“Cinderella” is possibly the most popular fairy tale of all time. There are versions of the story in the folklore of cultures all over the world, from China to the Middle East to Italy. The three most famous iterations in the Western world are Charles Perrault’s 1697 “Cindrillon,” first published in French; the Grimms’ German “Aschenputtel” from 1812; and of course Walt Disney’s 1950 animated film.
The Grimms’ version is widely known to be darker and much more violent than the bright, sanitized Disney version that is ubiquitous in our culture to this day; most children probably think of the film as the “true” Cinderella. Perrault’s version is much closer to this lighter, happily-ever-after vision of the tale, which is why I’ve chosen the earlier piece to read for you.
But while Perrault may be much more “kid-friendly,” I still find aspects of this version troubling, as I’m sure many grown-ups would. There is a seemingly overwhelming emphasis on Cinderella’s physical appearance, and while it’s never overtly stated, it can be inferred that her outward beauty is not only the only thing that attracts the prince to her, but it is also implied to be equated with her inner beauty, her kindness and forgiving nature. Kindness and forgiveness are qualities that should be celebrated in Cinderella, and there is nothing wrong with physical beauty, but it’s a troubling notion to imply that she is good because she is beautiful.
This implication is undoubtedly due to the age of the text (it’s over 300 years old, after all) and the simplistic, “black and white” moral symbolism of fairy tales, which of course is not the way real life, or even other genres of fiction, work. This is a concept that I think kids are more than capable of grasping, and I’ve posed a couple of discussion questions below relating to the idea.
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Words to Know:
- haughty – arrogant or snobbish
- odious – unpleasant or rude
- garret – attic
- petticoats; headclothes; manteau; stomacher – items of clothing:
From left to right: petticoat (an underskirt, worn underneath another skirt or dress); headclothes (or headdress, a kind of hood or head covering worn by women; wealthier women had fancier headclothes); manteau (a French word for “gown” or “dress,” especially a fancy or formal gown); stomacher (a triangular piece of fabric, usually decorated, placed inside the opening at the top of a woman’s gown)
- notions – ideas
- jeer – mock or make fun of
- thither – there
- awry – crooked or messed-up
- liveries – special uniforms worn by servants
- equipage – a carriage and horses
- collation – a light meal or snack’
- morsel – a small piece of food
- civilities – politeness
- banter – to tease or joke
- The story talks a lot about how beautiful Cinderella is on the outside, but not as much about how kind she is. Which do you think is more important, and why?
- Cinderella is very beautiful and very kind, but her stepsisters are not beautiful and not kind. In real life, do you think people who are beautiful are always more kind than people who are not beautiful? Why or why not?
- What did you think of Cinderella’s choice at the end to forgive her stepsisters for treating her badly and let them come live at the palace? Would you have done the same thing? Why or why not?
- If you had a fairy godmother (or godfather), what would you ask them to help you with? Are these problems that can only be solved with magic, or can you think of other ways to solve them, or get help with them?
- If you’ve seen any movies of “Cinderella,” in what ways did you notice the story was different? In what ways were they the same? Which did you like better, and why?