The Classic Fairy Tale
“The Classic Fairy Tales” by Maria Tatar is a collection of 44 fairy tales written since the fifth century AD. There are six tale types, viz. the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Snow white’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Bluebeard’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ From these tales, cultures are defined and imaginations enriched. Some of these tales have multiple variants in different cultures. In tales like ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Snow White’ & ‘Cinderella’ beauty is a conspicuous source of vital plot points around which the entire narrative revolves. However, beauty-both superficial & inner is linked repeatedly to violence-both visible and covert as the story unfolds. The essay argues that superficial & deep beauty is interlinked closely with the covert and obvious violence in the fairy tales. The study analyzes the tales ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to illustrate explicitly the connection between violence and beauty.
When we say the word “Cinderella,” we are referring not to a single text but to an entire
array of stories with a persecuted heroine, who may respond to her situation with defiance,
cunning, ingenuity, self-pity, anguish, or grief. According to Tatar (1999),
The Classic Fairy Tales provide “classic” versions of specific tale types side by side with lesser known ones from other cultures. While there is no “original” version of “Cinderella” or
“Sleeping Beauty,” there is an indispensable plot formation (what folklorists refer to as a “tale
type”) that comes out irrespective of the rich cultural variation. Well-nigh every aspect of the plot is subject
to change; title of the hero or heroine, to the nature of the beloved and illustration of the villain.
In the tale, the true worth of Cinderella’s physical beauty becomes clear at the ballroom, where the prince first sets his eyes on her, falls in love but fails to consider her other important personality traits like kindness. The same superficial beauty makes Cinderella win the heart of the prince. The effect of this is seen when she loses one glass slipper while trying to meet the midnight deadline. The prince decides to find the lady whose feet rightly fit into the slipper (Tatar, 1999). Cinderella’s dreams turn to reality thereafter due to her physical beauty, as the prince marries her and saves her from the ruthless and unkind treatment from her stepmother and stepsisters.Thus, beauty helps the protagonist escape a violent future and plays a vital role in shaping the plot.
The fact that Cinderella’s beauty is not only skin-deepsets the theme of kindness vs. violence in the plot. Superficial beauty is supplemented by the beautiful mind of the heroine, as physical beauty without a beautiful mind is worthless. From several versions of the same tale, readers infer that to become truly beautiful as Cinderella, it is necessary to avoid conflicts and be nice to everyone, including animals. Cinderella had a natural true inner beauty that her stepsisters lacked.
Cinderella with her inner beauty also signals that people should endeavor to fight for their desires with a good heart even in the face of violence. The protagonist is never angry despite the wicked treatment she received from her stepfamily. This character becomes eminent when Cinderella hears of the ball dance organized by the prince. She requests to permission to attend the function from the stepmother. The mother gives her the opportunity as long as she could find something fine to wear. She takes her old blue dress and mends it so she too could be as presentable as the rest. Despite the hatred the mother has towards her, Cinderella is determined to go too and good-heartedly fights for the opportunity. She goes on working hard irrespective of her hopeless situation. Thus, the heroine is always kind & has no violent thoughts. Fairy tales records endeavors of both women and men to build up on maps for managing personal anxieties, family differences, social detritions, and the infinite aggravations of everyday life.
In many fairy tales, the subtle shades of passive violence against women and gender stereotyping are evident through the inferior status accorded to them in society - women were expected to be homely, respectable, and attractive to their suitors & prospective husbands. The princesses and other girls wore the best dresses to the ball dance just to look desirable and capture the attention of the prospective suitors. To cater to the male gaze…another form of subtle violence, Cinderella is depicted as a “well-proportioned lady with a softly shaped kind face, and curvy with an hourglass figure”. In line with the role of the ‘ideal’ housewife in contemporary society of the time, the plot narrates how Cinderella went on doing household chores for years.
It is also relevant to analyze how physical beauty is linked to violence in both Cinderella & Snow White and how this results in extreme actions. External beauty has been highlighted using words such as ‘fairest’ and ‘most beautiful of them all’ in these tales. Snow White’s stepmother was jealous of her owing to her beauty. Something similar is also apparent in the plot of Cinderella as the natural beauty of the protagonist made the stepfamily jealous of her. When the time came for the sisters to go to the ball, they left Cinderella behind. Disney’s version of the plot also depicts violence when the stepmother realizes that the fairest lady at the dance was Cinderella. She goes on to lock Cinderella in her room so that she could not get the opportunity to try on the slipper.
In contrast to the earlier idea, beauty also helps the protagonist escape violence. In the olden days, girls grew up with the notion that being beauty could earn them enhanced lifestyles and a better future and help escape violence. This social conditioning is further depicted in the plot of Cinderella when she escaped the unfair treatment from her stepfamily and went on to marry the prince and “lived happily ever after.” Through her beauty that surpassed the beauty of all the maidens, Cinderella was able to win the heart of the prince as well as attract jealousy from her family (Tatar, 1999).
It is also apparent that beauty was a form of reward for the good deeds of a person, whereas ugliness was a punishment…another link to violence. This notion is further depicted in other versions of Cinderella’s plot such as Grimm brothers’ in which her stepsisters are punished for their wickedness by their eyes being plucked by birds. In some versions the stepsisters chop off parts of their feet to fit into the shoe.
In the tale of Cinderella, beauty as a leitmotif greatly influences the tale’s plot at all stages. Beauty and violence are closely linked to each other as the plot unfolds. In conclusion, just as beauty can be both superficial & deep, similarly the violence associated with it can be both obvious and covert. Thus, beauty acts as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it attracts jealousy & violent behavior from villainous characters & on the other hand it helps the protagonist escape a violent fate.
Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tale. Norton: W. W. Norton & Company.