This past week our readings were focused on a series of Cinderella tales from various cultures. All these tales featured a “rags to riches” type theme and most an accompanying “don’t judge a book by its cover” moral. At their core most of these tales revolve around the struggles of a woman who is either driven away from home by a lustful father, or else is subjected to servitude and humiliation by her “evil” stepmother and jealous siblings. Eventually the heroine is freed from her servitude by a prince who, sometimes with a heroine’s helpful hints, finally sees through the “rags” of the heroine’s condition to her true inner beauty, normally with the aid of a conveniently fitting ring or shoe. The heroine of course marries the prince and they live happily ever after.
Despite a multitude of understated themes the tales offer to discuss (the dynamics of sibling rivalry, the heroin’s rejection of incest, or the sexual nature of the fitting of the heroine’s foot into her shoe) the basic “rags to riches through magic and marriage” setup of the tales is also worth examining. Though many people enjoy the tale of Cinderella, it would seem that very few take the time to consider the absurdity of such a theme. Perhaps there was a time when someone really could sit around waiting for a suitor to save them from their problems, but in our current culture the idea is unrealistic. A person’s success in life is no longer determined by their ability to find a successful spouse. With all but one of the tales revolving around a female character, the tale and its message are particularly demeaning towards women in their suggestion that freedom from hardship lies only in their own passivity and eventual marriage/salvation with a man.