As this week’s theme was Cinderella (and similar stories), we of course discussed the many motifs present in the story, about some of which (I’m looking at you, Bettelheim) I am quite skeptical. With that off my chest, I am pleased now to write about a motif in Cinderella the presence of which is undisputed. Of course, this is the obvious motif of “rags-to-riches” that is evident from even a cursory reading of the tale. I find this to be a very feel-good motif for many children, as we read for class, and thus the reader can easily associate with the story. However, I personally find that the idea of getting rich via marriage or, for reasons both obvious and not, magic to be ridiculous.
I suppose I will start with the easy target, magic. Of course it is simple enough to write off magic entirely since, to the best of my knowledge, it does not exist (or at least not in the way that it does in most fairy tales, but this is a dangerously divergent topic for any blogger hoping to stay on topic). However, I will play along, and grant that magic exists in the tale, and so can be examined within the reality of the tale. Magic is basically what the tale uses to advance the “rags-to-riches” motif, and it is hard to imagine the story without it. My assignment is not to preserve the integrity of the tale, however: it is to assess the ability of magic to truly complete this motif. I say that it does not, but to understand why, we first look at the second supposed purveyor of the motif, high marriage.
I find the idea that marriage can bring one riches to be foolish not because it is entirely untrue—it is undoubtedly a fairly secure long-term benefit if one marries rich (I will attempt to ignore here my cringe at the thought of those who use such reasoning), but because focusing on the marriage ignores the beneficial character traits the preclude it. Traits such as diligence, hard work, and tolerance are traits which I cannot imagine a marriage lasting without, and yet the very presence of these traits, in theory, would make marriage not the cause of the attainment of riches, but a symptom. And here is where magic’s uselessness ties in. With the traits that Cinderella has (including those described above) it would have been possible for her to pull herself up without the need for magic. The only thing the magic did in the story, in my opinion, was make the motif almost inevitably successful (and, of course, a fairy tale). Overall, I find that in any non-fairytale setting, inherent character traits are far more important than magic or marriage in seeing a rags-to-riches story come true.
Well, I do hope you’ve enjoyed the latest installment! Tune in next week for a commentary on Bluebeard!