Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thoughts on Cinderella: Beauty and Class


The tale of Cinderella is often looked down on for being shallow and materialistic; Cinderella is only beautiful when she's in  a dress, and the prince only likes her because she's beautiful.

But I think we have to remember how significant the class difference was between Cinderella and the Prince, and how truly big of a deal that union would have been hundreds of years ago. Even today there are some circles where it's really important if you come from money; but those class distinctions and judgments have grown much less significant. Especially here in America, where we tend to respect people more if they came from nothing and worked really hard to get where they are.

But the lines between royalty and servants were so untouchable we lose sight of the sacrifice the Prince made in being willing to marry Cinderella, a servant, even though she was found in her rags. It wasn't just her physical appearance, it was her station in life. The Prince instructed the shoe was to be tried on everyone, not just nobles and royals. It's interesting to compare Cinderella to the Villeneuve version of "Beauty and the Beast"-the whole thing is almost a parody of the class system, because she shows people judge others who aren't "good enough for them" (the Beast's/Prince's mother does not approve of Beauty, a commoner), then we find all the expectations of classes being turned upside down-in beauty verses ugliness, wealth verses poverty, royalty verses peasant, even fairy verses human.


In fact, I would argue that physical appearance is now one of the things we tend to judge other people by the most. It's almost our new version of ranking by class. I like to think that a modern version of Cinderella in the same spirit would be something like: a guy and a girl meet at a party, and he finds her very attractive and never forgets her. Years later he finds her, but now she has gained a lot of weight or in some other way become not as beautiful by cultural standards-yet he knows she is the same person from that party and because he fell in love with that girl he wants her no matter what. It can be read as a love that transcends cultural rules rather than falls into them, we've just morphed our rules a bit. Love at first sight in French Salon Fairy Tales is not the complete solution, but it was a step towards solving the problem of marriages that were arranged only for social status, regardless of the feelings of the people who would actually have to enter into that marriage and have their lives forever changed.
Illustrations by Walter Crane

6 comments:

  1. Interesting. Cinderella has never been my favorite fairy-tale, but this post has made me reconsider a few things. Also, you r idea about a modern Cinderella is very distracting; I can't stop thinking about what a great retelling that would make! : )

    I've been following your blog for a little while now (maybe three months), but for some reason have always felt shy about commenting. Anyway, I love your blog. Thank you for running this!

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    1. Glad you liked the post! I get why some people might not like Cinderella as much as other fairy tales, but I feel like the more I learn about its history and other versions of the story, the more I love it!

      And thanks for commenting! I'm the same way, I tend to read other blogs but I get nervous about commenting. But kind words like yours really make my day!

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  2. I fell in love with Cinderella when I read her history, how she really was before Disney and Charles Perrault made her passive and delicate; older versions made her cunning, clever, self-determined and self-motivated. She had her mother's ghost as her aid and helper, not a fairy godmother. Her whole goal was to escape from her abusive family, even her father, who would enable his new wife's cruelty and so Cindy would turn to her mother's grave.

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    1. Cinderella's trajectory really has changed over time. Even so I think there is still some value in even the Disney/Perrault versions-there are times to encourage people to step out bravely and change their situations, and times where it's better to just make the best of a bad situation. When you look at the group of Cinderella tales as a whole you see that they really cover a host of ways that you can deal with pain, which is good because there are an infinite number of situations out there and people with different experiences and personalities dealing with those hurts, and there's no one magical solution. But, I definitely enjoy a good courageous and feminist Cinderella too!

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  3. Just found this blog and am really digging the analysis of the fairy tales. I love the depth and cultural meaning present in these tales and very nice to hear your thoughts on them as well. The modern retelling seems like it would be excellent.

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    1. Glad you enjoy! Thanks for stopping by!

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