7 August 2002
Cinderella is easily one of the most well known stories around the world. The themes from the story appear in the folklore of many cultures. There are many disagreements about how many versions of the tale actually exist. The tale always centers on a kind, but mistreated girl who suffers at the hands of her step-family after the death of her mother. A magical person or creature helps her triumph over her evil step-family, and in the end, Cinderella is rescued and marries her prince.
The earliest recorded version of Cinderella hails from China. It was written down by Tuan Ch'eng-shih in the middle of the ninth century A.D. The next written version of the story comes from Charles Perrault in 1697. Through the years, many versions of the Cinderella story have been written, representing numerous cultures.
This is a thematic collection of variations of the traditional Cinderella folktale. There are numerous variations to the Cinderella story, many of which will be analyzed in this study. Cinderella stories can be found in many cultures including England, Russia, Korea, Vietnam, China, Egypt, Italy, France, Africa, and Germany.
The purpose of this project is to compare and contrast 10 different versions within three forms of analysis and across many cultures. The main concentration of this paper is to examine the cultural aspects of the Cinderella tale in relation to three methods of analysis: character, setting, and culture. The main character changes in relation to the culture that is represented and will assume the characteristics of that culture. The main character usually requires a new setting, most often the country of origin of the story. Interestingly, the basic plot of Cinderella remains the same regardless of the culture.
Stereotypes, personality types
Flat or dull/alive or vibrant
Like us/different from us
What time and place(s)? Continents? Country?
Real or myth?
A multiplicity of settings?
Settings often don't have a specific geography that can be
identified but still have a setting (such as "under the sea")
Street, playground, etc.
From what culture does the story come? (Tribal? Indian? Jewish? Etc.)
What cultural elements are critical to the story?
I found most of my items by searching the internet including Cinderella websites and the online stores of Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. I also have several versions in my own personal collection. I also had many discussions with my mentor librarian.
Arnold, Katya. Baba Yaga and the Little Girl: A Russian Folktale Retold and Illustrated by Katya Arnold. New York: North-South Books, 1994.
Her stepmother abuses a little girl, daughter of a merchant. Once when her father is away the stepmother sends the girl to her sister, the Baba Yaga, for a needle and thread to sew her father a shirt. But the clever girl first goes to her own aunt who reassures her and gives her a ribbon to tie on a birch so that it will not lash her eyes, some oil so that the gate hinge won't creak, some bread to feed the wild dogs, and some ham for the cat so that they will not tear her apart or scratch out her eyes. The Baba Yaga invites the girl into her hut that stands on chicken legs. The Baba Yaga gives her the needle and thread but makes her work for her preparing the fire and getting water for stew. She plans to cook the little girl. But the girl knits her father's shirt and uses the items given to her by her real aunt to escape from Baba Yaga. When the girl returns home her father has too. She tells him what happened, and he throws the false wife out. The girl gives him the beautiful shirt she has made, and they live happily ever after.
Climo, S. Illustrated by Ruth Heller. (1989). The Egyptian Cinderella. NY:
In this Egyptian version of Cinderella, a falcon takes the slave girl
Rhodopisí slipper and delivers it to the Pharaoh. Taking this as a
sign from the godís, the Pharaoh searches all over Egypt to find the
maiden who will fit this slipper and become his Queen. The maiden Rhodopis is stolen from her home in Greece by pirates who sell her as a slave in Egypt. Although her master is kind the other servant girls scorn her and force her to do menial tasks. She finds friends with the birds and animals. Her master sees her beauty as she dances barefoot and gives her a pair of slippers. The servants are jealous and scorn her further. They are invited to Memphis to see the Pharaoh, but Rhodopis must stay behind to weed the garden & grind the grain. As she polishes her shoes a great falcon, symbol of the god Horus, swoops down, takes one of her slippers, and drops it in the lap of Pharaoh. He searches for the owner. None fit except Rhodopis. The servants rage that she is a slave and not even Egyptian. But Pharaoh says she is most Egyptian of all and weds her.
Climo, Shirley. The Korean Cinderella. Illustrated by Ruth Heller. New York:
After her mother's death, Pear Blossom's father marries Omoni (mother), who has a daughter named Peony. Pear Blossom is relegated to the hearth with the ashes and crickets and is forced to do the cooking and cleaning until midnight. Peony calls her Piglet. Obliged to carry water in a pail with a hole in it she gets help from a large frog who presses his body across the hole; Peony spills the water and makes Pear Blossom crawl in the puddle to lick it up. Then she is forced to collect a sack of rice scattered in the courtyard and to remove the husks. Sparrows help her and the rice is polished and bagged. Peony mocks her for cheating but the sparrows attack her. Peony and her mother go to the festival but Pear Blossom must stay home and weed the rice paddies. A huge black ox appears who eats all the weeds and gives food to Pear Blossom. He hastens down the road by the stream but stops to remove a stone from her sandal. The magistrate comes by, and she flees losing her sandal in the stream. The magistrate fetches it and would marry its owner. At the festival Pear Blossom eats from her basket and watches the entertainment. Her stepsister and Omoni find her and ridicule her. The magistrate seeks the woman missing a sandal. Pear Blossom’s foot fits in the sandal. The wedding takes place and the magistrate and Pear Blossom are wed.
Cohlene, Terri. Little Firefly: An Algonquian Legend. Illustrated by Charles Reasoner. Vero Beach, FL: Watermill Press, 1990.
After her mother's death Little Firefly lives with her father and two hateful sisters. They make her do all the work and sleep by the fire where she becomes singed and scarred. In scorn they call her Little Burnt One. Word comes that the Invisible One will take a bride. The two sisters imagine that he will choose one of them. But in her sleep Firefly is visited by her mother, who tells her to go to the Invisible One. She collects cranberries and prepares a dress of birch, moccasins from cornhusks, and decorates her hair with silver birth leaves. As she sets out in her canoe her sisters mock her. But as the sun sets she arrives at a wigwam across the lake. She offers to work for the old woman she finds there. But the woman insists that she meet her brother. Around the bend Little Firefly sees the Invisible One and accurately identifies his bow as the rainbow and his bowstring as the Star Bridge of Souls. The older woman bathes Firefly and she weds the Invisible One.
Delmare, D. (1993). Cinderella. NY: Green Tiger Press.
Set in Venice, this version of the Cinderella tale begins when her
mother is still alive. Her mother dies, and her father marries a mean woman. Cinderella is treated as a servant until she loses her slipper at the ball and eventually marries the prince.
Grimm, J. & Grimm, W. Illustrated by Nonny Kheridian. Cinderella.
NY: Random House, 1981.
One of the older versions of the tale, Cinderella marries the prince
with the help of magic doves and a tree planted on her mother’s
Louie, Ai-Ling. Yeh-Shen, A Cinderella Story from China. Illustrated by Ed Young. Philomel, 1982.
After her mother & father's deaths, Yeh-Shen is raised by a cruel step-mother that favors her own daughter. Yeh-Shen's one consolation is a goldfish that she feeds until the stepmother kills it. But the bones of the fish protect her, grant her wishes, get her to the festival, well clad with golden slippers, and, ultimately, to the prince. The stepmother is excluded from the court and dies in her cave from falling rocks.
Perrault, C. (1988). Cinderella. NY: Knopf.
This French version of the Cinderella story was written in 1697. It
tells the tale of a poor girl who attends a ball and marries a prince
with the help of her fairy godmother.
Steptoe, J. (1987). Mufaroís Beautiful Daughter. NY: Mulberry.
In this African version of the Cinderella tale, the kind hearted
The Golden Slipper: A Vietnamese Legend. Retold by Darrell Lum. Illustrated by Makiko Nagano. Troll Associates, 1994.
Tam's mother dies and her father marries a woman with a daughter named Cam. Tam is much abused. The stepmother sends the two girls to collect prawns. Cam idles the day away, but Tam collects a basket full. Cam asks Tam to bring her a lotus flower. As Tam goes to collect the flower Cam steals her prawns and goes home. Tam weeps for having been tricked, but she is comforted by a fish, who tells her to listen to the animals around her. So Tam is consoled and brings food to the fish at night. A rooster likewise becomes her friend along with a horse. When the Autumn Festival arrives Cam and her mother go, leaving Tam home to husk rice. Birds come to Tam's aid, sorting the rice, and the catfish makes her black flowing trousers. The rooster finishes her elegant costume, and the old horse escorts her to the Festival with such velocity that she loses a slipper. A soldier takes it to the Prince, who would marry its owner. It fits only Tam. She and the Prince marry, to the chagrin of the stepmother and Cam.
In each Cinderella tale, the main character, Cinderella, is similar. Each country’s Cinderella is a beautiful, young woman, sometimes orphaned, that suffers unfortunate events that lead her to take the position of a servant. She is considered to be a good and likeable person by the reader but not to her “family”. Each Cinderella tends to follow the cultural aspects of the country from where she originated and takes on the personality traits, dialect and vocabulary that are associated with that country. For example, in The Korean Cinderella, the main character, Pear Blossom, carries water in a pail with a hole in it, is forced to collect a sack of rice scattered in the courtyard and remove the husks, and weed the rice paddies. It makes sense for the Korean version of Cinderella to mention rice paddies because they are an essential element in the Korean culture. Without rice paddies, the Korean people could not survive. At the end of The Korean Cinderella, the sparrows and the great frog say "ewha," which means Pear Blossom.
The end of each version of Cinderella always has a happy ending. The evil character is defeated and Cinderella lives happily ever after. In all but one version, Baba Yaga and the Little Girl: A Russian Folktale Retold and Illustrated by Katya Arnold, Cinderella marries the prince and enjoys a new life as a princess.
The settings of each Cinderella story compliment the country represented in the story. In Yeh-Shen, A Cinderella Story from China, the story takes place in China. The Egyptian Cinderella takes place in Egypt. The setting of Mufaroís Beautiful Daughter is Africa, and so on. For this reason, the setting becomes integral to the plot. The specific details of the different versions would not make as much of an impact, if the details did not match the culture the story is set in. For instance, in Little Firefly: An Algonquian Legend, Little Firefly sets out to cross a lake in her canoe and arrives at a wigwam. These details are significant in the context of an American Indian version of Cinderella. In spite of many differences, there were, however, some similarities.
When Cinderella is forced into slavery, in each story she is working as a servant of the household. The settings might be a hut, wigwam, or house, but each represents a place to live. All of the stories seem to take place far back in the past because there are no modern conveniences in any of the versions. Each version requires animals for transportation, gathering of food, and the use of fire or candles for light.
Perhaps the most interesting was the comparison of the different cultures that are represented. Included in this study are Cinderella stories from Russia, Egypt, Native America, Italy, France, China, Vietnam, Korea, Africa, and Germany. Though each underlying plot is very similar, the details of the stories are written according to the culture represented.
The Egyptian Cinderella speaks of a Pharaoh instead of a king. The names in Little Firefly: An Algonquian Legend, Invisible One, Little Firefly, and the Star Bridge of Souls, reflect the tendancy of the Indian culture to choose names with great meaning. In Delmare’s Italian version of Cinderella, the fairy godmother turns the pumpkin into a Gondola instead of a carriage. These are just a few examples of the many cultural elements. These cultural variations are very important and should be considered crucial elements because they give a sense of meaning and ownership to ethnic readers, and it places a famous story in perspective according to the knowledge and background of the culture it represents.
According to our class readings, “There exists a particular "universality" of traditional stories -- a similar general structure that appears in all cultures and languages.” I have found this to be true in my examination of Cinderella stories from various cultures. Each story involves a young girl who is forced to trade a good life for a life of slavery after her birth mother dies. Magically, something or someone comes to Cinderella’s aid, and she overcomes her miserable life and lived happily ever after with a prince. I have really enjoyed this assignment and have come to the conclusion that the underlying Cinderella story is the same in each culture, but the details like names, settings, and language, are what make the Cinderella story unique to each culture.