Symbolism in Fairytales
Fairytales are as ancient as communal living. However, the symbolism of fairytales is very controversial. In the case of Cinderella, I believe that it symbolizes the role of women in society and the characteristics that women should have. In Bruno Bettelheim's article "'Cinderella:' A Story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts," he depicts the fairytale as a case of sibling rivalry. Feminist Madonna Kolbenschlag, says in her article "A Feminist View of `Cinderella,'" that the fairytale represents women's role in society. Karol Kelley's article "A Modern Cinderella," also claims that the fairytale describes the women's role in society and their characteristics. The topics discussed by the authors are the importance of Cinderella's gender, the meaning of Cinderella's work, the significance of the ashes, Cinderella's transcending her work on the helpful animals, the values of Cinderella that are rewarded, and the idea of goodness.
Firstly, the importance of Cinderella's gender, I believe, is to engrain in the minds of young girls, the traditional role of women. Women are expected to do housework while men are to hold the superior and better paying jobs. Women are also dependent on men for security and a sense of identity (Kelley 89). Cinderella is a model for women (Kolbenschlag 525). Cinderella runs away from the party, which symbolizes the "old conduct manuals", that women are not to have excursions or ambitions (527). Bettelheim believes that gender is not the issue, but simply the work she is forced to do is a symbol of debasement in comparison to her stepsisters (568). In my opinion, most people couldn't relate to the story of Cinderella if Cinderella was a male due to the traditional female role in society; women are to take care of the housework. Another reason that gender is important is the symbolism of the slipper. Is slipper is a symbol of "sexual bondage and imprisonment in a stereotype" (Kolbenschlag 527).
Secondly, the meaning of Cinderella's work I think, is demeaning to her, and again it represents the traditional role of women to take care of the housework. Cinderella stays at home doing the housework is a traditional feminine role, but is dirty, physically demanding, and demeaning (Kelley 89). Bettelheim believes that the work is symbolic to children and the reasons they do work. As long as you work hard you will be rewarded (570). This is an interesting point, but I think the dirty and physically demanding housework may also show a distinction in social class. The Prince, being a man, obviously doesn't clean floors or cook. He holds the highest level in society at that time.
Third is the significance of the ashes. I believe that Cinderella's home among the ashes is a direct correlation with the virtues that the hearth symbolizes. Kolbenschlag describes the hearth as a place of purity, innocence, nurturance, docility, and empathy (525). These virtues coincide with the virtues of...