11 February 2014
Cinderella’s Happily Ever After
Throughout the history of literature, the tale of Cinderella has always been portrayed as a fairy tale that ends with happily ever after. However, to some writers the tale of Cinderella isn’t so simple and sweet. Roald Dahl, British novelist and poet, tells the tale of Cinderella in a more gory and dark way. He views the story in a light different than what most poets and writers see, and ultimately the fairy tale takes a trip down a path that most people aren’t used to. Anne Sexton, an American poet, also adds her own little twist to the Cinderella story that we all love and know. With her violent and bloody descriptions, Sexton focuses on the common theme of happily ever after but views the fairy tale from a realistic perspective. The Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella also brings the realistic aspect of a happily ever after to light. This story resembles a lot like Sexton’s and both exploit the popular theme. Each version of the famous fairy tale Cinderella all have one thing in common. All three abandon the innocent story of Cinderella, but the focus on the common theme of a happily ever after still remains present. However, in each of these stories the theme of a happily ever after is portrayed realistically, exploiting the thought of a fairy tale relationship being possible in the real world.
In Anne Sexton’s Cinderella, the original soft and magical storyline takes a drastic turn. Cinderella’s mother was married to a rich man, but passes away and her husband remarries another woman with two daughters. She becomes the new family’s maid and has to perform work around the house just like in the fairy tale everyone knows. One day when her father returns home from town, Cinderella gets presented a twig which eventually grows into a tree on her mother’s grave after she plants it there. The tree becomes home to a magical white dove that grants all of her wishes and her first wish was to be sent to the prince’s ball. To fulfill her wishes, “The magical white dove drops down a golden dress and delicate little slippers.” When Cinderella goes to the ball her stepmother and sisters don’t even recognize her beauty. She ends up dancing and spending the night with the prince but before it gets too late realizes that she needs to get home. On the third day of interacting with the prince he decides that he needs to find out who his mistress really is. So he puts cobbler’s wax on the palace stairs and Cinderella’s golden slipper gets stuck. The prince’s plan was to go around the town to find out whoever fit the slipper and marry her, now this is where Anne Sexton’s story begins to take a twist. When the prince goes to her home the step sisters decide to try on the slipper. The eldest sister was first, but she knew that her big toe would not fit into the slipper so she cut it off and put it on. This effort eventually fails because of the blood and so does the other sisters, who cut off her own heel. However, when Cinderella tries on the slipper she “fits into the shoe like a love letter fit into an envelope.” After she tries on the slipper, “Cinderella and the prince lived, they say, happily ever after, like two dolls in a museum case.” By comparing Cinderella’s love to two dolls in a museum case Anne Sexton shows that realistically a happily ever after does not exist. Fairy tales tend to give hope to children that they can one day fall in love and live happily ever after as well but in the real world these Cinderellaesque relationships are unrealistic. The true irony to Sexton’s version of Cinderella is that fairy tale relationships and happily ever afters do not exist even though the original fairy tale of Cinderella may show us otherwise.
Roald Dahl’s version of Cinderella may be the bloodiest and gory of them all. His use of words to describe the events that happened in the fairy tale bring about a drastic change to the overall visualization of the story. The story begins with Cinderella locked up in a “slimy cellar, where the rats wanted things to eat, began to nibble at her feet.” When she cries for help a magic fairy comes to her aide. Cinderella requests to go to the ball and the magic fairy grants her wish by presenting her with a dress, a coach, earrings, a diamond broach, and lastly silver slippers. With the flick of a wrist, Cinderella finds herself at the palace ball. At the ball she dances with the prince holding him very tight, making her sisters wince at the sight. When the clock strikes twelve Cinderella runs out and loses a slipper on the way. The prince picks up the slipper but strangely and carelessly places it on top of a crate of beer after pressing it to his heart for a brief moment. After he does this, one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters takes the shoe and replaces it with slipper from her own left foot so that the next day when the prince came looking for whoever fit the shoe it would be her. This was a very interesting change to the Cinderella story that only made things gory at the end. When the prince arrives at their home the shoe fits her ugly sister but instead of taking her hand in marriage, the prince has her beheaded. The other ugly sister then says she would like to try on the shoe but the prince had others ideas in mind. The prince has the other sister beheaded as well, and both heads roll around on the kitchen floor. Cinderella sees this and her whole outlook on the prince had changed. The prince would’ve had Cinderella beheaded as well, but her magical fairy appears and Cinderella decides to make a new wish. With the flick of a wrist, Cinderella is married to “a lovely feller, a simple jam maker by trade,” but most importantly they lived happily ever after. Dahl’s version of Cinderella also relates to the common theme of happily ever after but like Sexton, views it in a different light. He shows that happily ever after relationships are not realistic, and that sometimes true happiness can be obtained without the fairy tale story leading up to it. In the end, Cinderella does not want her Prince Charming or his money, she wishes for a decent man.
In the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, the common theme of living happily ever after is again exploited. The story starts off as Cinderella’s mother dies and her father remarries. Going to her mother’s grave every day, Cinderella prays and weeps. One day Cinderella’s father asked her what she would like for him to bring her back home from town. Cinderella tells her father that she wants a branch from the first tree that hits him on his way home, so he returns with one. Cinderella then plants that branch and it grows into a beautiful tree that is home to a bird that grants her wishes just like in Sexton’s version of Cinderella. Eventually Cinderella goes to the ball with Prince and the story results the same way as Sextons. One sister cuts off her big toe to try and fit into the slipper and the other cuts off her heel. Both stories end in the same way, as “happily ever after,” but both exploit the harsh reality of the theme itself. There is no such thing as happily ever after in reality.
As you can see throughout all the different tales of the Cinderella stories the theme remains the same. The enduring theme of living happily ever after remains prevalent throughout all versions of the fairy tale but is exploited for what it truly is through each of these stories. The original tale of Cinderella gives false hope to all children because there will never be a happily ever after in reality. These Cinderella stories all share this in common, despite the differing beginnings and endings to the fairytale. One thing that can be taken from these stories is that Zipes’ argument about fairy tales is supported. Zipes says, “Perhaps the most remarkable outcome of the so-called historical studies of literary fairy tales for children is the sense that they are ageless.” This is seen in the different tales of Cinderella because they all end the same but what’s significant about these three stories is that they bring reality into the picture. Cinderella is often viewed as a fairy tale model for children that gives hope for a happily ever after, but as you can see realistically even Cinderella didn’t have one in these stories. These three versions of the famous tale of Cinderella exploit how fairy tales shape unrealistic expectations about life, and that the theme of a happily ever after is merely superficial.