It's nice to be in control of your life, right? In Ella Enchanted, however, there are about a zillion ways that people can exert power over another's life. People gain (or lose) power through magic, heredity, money, duty, and love. The power to decide one's own fate is held up as something to strive for, even while the ties that constrain characters' choices are on display. To recap: power is awesome. But do any of the characters in the book hold absolute power? And would that even be a good thing?
Ella's noble birth puts her in a privileged enough position that the spell she's under does not completely disempower her.
The power to disobey is part of what makes us human.
They probably don't hand out degrees in linguistics in Kyrria (no system of higher education, as far as we can tell), but if they did, Ella would probably have about three three. She picks up languages the way most people pick up sandwiches: effortlessly and enthusiastically. Ella's not the only multilingual character in Ella Enchanted, but her linguistic skills are remarkable among the humans, and are often remarked-upon. This goes to show us that Ella's smart and engaged with her world. We would totally bring her along on our Kyrrian road trip, so that we'd be able to order tacos in any language.
Ella would not be as strong and well-rounded a character without her language skills.
The fact that Ella's curse is built upon communication (verbal orders) makes communication the central theme of the book.
Ah, family. They love you, support you, take you in when no one else will, and put up with all your crazy issues—at least, they're supposed to. And boy does Ella's family have issues. Her mother dies, her father's a jerk, and her stepfamily is greedy and heartless. People in Ella Enchanted marry for status and for money, while loving relationships seem like an afterthought. Luckily, she's got a pretty nice family of choice: Mandy is kinder to Ella than the rest of her living family put together, while Areida's friendship helps Ella deal with the nastiness of her stepsisters at boarding school. So, you know: family. Can't live with 'em, can't feed 'em to the ogres. Ella's mom must've done a good job of raising her, since this brilliant solution never occurs to Ella.
There are more unhappy than happy marriages in Ella Enchanted.
In Ella Enchanted, having no family would be better than having a rotten family.
Money can't buy happiness, but you wouldn't know that from the behaviors of most of the characters in Ella Enchanted. From Ella's dad the conniving trader to the stepfamily who is practically obsessed with utilizing social connections to increase their wealth, a lot of these people think money is the root of all awesome. Although we do see some counter-examples: Ella doesn't seem to care about money at all, and Areida comes from a humble family. When Char starts to like "Lela" at the ball, he doesn't care that she's not from a family with wads of money. Whether you care about money or not in this book, wealth will affect how others perceive you and treat you in the majority of instances—you know, just like in our world.
Having money in Kyrria is the only way to guarantee that you'll be happy.
Every character who desires wealth is deeply flawed.
Writing is a window to the soul in Ella Enchanted. Ella's and Char's letters reveal confident and clever people behind the pens, while the glimpses we get of Hattie's and Olive's letters (thanks to Ella's magical book) reveal them to be dull and greedy. The fact that much of Ella and Char's courtship takes place through letters is significant; it's like the fantasyland equivalent of flirting through texting and IMing (but with better spelling and grammar). Still, writing can be a double-edged tool: Ella is able to fool Char into thinking she never really loved him with a shrewd trick of her pen. Shakespeare's got nothing on this girl.
In Kyrria, at least, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Had they been courting in person instead of by letter, Ella and Char wouldn't have gotten to know each other so well.
Clearly class is an issue in any retelling of "Cinderella," which ends with the downtrodden heroine marrying a prince. But since Ella Enchanted is novel-length instead of fairy-tale-length, there's a ton more room for ruminating on what precisely is the value of social class. Are high-class people actually classier than the rest? One look at Sir Peter, Dame Olga, Hattie, and Olive is enough to convince us that things may not actually work that way. Power and wealth are some obvious advantages to being of high social status, but being high class doesn't automatically make you awesome. Just don't tell Rich Raven.
High status in Kyrria comes with more monetary perks than political power.
In Ella Enchanted, The only way to attain high status is to be born into it.
Tangled up in Ella Enchanted's hot mess of wealth and power and social class is a major emphasis on rules and order. This works on two levels: the pressure for people to act according to the rules of their social standing, and the pressure on Ella to follow rules and commands due to her curse. You don't have to have a Ph.D. to see a connection here: forcing individuals to conform to society's rules is the very basis of society. Sure, some of the rules are good—like, don't randomly murder people. Some? Not so much. As Ella fights to disobey the strictures placed upon her personally, she's also fighting stupid and arbitrary social norms about how to properly curtsy and which fork to use for which meat. Feel free to disagree with us here… but don't expect to come to our dinner parties.
In Ella Enchanted, rules are arbitrary and meaningless.
Ella's rebellious behavior is pure spite. It does not serve a useful purpose.
What would it be like to live a life completely constrained by obedience, and never get to make your own choices? Ella Enchanted has the answer: not too awesome. Sure, Ella can decide what she eats for breakfast if no one's there to do it for her. But choosing which brand of cereal you want that day seems trivial compared to being able to choose how you live your life, who you marry, and where you'll go to school. But Ella is still able to find wiggle room in the orders she's given, making us think that while her obedience spell still sucks, there's a lot of potential for strong-minded and creative individuals to carve out some freedom even in less-than-ideal circumstances.
If Ella had not chosen to wed Char of her own free will, their relationship would never have lasted.
Ella Enchanted suggests that life's most important choices relate to other people.