for the Cinderella fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical
references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations
which appear on the Cinderella Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated
Cinderella to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.
status as a gentleman's daughter makes her more acceptable as a future
king's consort. It also places her above the status of peasant. Cinderella
is not usually a rags-to-riches tale, but a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale. Return to place in story.
over 1,000 versions of Cinderella, many variations of the story exist. Although
this Perrault version does not mention Cinderella's mother beyond this
reference, many versions have the dead mother providing assistance to
her daughter in either animal form or through magical objects which appear
from a tree on the mother's grave (the Grimms' version uses the tree). Return to place in story.
stepmother is a common villain in fairy tales. The stepmother has been
a villain since some of the earliest known versions of the Cinderella tale, such as Basile's The Cat Cinderella. The
competition between the two women for the husband/father's affection provides
a logical reason for the stepmother's cruelty. However, the stepmother
has often replaced mothers in other tales, such as Snow White, when the
image of a cruel mother was considered to be too harsh and terrifying
for young audiences.
The image of the evil stepmother occurs frequently
in fairy tales. She is associated with jealousy and cruelty (Olderr 1986).
"In masculine psychology, the stepmother is a symbol of the unconscious
in a destructive role" (von Franz 1970). The stepmother figure is actually
two sided, in that while she has destructive intentions, her actions often
lead the protagonist into situations that identify and strengthen his
or her best qualities.
Perhaps one of the enduring elements of the
Cinderella story comes from the politics of a family, usually a blended
family. While many fairy tales have outside antagonists, Cinderella's
trials are in her home and immediate family. Return to place in story.
bed: Until this century, straw beds were a common type
of bedding for all but the supremely rich who could afford goose beds
or other more expensive mattresses. Straw was used as the stuffing for
the mattress. Return to place in story.
other words, mirrors. Mirrors are also a sign of luxury and wealth. In
fairy tales, mirrors can be representative of a character's true nature
which they reflect. Mirrors are especially important in Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Here the mirrors represent the stepsisters'
vanity and the family's wealth. The fact that the family owns mirrors
large enough to give a full reflection of a person from head to toe shows
that they have been extremely wealthy and thus powerful at least in the
past if not Cinderella's present (Chevalier 1982). Return to place in story.
father is absent but not dead in most of the older versions of the tale.
Since the conflict between Cinderella and her stepfamily is domestic,
it can be assumed her father does not interfere in what was considered
a woman's domain. Many modern interpretations, such as the recent film Ever After (1998) starring Drew Barrymore, have the father dead
to explain why he does not prevent the mistreatment of his daughter. Return to place in story.
versions of the tale explain that Cinderella's true name is Ella to account
for the nickname. Gail Carson Levine uses Ella in her novel, Ella
Enchanted (1997) and Drew Barrymore is Danielle in Ever After (1998). Return to place in story.
than her sisters: Her beauty shows that Cinderella
is more virtuous and good than her sisters. In the past, and often still
today, physical beauty was considered to reflect the true nature of a
In some versions of the tale, the stepsisters
are beautiful like Cinderella, showing that external beauty is not equivalent
to internal beauty.
In some Native American versions of the tale,
the Cinderella character is portrayed as ugly and scarred, often caused
by her jealous sisters, until she is transformed before the eyes of the
community for her goodness. Read a version here at: Indian
Cinderella. Return to place in story.
son: A prince is the suitor and a common character
in romantic fairy tales such as this one. In several modern interpretations
of the tale, the prince is a reluctant suitor, forced into the search
for a wife, until he happily falls in love with Cinderella. The film The
Slipper and the Rose especially builds up the prince's disapproval
of the ball and wife hunt.
Also note that the prince is not called Prince
Charming in the original tale. Walt Disney popularized the name with its
usage in his film version of Cinderella. Return to place in story.
ball is a large party in which the participants dress up in their finest
clothes and dance. Balls were exclusively for the privileged and wealthy.
Many other variants of the tale have the
Cinderella character meeting the prince at church, one of the few places
where people of different classes might regularly see each other while
gathered to worship in times past. Return to place in story.
petticoats, and head-clothes: Perrault's experience
and interest in fancy dress is emphasized in his version of Cinderella.
He provides more detail and description of the ball clothes than most
other versions of the tale. The detailed descriptions also show the literary,
instead of oral, nature of his story. Perrault's language is intended
for the printed page. Return to place in story.
had excellent notions: Cinderella is an intelligent
and artistic woman. She knows how to make clothing appear at its best
which was an important skill in her time. She only has rags to wear herself,
but she has the taste to work with the finest materials. This was a sign
Cinderella's willingness to share her dressing
skills with her sisters also shows her good and generous heart. Return to place in story.
days without eating: There are a few possibilities
for this affliction. Nervousness and excitement can lead to loss of appetite.
One cannot help but wonder if the sisters were also considering their
tight clothing and corsets. Quick diets before great events were not uncommon
in past centuries just as they are today. Return to place in story.
above a dozen laces: In the time of corsets and stays,
laces were used to tie up clothes and make the body appear as slim as
possible. The image of the stepsisters breaking many laces shows that
they are not ideally thin and are trying to conceal their figures by contorting
them into slimmer clothing. Return to place in story.
godmother did not become a common and well-known character in the Cinderella
tale until Perrault incorporated her into his version of the story. Other
versions of Cinderella in different cultures often have the heroine receive
assistance from the deceased mother or a nurse, such as a nanny. The fairy godmother versions are
the best known in Western culture thanks to Perrault and later versions
from Disney and other sources.
The Grimms' version does not use the fairy
godmother; a tree planted over the mother's grave provides the materials
needed for Cinderella to attend the ball instead. Read their version here: Aschenputtel. The Scottish version, Rashin-Coatie, has a benevolent red
calf that provides assistance. Return to place in story.
until this point, the tale is not magical. The introduction of the fairy
godmother provides the elements needed to make this a fairy tale, not
necessarily because it has a fairy but because it has magic.
In general, fairy godmothers are supernatural
benefactors to their human charges. The fairy godmother figure is derived
from the three Fates who were thought to visit a newborn baby and bestow
good or ill fortune upon it, such as in the Sleeping Beauty tale. The
fairy godmother is a wholly benevolent character, however, while the Fates
were capable of causing good or evil to occur. Gail Carson Levine explores
the possibility of a harmful gift from a fairy godmother in her Cinderella
novel, Ella Enchanted. Return to place in story.
being a suitable shape for a carriage, a pumpkin has several symbolic
meanings beyond Halloween imagery. A pumpkin symbolizes feminine containment,
the moon, witches, and a charm against evil spirits (Olderr 1986). Return to place in story.
wand is "a slender stick or rod, especially one carried by a fairy, magician,
conjurer, etc." (Websters 1990). A wand often represents the special powers
of a magical character. Sometimes it represents the harnessing of those
magical powers. Return to place in story.
pumpkin coach is a popular image from the Cinderella tale, second only
to the glass slipper. The coach itself is a sign of wealth and afforded
only by the upper class. Return to place in story.
as always, is a precious metal and reserved for the wealthy in past centuries.
An entire coach made of gold would be a symbol of great wealth and most
likely reserved for royalty.
Disney gave the mice personalities and made them important characters
in his well-known film of the story. In the older versions, the mice only
exist for their necessary transformation into part of Cinderella's grand
transportation to the ball. Return to place in story.
slippers: One of the most famous elements of the story,
the glass slippers are important in many aspects. First, they would be
expensive and thus proper footwear for a princess. Second, they represent
Cinderella's delicate nature. She would have to be physically light and
dainty to be able to wear the shoes without shattering them. Finally,
I have always imagined the shoes might also be uncomfortable. Cinderella's
ability to dance and wear them with grace shows she has mettle.
While the events in his tale are not unique, Perrault most likely invented the glass slipper—there is no trace of it before his version—perhaps as an ironic device since it is a fragile thing and perhaps as simply genius creative license for it has become the iconic symbol of the fairy tale, even surpassing Perrault’s transformed pumpkin carriage as shorthand for the story. The glass slipper has been the cause of much speculation and debate over the years, including a prevalent, albeit erroneous theory, that the glass was a mistake, a confusion between the French verre (glass) and vair (squirrel fur), since fur slippers are not as fantastical, but altogether realistic. In 1841, Honoré de Balzac popularized, perhaps even created the theory, and it has remained popular ever since despite many inherent issues within it, such as its dismissal of Perrault’s own adept literacy. The theory also negates Perrault’s interest in the fantastic and magical, discounting his brilliant creativity. Although the translation error theory has been dismissed by scholars since the 19th century, it continues to appear in popular media all too often today.
Many of the Cinderella variants include exotic
footwear. For example, the earliest Cinderella, Yeh-shen (or Yeh-hsien),
wears gold shoes.
To read more about the shoes in Cinderella
variants around the world, especially see Marian Roalfe Cox's Note
48 (about halfway through the note) in her Cinderella book. She addresses the vair vs. verre issue and tells of
other materials comprising the shoes in other versions. (Keep in mind
that Cox wrote the note in 1893.)
after midnight: Midnight is the most common time given
as a deadline in the Cinderella tale. Since midnight marks the beginning
of a new day and the end of power in the old day, such a deadline is also
reasonable. Midnight also marks the beginning of the witching hour.
Many balls would start in the late evening
and last until the early morning hours. Cinderella's need to leave at
midnight would be an early departure from most balls. Return to place in story.
promises to leave the ball before midnight but ultimately breaks this
promise with her late departure. The breaking of the promise gives Cinderella
a slight hint of imperfection and humanity. It also shows how much she
is enamored with the prince. Return to place in story.
princess: Not surprisingly, Cinderella is mistaken
for a princess thanks to her clothes and carriage. Her grand appearance
makes entry into the ball possible despite her anonymity. Return to place in story.
profound silence: While a dramatic element in the story--one
can imagine a storyteller pausing for effect at this point in the story--the
silence also shows that everyone at the ball is aware of Cinderella's
entrance and suitably impressed by her physical presence. Return to place in story.
is important that the king approves of his son's choice in a wife since
he has the ability to censure his son and even take away his inheritance
and birthright. Return to place in story.
thousand civilities: Cinderella's ability to graciously
interact with her stepsisters highlights her charm and goodness while
emphasizing the stepsisters' vanity. They are unable to recognize the
very woman who helped them dress for the ball a short time earlier. Return to place in story.
and citrons: Citrons are lemons. Both oranges and lemons
were delicacies in many parts of Europe before the 20th century. Now food
is shipped easily with economy before spoiling making these fruits available
to a larger population. Return to place in story.
her: To emphasize her goodness once again, Perrault
makes sure to have Cinderella thank her fairy godmother for help. This
also allows Cinderella the opportunity to wish for help in attending the
next ball. Return to place in story.
Charlotte: The stepsisters are rarely named in any
Cinderella tale. Perrault's use of a name comes from his literary embellishment
of the tale and was a personal choice. The name he uses in the original
French is Javotte. Return to place in story.
breaks her promise to leave the ball before midnight since she is busy
with the prince. While forgetfulness is understandable, she does break
her promise and is given a small element of humanity. The forgotten time
also provides drama, causing Cinderella to run away and leave behind her
shoe, providing the means for her identification later. The imagery of
Cinderella's elegant clothes transforming back to rags as she runs home
is a favorite scene for illustrators and filmmakers. Return to place in story.
does not resist portraying Cinderella as a beautiful and graceful deer
even as she runs away in panic and rags from the palace Return to place in story.
was a common molding material and conforms to any shape in liquid form.
Perrault uses the image to emphasize how well the shoe fits Cinderella's
foot. Return to place in story.
other slipper: While the fitting of the lost shoe is
romantic and gives Cinderella credibility, she often produces the second
shoe in the pair to confirm her identity.
In many versions of the tale, Cinderella
is transformed back into her ball gown once both shoes are on her feet.
The Prince and/or his servants are not required to recognize Cinderella
in her rags. The implication is that she is in her natural and rightful
state when dressed in the better clothing.
In some variants of the tale, the prince
acquires Cinderella's lost shoe by putting pitch or tar in the entrance
to try to catch her when she runs away. He only succeeds in catching her
shoe in the tar and then begins his search for its owner. Return to place in story.
pardon: The sisters do not always beg for forgiveness
in the tale. Sometimes their jealousy grows with Cinderella's good fortune
and they are ultimately punished for their lack of charity. In the Grimm's Aschenputtel, they are filled with rage
and scheme to capitalize on Cinderella's good fortune. Return to place in story.
them: Although Cinderella rarely metes out punishment
upon her sisters in most versions of the tale, other forces often punish
her stepfamily for her. In the Grimm's Aschenputtel,
birds come and peck out their eyes when they attend Cinderella's church
wedding. Return to place in story.
less good than beautiful: Perrault's desire to emphasize
Cinderella's virtuous goodness shows that she is forgiving and compassionate
despite the ill-treatment she received from her stepsisters. Most versions
of the story have Cinderella ambivalent of what happens to the sisters;
she is busy marrying the prince instead. Return to place in story.
them with two great lords: The stepsisters suffer various
fates, including death or being turned to stone, in various versions of
the tale. However, this version has a forgiving Cinderella who provides
wealthy husbands for her stepsisters. In this way, everyone lives happily
ever after whether they deserve it or not. Cinderella still receives the
greatest reward, however. Return to place in story.