“Cinderella” is a well-known western fairy tale about a young woman who is abused by her step mother and two step sisters. She is given the opportunity to escape her family when the prince of the land has a ball to look for a wife. Cinderella wanted to go to the ball after hearing about it, but her step family forces her to stay home. With the help of her fairy god mother, Cinderella is able to go to the ball and eventually become the prince’s new wife. Many different countries have their own version of Cinderella. While many of the versions of Cinderella differ from one another almost all of them show a common theme of a dysfunctional family without Cinderella’s mother. Cinderella’s mother’s absence shows how dependent families are on a mother. This essay will explore the changes that happen when the real mother is not present in the family. The stories that will be analyzed are French tale The Little Glass Slipper, a Russian tale called Baba Yaga, a Georgian tale called Conkiajgharuna, the Little Rag Girl and a Native American tale called The Hidden One. These stories depict how Cinderella and her father deal with the absence of her mother. By adding another mother figure the family tries to recreate what they lost. The family fails at recreating what they lost which causes Cinderella to endure abuse from a failed unification between the two families.
Society often shows that it is a mother’s duty to take on an important role in her children’s lives. Dr. Mark E. Feinberg and Dr. Elizabeth Riina explain the role of mothers and fathers in their book, Family Relations. There is evidence that mothers and fathers adjust differently to the lives of their children. Mother’s view of the family labor is obligatory while fathers view the family labor as optional participation. This causes mothers to be more enmeshed in the parenting role than fathers. This also causes the mother to feel more pressure on being able to accommodate the needs of her family and work life. For these reasons the mother is the key to keeping the structure of the family together (Feinberg and Riina 837) Society also expects that a woman should give her husband and children the kindness and care needed to keep the family in order. When the mother is not there it causes the structure of the family to fall apart. Mothers have a natural instinct to know how to care for their family. They are able to care and guide their children and husband through difficult times in their lives. When the she is missing the guidance and love that children need to grow into healthy adults is gone. Also the husband loses the support and love that he needs from a partner. The father can attempt to fill in this role, however he is usually lacking in certain areas that mothers do well in, such as emotional support and making the family feel equally loved.
All of the stories, except for The Hidden One, explain that the father was lonely and tried to fill the void of the missing mother by marrying another woman. Even though it is a good attempt by the father, he does not realize that another woman cannot replace Cinderella’s mother. Seeing as how Cinderella is not the step mother’s child, she will never love her like her own children. A mother will always favor her own children over someone else’s. This is almost always true because they have a connection with their children from giving birth to them. When a mother has to adopt another child as her own it is difficult because the connection of childbirth is not there. Mothers who are able to adopt children who are not their own are able to have a connection with them if they are part of raising the child from a baby. However, because Cinderella’s step mother came into her life when Cinderella was much older she is unable to have any kind of connection with her. This issue also causes Cinderella to face tension with her sisters. Sisters who are raised together learn to accept one another and have close relationships with each other because they see each other grow through life. By Cinderella being added into the family she does not share the special connection that sisters have with each other.
Fathers also face the issue of loving their own children more. This can cause jealousy between the children and the step parent. This would explain why Cinderella’s step family was never able to get along. All of these issues show that a union between the two families is almost impossible. The difficulties of this union are even shown with extended family in the tale Baba Yaga when the protagonist’s step aunt tries to cook and eat her. Dr. Claire Cartwright and Dr. Kerry Gibson explain the difficulties of step families in their article The Effects of Co-Parenting Relationships with Ex-spouses On Couples with Step-families. Step families have a more difficult time getting along because they do not have the luxury of getting to know each other before becoming parents and step-parents. They do not go through the phases of raising a child together from birth. Instead they have to learn to accept a child that they do not love to be in a relationship with that person. This causes many issues with acceptance with the parents and the children. Unless the families are able to fully accept one another they will never be able to have a complete union (Cartwright and Gibson 18).
The challenges that step families have can easily make or break a family. In Cinderella’s case, it broke her family and she lives with the consequences. Because Cinderella is forced to endure the consequences of a failed union. Almost all of the tales reveal that the family was jealous of Cinderella because of her beauty. This causes the step mother and the sisters to try to make her appear ugly. In The Little Glass Slipper the step family dressed the protagonist in rags, in Conkiajgharuna, the Little Rag Girl the family tricked Conkiajgharuna into growing a horn on her head, and in The Hidden One the sisters burned Little Scarefaces’s face with coal. All of these misfortunes cause Cinderella to believe that there is good and evil between her mothers. The step mother does not offer anything that Cinderella needs to become a healthy adult. Cinderella needs love and attention that only her real mother can give to her. Because of this, Cinderella associates everything evil with her step mother. This only increases her need for her real mother more. Cinderella longs for the love and care that mothers give. From seeing how bad her step mother is, she believes that her mother is the opposite of her. This causes Cinderella to believe that her real mother embodies good and purity.
Even though Cinderella is without her mother, most of the tales show Cinderella being watched over by others who help her with the abuse of her step family. In The Little Glass Slipper the protagonist is assisted by her fairy godmother, in Conkiajgharuna, the Little Rag Girl Conkiajgharuna has a cow that helps her, in Baba Yaga the protagonist has a cat that helps her. All of these characters act like a mother figure for Cinderella. Mothers are known to watch over their children and assist them when they need help. These other characters fill in the role of the mother for Cinderella, so that she can escape her family and live a better life. They also embody motherly features because two of the characters are females. They are able to be the guide that mothers can be for their children. Also in helping Cinderella they show the goodness and purity that Cinderella believes that her real mother had.
Even though Cinderella’s abuse is shown physically, her father never notices. Although Cinderella never openly tells her father about the abuse it should be obvious that there are issues present in the family. The lack of attention that Cinderella receives from her father shows how the role of fathers differs greatly than the role of mothers. Mothers usually know their child better than anyone else because they spend the most time with them at home. Because of this, they learn about their child’s personality and behavior more than the father. Most mothers know when something is bothering their child. A father’s role in the family is to earn money and provide labor work for the family. The father could show a caring and loving side toward his family, but society treats this as feminine behavior in males which causes fathers to distant themselves from their children. This causes fathers to stay away from child rearing and just make sure the child is alright by seeing them and are usually not able to pick up on problems that their child might have.
All of the Cinderella tales discussed in this essay show an example of how the father is not able to see when something is wrong with their child. The only tale that the father shows interest in Cinderella’s abuse is in The Hidden One when he questions the burn on Little Scarface’s face. The lack of awareness on the father’s part shows how much the mother is needed in the family. The tale said that the older sister abused her because they were envious of her beauty and abuses her trying to make her look ugly. If the mother was in their lives Little Scarface’s sister would not feel the need to be abusive or jealous towards her. Mothers are usually able to give an equal amount of love to each other their children. The equal love that mother’s give their children helps sibling jealousy and fights. If the mother was there the sisters would be able to better put their issues with each other aside after a fight rather than an abusive relationship to occur. In the tale Baba Yaga the protagonist reveals to the father that the step mother and step aunt tried to kill her. After the step mother’s hate for her is exposed the father shoots and kills her. Although the father finally does something to help the protagonist, it still shows much of a little presence he has in his daughter’s life.
All of the stories show how much the mother is needed in her family’s lives for the family to be able to function properly. Without the real mother the children and the husband suffer from the loss of love and care that they need. Asking another woman to fill in the role of being the mother causes the family to endure many difficulties to try to become unified. The character Cinderella is a prime example of what happens when a family cannot reach that unification. Even though Cinderella suffers from the loss of a mother figure she is finally able to find peace by escaping her family and marrying the prince. By letting Cinderella restart her life again with a new husband her role the family changes. Instead of being just the daughter that lives in the house she is able to have the role of wife. The role of being a wife eventually turns into the role of being a mother once she has children. She would finally be able to be the role of the mother that she believes is so good and pure. In this marriage she also gains the male support that she lacked from her father. Leaving her family behind and starting a new family gives her the happy ending that she needed.
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