often not human but an ogre, so it is “ok” to punish her–this most often happens in tales like Sleeping Beauty, when it is the prince’s mother who turns out to be evil. I think there is something about proximity–sibling rivalry is ok, necessary even, but as a 5 year old (and a 24 year old) the idea of punishing mother, even when she’s been unkind, is distinctly uncomfortable.


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