Hathaway Brown School
Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong
Essay on the Motifs in the Fairytale Cinderella
Essay on the Motifs in the Fairytale Cinderella
Despite its well known identity as a playful fairytale, the story told in Cinderella plunges into the corruption present in society through its focus on the tension and conflict between the upper and lower classes, as well as the destructive influence of the patriarchy on female success and attainment. Although she was born into a family of high class, Cinderella is continuously degraded by her closest family forcing her into a state of subordinacy or "lower class" within the familial dynamic. This subversion requires Cinderella to find company and comfort within animals and nature, portraying her submission into the subordination her family has constrained her to as these concepts are physically and mentally inferior to the humans present in the fairytale. It is not until Cinderella's marriage to the prince that she is viewed as socially acceptable and therefore welcomed into the upper class; this aided mobility demonstrates the overarching theme of the female struggle in a patriarchal society as Cinderella's fulfillment is only completed through the aid and assistance of a man. Throughout the story of Cinderella the animals present in the tale are used as a motif to symbolize the lower class Cinderella's family has degraded her to, through which she finds the community and guidance necessary to conquer the judgment and outcast her family has forced onto her.
Throughout the course of the fairytale Cinderella experiences a severe form of subversion by her family out of jealousy and resentment, resulting in her dehumanization and placement into a "lower class". At the beginning of the story Cinderella is first degraded by her stepsisters as they comment on her intelligence and form as the text states, "'Why should that stupid goose sit in the parlor with us,'"(Grimm 18). Through the stepsisters usage of the term "stupid goose" in order to reference Cinderella, they immediately dehumanize her by comparing her to a "goose", an animal, rather than another human figure. This choice in words and lack of hesitation reflects the stepsisters' malicious intentions as they did not even attempt to portray Cinderella in a positive manner, but instead instantly reverted to verbal degradation and abuse. Although the use of the term "goose" to depict Cinderella is already detrimental, the stepsisters' continue on their course of verbal rampage by labeling Cinderella as a "stupid goose". The addition of the term "stupid" immensely elevates the already brutal insult, as Cinderella is not only physically dehumanized by being compared to a goose, but she is further mentally dehumanized as the term "stupid" comments and reflects on her brain function, and the failure or deficiency of it. The stepsisters do not stop their brutality there, as they continue to dehumanize Cinderella by tasking her with mindless jobs that resemble tasks animals would complete. The text states, "They made fun of her, scattered peas and lentils into the ashes for her, so that she had to sit and pick them out again"(Grimm 18). Although this is the first time Cinderella is tasked with such a job in the fairytale, this situation repeats itself over the course of the story and continues to humiliate Cinderella as she is forced to complete such a trivial burden. By forcing Cinderella to get on the ground and manually sort through and pick up the peas and lentils she is not only physically degraded through her position on the ground, but she is also mentally degraded as she completes a task comparable to how birds and other animals find food. This similarity in Cinderella's task and how birds hunt for seeds demonstrates the extreme dehumanization she experiences as she is forced to act as a bird or general animal. This subversion reinforces the "lower class" Cinderella has been forced into as she is depicted as an animal hunting for food, while her stepsisters watch from their "upper class" position as humans. The continuous portrayal and connection of Cinderella as and to animals foreshadows the close bond she creates with that population, as she is forced to seek refuge with them as she is labeled as an animalistic outcast in her human family.
As a result of her family's resentment towards her, Cinderella is forced to find a community of support and guidance elsewhere in the world, and this place appears to be with the animals and creatures present in the tale. Although Cinderella continues to be tasked with mindless jobs, the creatures she befriends come to her rescue to aid her in these chores, but their generosity does not end there as they eventually are the ones responsible for Cinderella's ability to overcome the obstacles set for her, by her family, to attend the ball. When it comes time to prepare for the ball Cinderella asks her stepmother if she is able to join the family in attendance, her stepmother does not refuse, but she tasks Cinderella with picking up 2 bowls worth of lentils before she is able to go to the ball. Instead of accepting her defeat, Cinderella calls to her friends as the text states, "Two white pigeons came in through the kitchen window, and then the turtle doves, and finally all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and swarming in, and lit around the ashes"(Grimm 19). By coming to her assistance, the creatures in the tale offer the encouragement and guidance Cinderella fails to receive from her family, as they help her complete the task that is necessary for her to finish before she is able to attend the event of her dreams, the ball. Through this companionship, the creatures fill the void of family that is missing in Cinderella's life, and simultaneously, through this interaction Cinderella's family is further villainized as they are the ones responsible for her loneliness and need for friendship and affection. While Cinderella is assisted by these animals, she accepts the "lower class" she has been assigned to, but rather than fall into a destructive state because of it, she uses this class to her advantage and befriends the animals who she comes to view as family. It is through this adaptation that Cinderella begins to conquer her family's hatred as she does not break under their disownment of her, as they expected, but on the contrary grows to flourish and mature through it; this is an immense developmental point for Cinderella as she will use this newfound courage in order to fully overcome her family's animosity through her appearance and success at the ball. Although she completed the tasks she was promised would guarantee her attendance at the ball, Cinderella's stepmother continues her path of refusal, resulting in Cinderella fleeing to her mother's grave in search of an inner strength and ability to get to the ball. As Cinderella collapses on the ground in tears and begs for a dress to wear to the ball the text states, "Then the bird threw a gold and silver dress down to her, and slippers embroidered with silk and silver"(Grimm 20). After the animals had just helped Cinderella collect the bowls of lentils, they immediately assist her again in acquiring a dress for the ball, which is the final element Cinderella needs completed before she is able to be seen as a suitable guest at the event. Not only do the creatures gift Cinderella with a dress, but it is one, "embroidered with silk and silver", items of delicacy and expense, which reflects the care and fondness the animals hold for Cinderella as they make sure the dress is anything but ordinary. This moment demonstrates the strength of the bond Cinderella and the animals share as they give her their valuable resources and time without hesitation, exemplifying the animals prioritization of Cinderella's happiness. As stated earlier, the dress is the final piece Cinderella needed in order to attend the ball and therefore overcome the degradation she experiences from her family, so the animals critical role in presenting Cinderella with the gilded dress strongly displays the ways in which they assisted Cinderella to overcome the judgment and animosity of her family.
Despite the fairytale of Cinderella typically being labeled as a simple story with a happy ending, this tale encapsulates so much more as it comments on societal structures, while following the story of a girl struggling to find a way to regain her upper class position in society. Through the torment and abuse Cinderella faces at the hands of her family, she is subverted into a "lower class", forcing herself to find comfort within a community of creatures who symbolize the "lower class"; Cinderella's presence in this new group of companions exemplifies her acceptance of the lower fate her family has subverted her to. At this point in the story Cinderella's family assumes their animosity towards her has rid her of any desire or drive for a better life, but the encouragement and support Cinderella receives from her "lower class" companions proves them wrong as these animals are ultimately the answer to Cinderella's struggles, as they allow her the resources and strength to overcome the subversion her family has forced onto her. Although this achievement is one of immense importance in the tale as it is a major point of development for Cinderella, while also portraying the importance of determination, it is a neglected turning point due to the major focus on the "happy" ending Cinderella receives at the end of the story when she marries the prince. Although Cinderella technically overcomes her family's hatred, she is not completely released from their judgment until she marries the prince, as the text states, "When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella…"(Grimm 22). Although she conquered her family's evil orders and intentions, it is not until she marries the prince that her family thoroughly recognizes her newfound courage and class, which portrays the concept that Cinderella is not able to completely own her position in the upper class until she is assisted by a man, highlighting the reality of the female struggle in a patriarchal society. This theme connects Cinderella to other famous fairytales as the female lead is never able to obtain complete fulfillment without the support of a man, and if the female lead does overcome her obstacle without the help of a man, that turning point is always shadowed by another event or struggle.
The dock sways beneath my touch as I make my way to the open, inviting scene shaped by my family, dogs, and pleasures present at this oasis. I peer to my left allowing the smoke erupting from a nearby bonfire to intrude my senses, hoaxing me into a series of harmless sneezes. The sweet, salty ripples, provided by the vast lake of Chautauqua, reflect off the fire and allow a breeze to cool the anger the flames of the bonfire greeted me with. The smoke fuses with the water, s'mores, fish, and wine present on the dock to conceive a sense of comfort and tranquility I naturally receive from the generous being of Chautauqua. My breaths slow, while my eyes widen to capture the glistening of the lake which gives way to the melting of the sun into the abyss. My family and dogs welcome me to a scene of blissful laughter, fishing, and conversation. My sisters swarm the dock, its positions shifting once more as they chase my dogs to the edge of the water, luring them with the promise of a soggy, hazel stick. I shuffle from their path and hear their echoing yells across the dock, "Pax, Rex, c'mon, stick, stick, jump in to get it." The delight that radiates from their tones allows a smile to creep onto my face, reflecting that of my mom and dad as I join them to regard the fading sun. As I sit down I take a moment to brush the rolling water, allowing it to flow through my hands, marking me as a recipient of its untold serenity. Time slows and I become aware of my surroundings as a gust of air creates an imbalanced ripple in the water which rocks the dock as everyone stills in a moment of unnecessary fear. As the waves pass, a shield of laughter erupts from the dock and we reflect on the stupidity of our dread, allowing our worries to follow the sun into complete oblivion. The day fades away and is replaced by a bulb of light that welcomes the darkness of the night. The fish continue swimming, the conversation slows, the dock rocks to the absence of company and the presence of silence, and I am left alone. Alone in my ageless imagination, which is my greatest delight.