What Makes Cinderella A Hero?

Cinderella is one of my favourite stories, I still have the old Ladybird book version that I read to my three year old daughter at bedtime. There is something so magical and satisfying about the story, it has been told and retold and told again through the ages. I absolutely love the original animated Disney version.

However some may say that Cinderella isn’t as relevant now as she used to be. In the current cultural climate she has become something of an outsider. She isn’t a fiesty, fiery female, ready to blast her way through her problems, she can’t fight, in fact she has no special skills outside of cooking and cleaning and god fordbid, she marries the Prince and gets her happy ever after.

Revisiting Cinderella as a mother, experiencing it again alongside my daughter, I did wonder what agency does Cinderella have in the story? How does she own and shape it? And why doesn’t she visibly fight back and take he destiny in her own hands? In the way we are so used to seeing in modern day storytelling.

The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t quite figure out what the fairy tale was trying to teach us. Fairy tales contain ancient wisdom a lot of which remains relevant to us now, but with Cinderella it seemed like perhaps her story had aged, perhaps it might not contain lessons we want our daughters to learn. Rely on a Prince to provide happiness? It doesn’t sound very 21st century.

However, and this took me a while, I no longer look at Cinderella in this way. I don’t believe she did rely on the Prince to provide her happiness. Really the Prince only comes in to the story half way and he is more like a symbolic reward for Cinderella at the end, in exchange for something she has done right.

But what has she done right? What is the noble truth embedded in the tale? The clue is in the step mother and the steps sisters – their behaviour, their way of being and how they treat Cinderella. They are absolutely intolerable towards her, jealous, cruel, spiteful, vindictive and mean. They genuinely do not want Cinderella to succeed or experience joy on any level.

The answer is in how Cinderella responds. With such heavy provocation she could be forgiven for matching their behaviour, hitting back, scheming against them, bitching and moaning, forcing her way to the ball despite their behaviour, perhaps exacting immediate and deliberate revenge. Yet Cinderella does none of that. She does not change her character one bit in the face of all that evil.

In a way, it is what Cinderella doesn’t do that make her heroic. She doesn’t give in to provocation and every reason to hate. She holds onto herself and remains light, kind, gentle, hopeful, hard working and honest. In this way she makes her own happiness. Prince or no Prince, she stays true to herself and that, when you think about it, is no mean feat.

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