Did you ever notice that “happily ever after” seems to only take place in fairy tales? In the real world, couples get married, have children and, more often than not, end up getting divorced. The time following a divorce can be lonely but many people will enjoy the time alone. Eventually, a search begins for a new mate and ultimately they will remarry. Sometimes the new spouse also has children and this creates a blended family, such as in the story “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault.
Although it may seem more difficult for stepchildren to become accustomed to their new stepparent, the role of stepmother is usually the most challenging and can be overly stressful. Stepmothers are simply mothers who have accepted the task of loving, disciplining and encouraging another woman’s child as she would her own. Unfortunately, the role of a stepmother has been characterized in fairy tales like Cinderella, as that of a cruel and evil woman who only cares about the lives of her own two children.
But everyone knows there are two sides to every story. Cinderella’s stepmother is not evil at all; she is simply misunderstood. When we view the scenarios of this story through the eyes of the stepmother and not Cinderella, we come to realize that Cinderella was, in fact, a spoiled teenager who enjoyed being disobedient, evasive, and deceitful and she preferred to overcome her problems through the use of magic. What kind of parent would not be upset with a young teenage girl acting out in front of her other children in a way that is not appropriate?
This only child who never had to share her parent’s attention came into a family of two girls who were not spoiled and had something in common with Cinderella; they had also lost a parent. This fact alone should have made it easier for these girls to bond but, unfortunately, much turmoil was taking place within the family and things would only get worse. We have always been led to believe in the goodness of Cinderella but this explanation is anything but good, “she disobeys the stepmother, enlists forbidden helpers, uses magic powers, lies, hides, dissembles, disguises herself, and evades pursuit” (Panttaja 660).
When a situation would call for her to be obedient, this girl wanted no part of it. The strong-willed stepdaughter would not go to school, had a foul mouth and did not dress appropriately for any occasion. She did not mind being filthy and played for hours in the ashes (Rossner 664). As the stepmother states, “She would starve before she would cook a meal and let her clothing get stiff with dirt before she’d wash it, but tending the fireplace was a task she appeared to enjoy” (Rossner 663). She would not keep her own room clean, so was it any wonder she ended up sleeping among the ashes?
No. Cinderella seemed to be right at home among the ashes. This home was more like a mansion, large enough that another room would have been available if she wanted to sleep elsewhere. When it came time for her to help out around the house, she literally refused to lift a finger, probably because she thought since the family had so much money they should hire some help; why should she have to do anything related to chores and housework? She would rather have the magic birds help her finish chores than to even try to attempt to complete them herself.
There were no tears being shed because she enjoyed being disobedient; it made her feel as though she were in control of the whole situation at all times. Isn’t that what every spoiled child wants, to be the one in control? She knew what she was doing and knowing that it was hurting other people in the family did not matter at all. When it was time to avoid a demanding or unlikeable situation, no one had been as evasive as Cinderella. She was clever at coming up with stories at the last minute and when that did not look like it would work, she still was not worried because she would have the magic to help as her Plan B.
During her preparation with her fairy godmother for her appearance at the ball, she was told that she had no choice but to leave before the stroke of midnight and that if she did not the magic of her dress and transportation would wear off at and her clothes would turn back to rags and her transportation would scatter like animals and she would have to walk home. That was when she knew she would have to plan her evening accordingly. She would have to leave the ball before midnight, maybe even earlier, and try to get home before everyone else did so they didn’t know she had been gone.
She had become an expert at slipping out and running away; no one could catch her. Even when the Prince tried to walk her home, she managed to get away from him and slid into the dovecote (Grimm 630-631). In a worrying attempt to find her, the men even broke into the dovecote using an ax trying desperately to find her but in the end they found it empty. “The Prince followed her, but he could not catch her up” (Perrault 627). As if the previous night was not hard enough, she would have a similar situation to get out of the next evening.
During the next escape from the ball, she slipped away and climbed up a pear tree. “She climbed among the branches as nimbly as a squirrel and the King’s son didn’t know what had become of her” (Grimm 631). The tree was eventually chopped down only to reveal that nobody was in it. Even after losing her precious glass slipper, the object of her quest was to not be identified and she had to leave the glass slipper behind. She had honed her evasive skills to perfection, eluding the wisest of men.
Had it not been for the loss of her glass slipper, there would not have been an intense search from house to house for the owner of the left behind slipper and her secret would not have been discovered. But that was something she obviously had not thought of when she was putting together her escape plan; what if one of my glass slippers falls off? Maybe if the fairy godmother should have given extra instructions like, “Dear, be sure not to lose or leave behind any of your belongings, especially your slipper, or the King’s men will come looking for you.
Never leave any evidence at the scene when you are being evasive. Maybe then it would never have been revealed that the unidentified princess was actually Cinderella. Even after losing her glass slipper, she still had it all planned out to deceive her family. When the others arrived back from the ball, she was going to act as though she had been asleep the entire time they were gone. She played the part of a deceitful actress effortlessly. “How late you are! ” she said, rubbing her eyes and yawning and stretching as though she had just woken up (though since they had last seen each other she had felt very far from sleepy) (Perrault 627).
The dovecote was found to be empty, of course, because she had escaped out the back end to get to the hazel tree, where she changed into her old clothes and snuck back to the kitchen and laid in the ashes, as usual, to look as though she had been there all night. She did the same thing the next night without a hitch. Being deceitful came easy for her and if problems came about, her fairy godmother was standing by to help with some of her magic. Pattaya claims, “Cinderella succeeds not because she is more patient or virtuous…but because she is craftier, willing to employ powerful magic to defeat the forces arrayed against her” (658).
At first glance, most people would probably feel some sympathy for Cinderella, being in a new family and all, but this new family quickly learns the truth about their new stepdaughter and stepsister. One teenager trying to be in control and undermining everyone’s hard work by using magic is outrageous and unacceptable. The magic is an addictive fallback for Cinderella when problems arise. Instead of being so disobedient she should become part of the team and work together with her family to make a better life for all of them. Also, being evasive and deceitful at such a young age is not a good direction in which to be heading.
A little bit of money and some of that magic would go a long way in acquiring a housekeeper, a chef, and a life coach which are all vital pieces to solving this puzzle and would help straighten this family out. If Cinderella had been a better-behaved stepdaughter, her stepmother and stepsisters would have been a much happier group of ladies. It is hard enough to be a stepmother raising someone else’s child and two of your own, but having a rebellious, spoiled teenager in the home who could care less about anyone else, eventually becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back (or should I say the stepmother’s back).
Cinderella’s bad habits may have included being disobedient, not helping out, being evasive and deceitful, but the fairy godmother surely did not help matters by offering magic as a solution to whatever problem would arise. In order for Cinderella to remain a part of this family, a big plate full of “tough love” needs to be served and the fairy godmother needs to be banished. Because she is only a teenager and cannot live on her own, she should try her best to listen to the adults in her life and be obedient like the other sisters.
Would it really hurt to start being part of the team and help out the family by doing chores and whatever else is asked of her? Would she fall apart at the seams if she stopped the lying and running away and hiding from everyone? If this situation is not resolved, Cinderella may just end up in a juvenile detention center among other girls like her. If she keeps living her life without making a change, we may just see her on an episode of COPS.
- Behrens, Laurence and Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 10th ed. New York: Pearson, 2008.
- Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. “Ashputtle. ” Behrens and Rosen 595-600. Panttaja, Elizabeth. “Cinderella: Not So Morally Superior. ”
- Behrens and Rosen 644-47. Perrault, Charles. “Cinderella. ” Behrens and Rosen 591-95. Rossner, Judith. “I Am Cinderella’s Stepmother and I Know My Rights. ” Behrens and Rosen 640-43.