So far, we’ve explored multiple variants of the Cinderella story, from successive iterations of the tale in the European tradition to American cinematic adaptations of those European tales.
Here’s the thing: Cinderella is not a European story. At least, not exclusively. Some of the oldest variants of the tale actually originated in China, and there is a Chinese genealogy of Cinderella comprehending multiple iterations of the tale, several of which are much older than the “classic” European versions.
Let’s explore this alternative genealogy of Cinderella, starting with a Chinese folktale that puts a distinctive twist on the story.
???? Read the Chinese folktale entitled “Cinderella” (attached below).
Consider the following questions to help you read carefully and critically:
- Like the classic Cinderella story, this version includes the motif of the lost shoe. How does the representation of the lost shoe resemble that in other versions? What has changed in this version? Do you think this symbol represents the same thing in this version as in the European versions of Cinderella?
- What other aspects of this “Cinderella” story (characters, imagery, events) mirror the other versions we have read?
- What is your opinion of Beauty (the heroine of the story) and why? Does she embody the same virtues as the other Cinderella characters? What attitude does the story express towards her?
- Once again, we see that there’s a version of the fairy tale with a number of gruesome, violent elements missing from many of the more popular, palatable versions. Why do you think these details of the story were included? Do they change our attitude to any of the characters or events represented? Do they affect the moral of the story at all?
Is this really a Cinderella story?
The title of the folktale proclaims it to be a story of Cinderella. But this version differs in many ways from the Cinderella stories we’ve encountered so far – does it really make sense to associate it with the European tales?
At the end of her article discussing variations of the Cinderella story, Linda Holmes argues that only very loose similarities are required to incorporate a story into the literary genealogy of Cinderella. She claims at one point, “All it takes is a girl and a dress and a shoe; people get it” (defining the Cinderella story in terms of motifs, or tropes). She goes on to say (thinking in terms of plot structure, or morphology) that the Cinderella story basically boils down to “Sad girl gets magic dress, goes to dance, loses shoe, is found”; later, she boils it down even further, arguing that any story that features the “rescue of a deserving underdog from an ordinary life and delivery to an extraordinary one” could be considered a Cinderella story, citing Captain America, Spiderman, Batman, etc.
Is that really all it takes? What do you think is the essence of the Cinderella story?
Using the Chinese folktale we’ve just read as a case study, let’s try to define a “Cinderella” story, clarifying what motifs or what particular plot structure a story needs to include to be considered a version of the Cinderella tale.
???? Create a visual argument that the Chinese folktale and another variant of Cinderella are/aren’t variations on the same story.
In the previous unit, I laid out the commonalities between the plot structures of Snow White and “The Favored Daughter.” I visualized that plot structure (and the elements that are and aren’t shared) by creating a flow chart of the major plot points:
This flow chart essentially argues that the two stories are variants on the same basic plot, since it shows that they share the majority of their key plot points in common.
Try creating your own diagram of the plot structures of the stories you are comparing, showing through the diagram what the stories have in common, and where they diverge. The diagram doesn’t need to include everything that happens in each story, but should have all the details that you judge are important in shaping the final outcome of the story and/or defining the story’s moral.
It also doesn’t need to look the like the one above – as long as it can show the steps in the plot. You should feel free to create it digitally (for the above, I used a flowchart app called Creately, but you could also create something similar in Microsoft Word) or to draw it by hand and upload a photo.
If you have any questions on what to include, or how to submit your image, let me know.