Study Guide

Cinderella in Grimms' Fairy Tales

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Sweet as Pie

Cinderella is so sweet she makes our teeth hurt. For real. This girl never cracks, never rages, never loses her cool.

When her wicked stepsisters take away her nice clothes and make her do all the housework, she bears it patiently: "She had to get up before dawn, carry the water into the house, make the fire, cook, and wash" (Cinderella.79). They even make her sleep near the fireplace, in the ashes and cinders, (hence her nickname Cinderella), and still, she seems a-okay.

On top of all this, she's super-pious, and prays at the tree growing on her mother's grave three times daily. That's what we call devotion. And while it might seem that our Cinderella doesn't exactly have much of a life, there is an upside to all this: "Three times every day Cinderella would go and sit beneath it and weep and pray, and each time, a little white bird would also come to the tree. Whenever Cinderella expressed a wish, the bird would throw her whatever she requested" (Cinderella.80). Constant subservience, sweetness, and prayer for a magic wishing bird? Maybe that's not a bad trade-off.

Dreamer into Doer

When the king throws a three-night shindig so his son can find a wife (that's how they rolled in ye olden times), Cinderella helps her stepsisters get prettied up because she's nice like that. She (just barely) has enough gumption to stand up for herself and ask to attend the ball too, and we're all pumped for Cinderella's shining moment.

But not so fast. Her wicked stepmother does not want her at that ball, so she sets her an impossible task—to sort a bowlful of lentils from the ashes. Cinderella's just obedient enough, and just hardworking enough to get the job done, with a little help from some birds, of course. The best part is, this gives her an opportunity to show even more resourcefulness, when she goes to the tree on her mother's grave and asks it for help to get her ready for the ball. Boom—she's got a golden dress and everything else a girl could need to win the guy of her dreams.

That's what makes us love Cinderella all the more, though. Sure, she may be a bit too deferential, and lack a backbone when we really wish she'd grow one. But at the end of the day, she totally goes for it, and it pays off.

Cinderella is beautiful and charming enough to intrigue the prince, as our narrator tells us, "he would not dance with anyone else and would not let go of her hand" (Cinderella.81). Unfortunately, this is just when Cinderella's meeker side rears its ugly head. Because she keeps running away before anyone can identify her, the prince has to think of a way to ensnare her. And so we get the grand shoe plot.

Resolution for the Reluctant

Cinderella proves utterly unable to take initiative now that she's got the prince looking for her, and it's only after each stepsister cuts off a piece of heel or toe in order to fit inside her tiny shoe that she lets herself be dragged out to meet the prince.

It sure as shootin' seems like living by the fireplace all those years gave her some self-esteem issues. Even her dad isn't on her side. At all. After the prince has tried the shoe on the other two sisters and asks whether the man has other daughters, he says nope: "There's only little Cinderella, my dead wife's daughter, who's deformed, but she can't possibly be the bride" (Cinderella.83). Thanks, Dad.

But this is fairyland, and we have to remember that slow and humble wins the race. Perhaps because Cinderella's never had great social skills with people, she's always been good with animals. Not only do the birds help her separate lentils from ashes so she can go to the ball, but the birds sing a little song when the prince is about to take the wrong bride home, and they also peck out the eyes of the stepsisters at the wedding. Nothing says dedication like eyeball-pecking. And nothing says happy ending like a meek girl nabbing herself a manly prince.

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