Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cinderella and forgiveness

The cruel stepsisters that torment Cinderella are an essential element to the tale, but the way Cinderella reacts to them will vary greatly in different variations of the story (read more about the history of Cinderella variants in Cinderella before Perrault).

In some versions, such as Perrault's and many modern children's stories, Cinderella is quick to forgive her sisters. But in others, Maria Tatar points out that the stepsisters are treated even more violently than having their eyes pecked out by doves as in the Grimms' tale.

"An Indonesian Cinderella forces her stepsister into a cauldron of boiling water, then has the body cut up, pickled, and sent to the girl's mother as 'salt meat' for her next meal. A Filipino variant shows the stepmother and her daughters 'pulled to pieces by wild horses.' And a Japanese stepsister is dragged around in a basket, tumbles over the edge of a deep ditch, and falls to her death"-Maria Tatar, The Classic Fairy Tales

Tatar cites Jane Yolen, who claims that even though Cinderella's reactions vary from culture to culture, and even within the same culture, the happy ending has become increasingly less violent-"the shrewd, resourceful heroine of folktales from ealier centuries has been supplanted by a 'passive princess' waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her."

This is true overall, but if Tatar or Yolen is implying that forgiveness is equal to passivity, and that "shrewd, resourceful heroines" prove their worth through vindictive revenge tactics, I would have to disagree. It is secretly pretty satisfying to see the evil characters get what we feel they deserve, but it is much more difficult to forgive someone who has wronged you. Fairy tales may have an oversimplified view of forgiveness due to their short length and direct style, but true forgiveness is not like in a  recent American children's book version Tatar quotes where Cinderella naively says, "I'm sure you will never be mean to me again." You can forgive someone while trust is still broken, but I think forgiveness means you are willing to try to build trust again.

*Heidi Anne Heiner, or Surlalune's, Cinderella Tales from Around the World is available on Amazon now! I have several books from her series on my Amazon wish list and hopefully I'll be getting lots of new blogging materials for Christmas!

Illustrations by Jennie Harbour


  1. Great insights. I think also you can forgive without ever intending to rebuild anything. It's a matter of letting go of the resentment inside, and can be completely independent of what happens in the outer world.

    Just a thought.


  2. Great post. What always strikes me in Cinderella (speaking particularly of the Grimm version) is the agency of nature and animals. The natural world that surrounds Cinderella-and this seems to be true of many fairy tales- is watchful. It's quick to empathize and to deliver punishment on those intending harm on the innocent. Maybe Cinderella's forgiveness in other version is harking back on her innocent nature. In any case, it gives us a very clear idea that forgiveness can be more powerful than cruelty.

  3. This hales back to your post about strong heroines. What is harder: to take satisfying revenge on those who have wronged you, or to be the bigger person and to forgive them?

    I love Ms. orazi's insight that nature seems to be the revenge-taker in the Grimm version. I think this is very powerful and very true of real life. A priest once said, "God is always forgiving. Man is sometimes forgiving. Nature is never forgiving." There seems to be an idea in the Grimm tale that matches this priest's sentiment and makes a strong case for "natural consequences."

  4. I believe I read a version of Cinderella where she not only graciously forgives her stepsisters ( most likely stepmom too), but she also invites them to live with her in the palace!