Understanding The Ideas Behind Fairy Tales English Literature Essay

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"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." (Albert Einstein) The idea of "fairy tales" originated in Western Civilization; however, it soon dispersed rapidly into other cultures.

It is not so often that any person learns about an important matter through a fairy tale. Walt Disney's Cinderella is a perfect example: it reflects women's roles during the 20th and 21st centuries.

       Cinderella is the classic "rags to riches" story, and Disney has been capitalizing from its success since it first launched the classic animated story on March 4, 1950. Cinderella's popularity has been so widespread that there are Chinese, Hindi, Korean, and Vietnamese versions of the story, just to name a few of the alternative languages. However, as many versions as there are, the main themes remain the same: triumph, humility, transformation, perseverance, adaptability, and faith.

       In the contemporary age of feminism and equal rights, Cinderella is an easy victim to criticize. Looking at the film, one can easily see the demeaning values. For example, her place in the family: she cooks, cleans, and performs other such household chores. These tasks have typically been reserved for women, which leads the audience (especially a young girl) to believe it is the woman's place to perform these chores.

       To what extent do the various manifestations of Disney's Cinderella symbolize the stereotypical woman during the late 20th and early 21st centuries? Cinderella's servitude to others and her role as caretaker to others is one aspect in the movie that reflects women's roles during this century. Also, the role of a woman finding a suitable husband is a very important plot point in the movie, and was also something taken very seriously during the 1900s - even up until today. However, times change, and soon so did the rights and roles of women.

The symbolism in Cinderella plays a very significant role, especially because it is intended for the children. The symbolism begins from one of the very first scenes, and has to do with the message of how to react to the loss of a parent. The loss of Cinderella's mother made her withdraw from the world and she became completely reserved. Reflecting over his daughter's troubles, the father thought it best to get married again, as a mother plays a vital role in every child's development. However, the step-mother never really replaced her real mother, she just made things worse.

After the two step-sisters came into Cinderella's life, she was demeaned to a slave, and was made to do all the washing, cleaning and cooking in the household. Days dragged on, and her evil stepsisters didn't make things any easier. She was confined to the house, and given old rags for clothes. Poor Cinderella would cry to herself every day. Nevertheless, the days passed, that soon turned into months, that soon turned into years, and Cinderella flourished into a beautiful young woman. This made her step-sisters extremely envious, for they were not as pretty.

One day, the king of the land announced a ball for his son so that he could find love of his life. And so, the herald came to every home where single women lived and read out the invitation. The step-sisters rejoiced when they were informed of the news, and got to thinking about the ball and what would they wear to appease the prince. Cinderella was eavesdropping in the back, and heard the announcement of the ball; she then longed to go to the ball. On the day of the big event, the sisters looked their best and the stepmother left her slave daughter to do the cleaning. As Cinderella was crying her eyes out, there suddenly was a burst of light, and in it appeared a woman dressed in white- Cinderella's fairy godmother.

Also important is Cinderella's relationship with animals, and it reflects that we should be nice and humane toward them. This message is probably more attributable to our time than to the time the story was written, because at that time the animals were helping Cinderella, and with them being God's creatures, the message was that God actually helps Cinderella. Another important message is to never lose hope. Despite all the abuses that Cinderella must endure and all the tears she sheds, in the end, things turn out well for her and bad for her enemies. There is probably a double message here, as well, because it also calls for the child not to do bad things in return to those who abuse her because eventually they would receive their punishment one way or another.

In the fairytale, certain characters and objects represent certain ideas: The wicked stepmother and stepsisters are a symbol of society and the cruelness of the world. The glass slipper represents a symbol of freedom, the key to life and finding happiness in a brutal world; it is also a second chance, or mercy that God shows us. The prince is a symbol of a Savior, coming to rescue you from the evil in this world. Cinderella's fairy godmother is a symbol of God and his willingness to help guide us in this world; she represents God's kindness and his unconditional love for us.

Triumph, humility, transformation, perseverance, adaptability, and faith are all important messages in Cinderella. Triumph: Cinderella proved that with determination one could accomplish great things, triumphing over adversities; For example, despite all of the difficulties she undergoes in pursuit of her "Prince Charming," she ends up marrying him in the end.

Throughout the 1900s, women had to humbly wait for the day that their time would come in society, and when they finally achieved their goal(s), they found it to be worth it.

Humility: Cinderella speaks to the unsung hero, who, without "blowing her own whistle," is given a great reward in the end; For example, as she is left behind and ignored during her step-family's preparations for the ball, she still does what she is told so to not disrespect them. Women had to respect society's "standards" that were set for them, which could be summed up in that they were the primary caretakers of their families.

Transformation: "Rags to riches" is a common clichés used when referring to the Cinderella transformation story; For example, her Fairy Godmother grants her the transformation for the ball. During the 1900s, women would voice their opinions as much as possible, and slowly but surely, society's view of women changed: with the start of World War I, women had to step in to take over the men's jobs that were left behind because they had to go off to war. From then on, with voting acts passed and equal rights, more women began to work outside of the household.

Perseverance: In the Disney movie, as Cinderella sings, "One day my Prince will come," the theme of never giving up on your dreams is made classic. Women had to keep pushing for their rights throughout the century.

Adaptability: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade; For example, when the invitation to the royal ball arrives, she uses everything short of physical force to persuade her stepmother that she has every right to attend, but even when the stepmother does not give in, she still finds a way to go. When times changed, for example during World War I, women had to adapt to their new ways of life. They had to learn how to maintain their job outside of the house and manage everything with the family.

Faith: Most people host an inner strength or faith that can make us victorious in our endeavors, if we would only call on it; For example, she has faith that someday her wishes of happiness will come true and it all begins with her invitation to the ball. Women had to stay positive and stand for the day that they would be considered equal to men.

Cinderella is a gorgeous young woman in her late teens. Despite her misery and suffering, Cinderella has faith that someday her longings for happiness will come true, for dreams are the desires of her heart. "Cinderella is by no means a weak-willed character content to let events flow around her. Although she is shy and romantic, she maintains hope through her dreams and always waits for her prince to come." (Disney) She stays true to the idea that someday her wishes of happiness will prevail. Cinderella is strong-willed and determined. She's seen as having a very authoritative role in the story, and finally learns that if you want a dream to come true, you have to help make it come true.

 In the case of Disney, the representations of women have been noted for the scarcity of numbers of roles, the types of characters, and the limited agency of Disney female characters in both past and recent Disney films. "In response to these themes, feminist critics comment on how these marriage ideals reveal the idea that heroines still live in male-dominated worlds, and ultimately find fulfillment through their romantic relationships with the so- called "Prince Charming." These critics have lamented the continued image of the female characters in submissive roles that eventually end up in marriage, and thereby reinforce cultural logic regarding the natural fulfillment of a young woman's dream continually defined by men. In their view, these female characters are ultimately "defined by male standards and goals" without displaying their own independent desires separated from romantic relationships." (LaCroix)

Among these feminist critics, there is an extensive array of opinions on how Disney movies convey and view the relationships, and how all of these movies focus toward the conclusion with the main female character falling in love and marrying the prince. Throughout the movie, Cinderella can sometimes be seen as powerless and not able to control her own time, fate and destiny; also, she only responds to those around her. Cinderella's helplessness can particularly be seen when she falls in love with the Prince simply through one meeting at the ball- she lacks her own sense of personal choice or self-identity.

This desire, frenzied by a future marriage, places Cinderella in a position of submission and powerlessness where it seems that only a male prince can liberate her and fulfill her wishful thinking. In addition to her relational yearning, her oppression is revealed. In many of the Disney princess films, the women lack the personal choice in these marital unions. For example, in Cinderella, the king decrees the prince will marry the girl whose foot fits the glass slipper- hence, Cinderella. Removing from these females their individual choice emphasizes how they are characterized by male standards and goals, and controlled even in major life decisions, as in marriage.

"Over the years following these movies, Disney started to drift away from these passive females who found purpose and identity solely in marriage, and tried to empower their animated female characters. Although they did not remove romantic relationships from the movies Disney did gave female characters more of an active role in forming romantic relationships. These empowered females came during the late 1980's and early 1990's and included Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989) and Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991)" (LaCroix) While there are still some scholars who criticize how these characters pursue the marriage ideal, there are other scholars who recognize vast differences and advances in how these characters play a role in their own love lives.

It is important that Cinderella be a "good girl" whose patience and perseverance has earned her the gifts she receives from her godmother. Cinderella's virtuous good shows that she is forgiving and compassionate, despite the ill-treatment she received from her stepsisters. Athough promoting the idea that beauty is ever-important, and that a "prince" is often needed to drag a young woman from helpless situations, Cinderella can still provide a superior role model with strong morals in the young woman, who, against all odds, manages to marry her prince.

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