Story of Cinderella
The secret of her success
Cinderella's story inspired many picture books, movies, theater plays, computer games.
It is known in hundreds and hundreds variants, from the most known with a carriage made of pumpkin and a pair of glass slippers to bloody versions where Cinderella killed her stepmother and got away with it.
With so wide spectrum of plots we can't start any kind of comparison without necessary simplifications.
If we want to find the truth behind the success of story of Cinderella, we have to start somewhere. Why not with two of the most popular literary versions?
One is written by Charles Perrault in 17th and other by brothers Grimm in 19th century. They are similar, but when we gig into details, we'll find several surprising facts about Cinderella's character, her role in our culture and - probably most important - about our society.
Main plot of Cinderella
She lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters and they treat her as a servant. When an opportunity shows in the form of ball at the castle, Cinderella's stepsisters go and she doesn't. With some magic help she transforms into a noble lady of astonishing beauty, goes to dance and charms the prince.
He wants to find out more about her, but she escapes and looses a slipper which in the end helps him to recognize his future wife in her humble position at the hearth of the ashes.
We'll look at Cendrillon (or Little Glass Slipper) by Charles Perrault, first published in 1697 and Aschenputtel by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, first published in 1812.
- We don't know what happened with Cinderella's mother.
- We don't know how her stepsisters look, but Perrault wrote Cinderella looks hundred times better, so they were probably not very attractive.
- Cinderella don't express a wish to go to the ball until the ball already starts.
- When her stepsisters leave the house, a fairy godmother shows and performs all the known trick with a pumpkin, rodents and lizards.
- Fairy changed her rags into beautiful clothes.
- She gave her a pair of glass slippers.
- She goes to the castle two evenings in a row.
- After second ball Cinderella loses one of her slippers.
- When prince announces he'll marry the girl, who is able to put the slipper on, Cinderella's stepsisters unsuccessfully try to squeeze a foot into a slipper. After them, she is offered a trial as well.
- Sisters pardon the Cinderella for their improper behavior, she forgives them, marry a prince and find two grooms for the stepsisters as well.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
- The story starts with her mother dying. Mother instructs her to plant a tree after her death and promises she will help her daughter even after death. (The version with gifts brought from fathers journey and sprig being rubbed against his hat was added later from Beauty and the Beast and is not Grimms'.)
- When father remarries we are informed both stepdaughter are beautiful, but have nasty characters.
- Stepmother and her two daughters are really mean to Cinderella (they call her Aschenputtel). They make fun of her, they took her clothes and they give her meaningless tasks related with ash.
- When king announces the ball, Cinderella clearly says she wants to go too, but she can't because she has no proper dress (no sorting of the peas from ashes in exchange for permission, sorry).
- When her stepsisters left, pigeons come and offer her help.
- She gets dress and shoes (golden) from the tree growing on her mother's grave. This tree was watered by Cinderella's tears.
- She goes to the castle three evenings in a row, she mocks her stepsister when they return from the dance.
- Prince decides to cover the stairs with a pitch on the third evening, so she could not escape and she loses one of her shoes.
- Search with a shoe becomes bloody event when first sister cuts the heel and second the toe so the slipper would fit on.
- Birds told the truth to the prince both times.
- Prince finally finds the real owner.
- When they marry, birds attack the stepsisters and peck their eyes (this wasn't in the first edition, but was added to second and all later editions).
Which version is more familiar to you?
Do you prefer:
Which variation of the story about Cinderella is better?
Brothers Grimm without doubt wrote better story.
Motifs of all characters are much better explained, the main character is active, she fights for her right to go the ball, there is logic behind her helpers.
Even prince is active and he really tries to get her for his wife.
Brothers Grimm invested a lot of time in rewriting of their fairy tales which started as collection of traditional tales from German folklore. Aschenputtel was no exception. The part with the pigeons pecking the eyes of evil stepsisters was one of their improvements according to their sense of justice.
This gory detail was skipped in many versions after their death and is probably one of the reasons why variation by brothers Grimm never defeated Perrault's in popularity despite the fact his other fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty in the Woods 'lost ' against The Briar Rose, Little Thumb against Hans and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood against The Red Cap.
Why is Cendrillon by Perrault more appealing to the audience? She is nice, beautiful, patient, but on the other hand a perfect example of passive lady in trouble stereotype which is so often in fairy tales some people are even trying to remove them from the library shelves?
Why not Aschenputtel with her hard working ethics, supported by Calvinism of brothers Grimm? She is not only nice, beautiful and persistent, she is also fighting for her rights and even shows some humor.
Position of women in society 17th and 19th century
Charles Perrault was a smart guy who of course noticed changes on French court during reign of Louis XIV. While all important positions in the state were still reserved for men, the raising influence of fair sex was obvious. Women of noble origin had more an more money. Many were well educated and became quite powerful. They organized parties and invited whoever they want.
If they skipped somebody, his position in society was degraded. Perrault as typical guy who climbed the ladder in civil services didn't like the idea of being dependent by the fads and mercy of ladies. His fairy tales give clear message.
A girl should be nice and pretty but all important decisions should be done by men. His Cinderella is pushed up and down as she doesn't have free will. Although she became a princess, it is clear she only changed one passive position for another.
Brothers Grimm were smart as well. Changes in their time were different. Small countries were joining to form bigger states with centralized government, nobility was still untouchable in some areas of society but the real power was moving to people with money.
Completely new class of bourgeoisie was formed and women started to earn significant incomes. Situation in society was changing fast and brothers Grimm realized this is inevitable.
But they still believed in some traditional values. While in their opinion primary role of a woman should still be raising kids and taking care of the home, she should show much more of initiative then ever before. So their Cinderella is active participant who is fighting for her rights.
After World War 2 and series of financial flops Disney Company was on the edge of bankruptcy. When they decided to make a movie about Cinderella, they were not in position to take any kind of risk. They wanted as much profit as possible to pay out the debts and revive the company.
When they created characters for the movie, they had a lot of options and explored many during the drafts of screenplay, but used only the most stereotypical in the end. Family values in American society were much more in favor of passive role of women than in times of brothers Grimm.
Bourgeoisie in 19th century looked at children as an expense, so they preferred working women more than middle class in post-war 20th century when increase of population meant more women staying at home and 'producing' babies who soon became driving force of modern consumer society.
Disney's Cinderella is a nice, beautiful and passive lady without real ambition and became a model for every modern princess, also known as daddy's girl. While women eventually gained more power in society many of girls still grow up in expectation of finding their Prince Charming who will take care of everything. They are not willing to invest too much in the search, because they are: good looking, elegant and friendly (at least to animals) - just like Cinderella!
One more thing: this fairy tale is also one of the most popular (and influential) stories among boys as well ...
All used images are made by artists who are at least 70 years old and published before 1923. This makes the public domain in European Union and United states of America. More about hem (and more pictures of Cinderella from all over the world) you can find on:
More fascinating facts about Cinderella and her history on: