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Cinderella and the Feminist Struggle for Independence

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Jessica was suspicious of the queen, and rightfully so. When the queen entered the black room, the ghastly sight caused Jessica to faint in disgust. Suspicious, black, ghastly. These are just a few of the words an author can use to imply evil in a character. The connotation of dark as evil is prevalent in many stories throughout the history of western civilization. Fairy tales “emanate from specific struggles to humanize [forces initially perceived to be evil], which have terrorized our minds and communities in concrete ways” (Zipes), and their usually-heroic endings make us forget on a conscious level the lessons they’ve taught us. However, their impact remains on our subconscious views of the world. Because of this, fairly tales often address issues far more serious than one would think to teach to a young reader. The Brothers’ Grimm tale “Ashputtle”, the basis of our modern-day Cinderella archetype, takes advantage of this to address the issue of the continued oppression of women.

Modern-day feminists state that there are many repressed attitudes and fears which keep women in a kind of half-light, forcing them to subconsciously retreat from the full use of their minds and creativity (Dowling, 595). The archetypal Cinderella is often criticized by feminist critics for waiting for something external to transform her life (Abel, 192). Contrary to this assumption, passivity is not prevalent in the original Brothers’ Grimm tale. However, actions performed by women in the tale are often associated with darkness. It is this overpowering association with the color black and its implications that truly keep women in a “half-light” in the tale.

In “Ashputtle”, the main �Cinderella’ character, Ashputtle, decides immediately she wants to go to a ball which the prince is throwing. She makes every effort to do so. She prepares her stepsisters while pleading with her stepmother for permission to attend. She secretly calls upon magical animals which she controls, namely birds, to perform her assigned work. When all of this fails to get her to the ball, she resorts to the use of magic again, this time to produce a stunning gown. Upon her arrival, the prince is immediately enamored with Ashputtle. Though the prince is perhaps not the brightest man, he a valuable and powerful asset for any poorer woman to be associated with. After placing the prince under the spell of her beauty and charming , Ashputtle fearlessly uses magic to inform the prince he has retrieved the wrong bride. He selects the wrong woman again, yet she does not despair. There is no need. In this situation a little determination and some more magic can rectify the bumbling prince. Once more, Ashputtle puts her birds to work. Finally, she is rewarded for all of her action and the crafty Ashputtle has snags her prince. She is far from a girl waiting around; constantly, she pursues her desires. And Ashputtle is fully aware of what she wishes to accomplish. And in order to accomplish these goals, Ashputtle fools everybody around her to secure her survival. In this version of Cinderella, the girls do not fit Dowling’s definition of women waiting for an external force to transform them. Women modeling themselves after this Cinderella would hardly be representational of Dowling’s claim that females today are “retreating from the full use of their minds and creativity” (Dowling, 595). Still, there is something that keep Cinderella’s true nature as an activist hidden: she is dirty, ashen, associated with the color black. Unfortunately, the women within her family are the ones who label this darkness as shameful to society. By portraying Cinderella covered in soot and ashes combined with the actions of the stepfamily her work becomes a symbol of shame.

The women around Ashputtle are filled with contempt. All are concerned with how Ashputtle’s appearance reflects upon their own standing in society. The irony is that these are the very same women setting the social standards. Ashputtle is constantly reminded of her place: “How can you go to a wedding when you’re

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