She’s beautiful, pure of heart, joyful, dutiful, innocent, elegant and grieving the loss of her mother and father. Yet she presses onward. She even presses onward with enthusiasm and a “can do” attitude. The Cinderella story is about Ella, a simple country girl who lives to live life, in all of its experiences. Yet such a naive bundle of perfection is not usually successful straight out the gate. The real world, it appears, is much too harsh for our bright star to glide through her existence with a glabrous, perhaps even wanton, bliss. Ella is the perfect victim.
Enter the cruel bitterness of her evil step mother, whose longing desperation of her bygone life motivates her to gather her bitter resentment and project it fully upon the sweet-natured Ella through harsh discipline, ridicule and enslavement. Her cruelty is that which invokes the spirit of soot and dust upon lovely Ella as she and her obnoxious daughters don Ella with the famous moniker for which the story is named. Thus Cinderella is born. Ella is thrown into ash and rubble in what will become a vain attempt of her step family to outshine the true beauty that resonates so clearly from her being to all who ever come to know her.
How did the Cinderella story & name become synonymous with purity & beauty?
It shouldn’t be, after all. It was designed to be insulting. Yet Ella wears her new name with honor, at least by the end of the story. There seems to be a part in all of us that resonates with the innocent and tragic life of Cinderella. She evokes a sense of optimism most of us wouldn’t dare be so bold to claim for ourselves. What’s most startling, however, is that despite her troubles and humiliations with her step family, she remains. Cinderella could have left, but instead she willingly stays at the house and performs her tasks. What motivates her is the memory of her parents. This memory lives on for her in the home in which she was raised, and in which she has become a servant within.
Here we find the archetype of Sacrifice in action. Cinderella lays herself aside at every possible moment for the benefit of something, or someone, bigger than herself. Considering her darkest hour when she is forbidden and prevented from going to the ball, we see Cinderella wipe the tears from her face – casting her own pain aside – as she stops to help a poor homeless woman receive some nourishment. And it is here that we witness Cinderella’s first moment of Redemption. The woman she helps is of course her Fairy Godmother who magically transforms Cinderella’s outer visage to match her inner charm and beauty, enabling her to go to the ball, making the grandest of entrances and having the first (and only) dance with the Prince. What’s important to note, however, is that Cinderella’s “good deed” was not motivated by the hope of such an experience. It could not have been, for never in her wildest imagination would she have been able to consider such a feat actually occurring.
A true Sacrifice is one that is laid down without any hope or expectation of return.
Anything else is mere ambition wearing the mask of Sacrifice. It is perhaps this altruism of spirit that brings the purity and beauty of the name “Cinderella” into the foreground of our attention. Despite adversity and set backs, the pure-natured soul tarries with all that life sends its way. Perhaps naivety and innocence too often verge on the edge of foolishness and victimhood, but the story that captures us is the one which so aptly displays a singular motif with visceral clarity.
What is the message in the Cinderella story’s Redemption?
Ultimately, Cinderella is freed from her self-elected prison, though not by her own doing. Prince Charming vindicates her when he hears her sing and fits her with the magical glass slipper. Proclaiming their love for one another, they bounce joyfully back to the castle to live happily ever after. There seems to be a sense within each of us that the more we endure, the more we Sacrifice, the larger the eventual payoff (or Redemption) will be. A silent hope that the power of a kingdom will release its army with relentless pursuit to save us from whatever situation we may find ourselves seems to lurk longingly within our subconscious. After all, this is what occurred for Cinderella, right? If we are pure enough, dutiful enough, happy enough, respectful enough, and simply wait long enough, then we believe the wave of Redemption will wash away our tragedy and carry us onwards to a new dawn, a new horizon where our Sacrifice is no longer required.
Is there danger in this belief, however? To reiterate two very crucial factors involved in this story would not be redundant:
- Cinderella was not forced to stay in her prison, she chose to remain there. She chose to Sacrifice.
- Sacrifice can have no ulterior motives, or it is no longer a Sacrifice, but a manipulation.
Indeed, there is quite a danger in holding a belief that if one makes a Sacrifice, s/he will experience Redemption. For what is a person to think when Redemption never comes? Furthermore, what is the appropriate amount of Sacrifice required in order to be redeemed? By keeping score, we are creating the grave potential of setting ourselves up for disappointment. Expectations can be exceedingly dangerous, even when operating beneath our immediate awareness. To question oneself ruthlessly about one’s inner motivations and intentions is no easy task, but may be the only way to ever experience any kind of Redemption in the end. We may actually be our own redeemers if we are able to find these core drives and see them clearly. In doing so, we discover ourselves and become more capable of engaging with our situations (be they tragedies or otherwise) with a wider vision and even optimism. We may find opportunity where we originally only saw catastrophe.
The pure conscience is both the Sacrifice and Redemption coalesced into one.
What do you find most appealing/repelling about Cinderella’s story?
Perhaps you love Cinderella for different reasons than stated in this article, or perhaps you can’t stand her. Use the comment section below to voice your position on the matter.