Monday, March 2, 2009

The Meaning of the Cinderella Story

The story of Cinderella is one of the most loved stories of all time. It has been retold many times. It has made millions of young girls say, “I want to be a princess when I grow up.” Many people have asked if this is the message we want to send to children. Others aren’t sure what kind of message the story is sending to children.


When we consider the story, the first thought is that we don’t want to tell children that they can solve problems with magic. But if we peel back the layers of the story and look at what it promotes, the story isn’t really about magic. The magic in the story is just a convenient way to make the story understandable to children. It is much easier to say that the magic stops working after mid-night than it is to develop a non-magical reason why she must flee without giving anyone her name.


Looking at the true theme of the story, the real message of the story is that justice will prevail, even when it appears the unrighteous are prospering from their evil deeds. The theme is a Christian theme. God has said that the wicked will not always prosper. Cinderella is representative of those who obey God’s law. The stepmother and stepsisters represent people who try to prosper through evil deeds. The Fairy Godmother is similar to how the Bible portrays some of the angels, in that she comes onto the scene, does something miraculous to put things right, but steps back out of the way. The prince is only the reward and is similar to the reward God has promised to those who put their faith in Jesus. Some versions of the Cinderella story have the stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels to get their feet to fit into the glass slipper. In this we see the punishment God has promised for the wicked.


Though the theme is Christian, let’s not assume that the story is Christian. All truth is God’s truth, so when a story speaks truth, we are going to see similarities to the word of God. I believe we can use stories like Cinderella to teach truth, but they should never replace going to the Bible so we can tell people “thus sayeth the Lord.”

10 comments :

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

nicely said........

Luis Goncalves said...

The cinderella story came from Greek ancient times, long before jesus was born. Although I agree with you about the moral aspect of the story, the connection with Christianity is remote.
If you check, the latest version of the story that gave Cinderella it's name came from the Grimm brothers and it was very gruesome, with the stepsisters cuting off her toes in order to fit the glass shoe, and being poked in the eye by crows. The images are definately Dantesc, describing an hellish punishment.

Timothy Fish said...

Luis,

I'm not trying to make the claim that the story is based on Christianity, only that the theme is a Christian theme. There's a saying, "All truth is God's truth." I suppose that's basically what I'm saying. As for the cut off toes and the eyes, it is helpful to remember that the Grimms' stories were originally told to live audiences, probably most made up of children. That kind of grossness is just the kind of thing a ten year old would love hearing. I'm sure the storytellers put a great deal of effort into making the children squill with excitement.

Beth said...

Literature, folklore and fairy tales all reflect our need for redemption no matter what culture, time, or belief system this story came from.
So couldn't the allegory be deeper than just the wicked getting punishment and justice prevailing? We all, like Cinderella, are "in bondage" through sin, we all wear rags; we all are in need of Someone to pull us out of the state we're in. In this story the King is sending his Son, the Prince to seek his Bride (sound familiar biblically?). Cinderella through no ability or merit of her own is taken into the presence of the Prince. The magic could represent the supernatural intervention of the holy spirit who makes it possible to come to Christ at all; which is what the fairy godmother does. The prince redeems Cinderella from her impoverished state and away from evil influences and brings her into his kingdom where they live happily ever after. I see strands of biblical truths and beautiful hidden gems throughout this story. Hopefully it invites children to desire a life in the Kingdom...just as Jesus hid truth in parables, this is a story with hidden gospel messages. I'm not saying it was ever written with that intent; I am saying that even if a pre-Christ Greek wrote the story, it can reflect the human need for salvation.
Thoughts?

Beth said...

Literature, folklore and fairy tales all reflect our need for redemption no matter what culture, time, or belief system this story came from.
So couldn't the allegory be deeper than just the wicked getting punishment and justice prevailing? We all, like Cinderella, are "in bondage" through sin, we all wear rags; we all are in need of Someone to pull us out of the state we're in. In this story the King is sending his Son, the Prince to seek his Bride (sound familiar biblically?). Cinderella through no ability or merit of her own is taken into the presence of the Prince. The magic could represent the supernatural intervention of the holy spirit who makes it possible to come to Christ at all; which is what the fairy godmother does. The prince redeems Cinderella from her impoverished state and away from evil influences and brings her into his kingdom where they live happily ever after. I see strands of biblical truths and beautiful hidden gems throughout this story. Hopefully it invites children to desire a life in the Kingdom...just as Jesus hid truth in parables, this is a story with hidden gospel messages. I'm not saying it was ever written with that intent; I am saying that even if a pre-Christ Greek wrote the story, it can reflect the human need for salvation.
Thoughts?

Timothy Fish said...

Beth,

I see what you are saying. Yes, there are some similarities, but it is far from an exact allegory. Though we could say that Cinderella being in rags and a slave to her step family is like us being enslaved to sin, she isn’t portrayed as a particularly sinful person. People reading her story don’t usually think that she deserves what she is getting. While we might link the Holy Spirit to the fairy godmother, since the Holy Spirit draws us to seek salvation, one very important aspect of the salvation story that is missing from the Cinderella story is the sacrifice of the prince. A central theme in the salvation story is justice. We have sinned. The penalty for sin is death. Someone must die for justice to be satisfied. We don’t see that at all in the Cinderella story. Instead of the prince condescending to Cinderella, as Jesus did for us, we see Cinderella being elevated to the state of the prince. So, there are some similarities, but it misses some of the most important points.

T. Turner said...

Will put into words. Even though it seems that people are taking advantage of you. Just know things will turn around for your good some day.

Katie said...

I so agree with what Beth wrote that I had to think back and remember if I had posted on this sometime ago under a forgotten pseudonym! It's like she was reading my mind!
I just wanted to say, that not only do the wicked not succeed, but the "good" character also cannot succeed. No matter how hard she tries, and she does try hard, Cinderella is unable to earn her way to the ball. It is only through the intervention of a supernatural character, who CLOTHES her (baptism? the wedding garments? putting on Christ? etc.) that she makes it to the ball--transported there supernaturally as well.

As for the sacrifice, remember, these are not written as straight allegories. The similarities do breakdown if you push them hard enough. The point is to tell us of the nature of man and God and that we need to look outside ourselves for salvation, not inside ourselves. The story (and most Grimm's fairy tales) also teach us about the fact that justice will be done sooner or later and that there will be a happily ever after. We just can't see it yet.

As for the fact that the story is older than Jesus--I certainly don't know what that version looked like. However, the version WE have has definitely been influenced by Christian thought. The brother's Grimm did that intentionally, I think, as well as to other stories. I have my children read all the Grimm's fairytales in their original versions because I think they give us such an intense picture of the relationship between God and Man, justice, good and evil, beauty, truth, etc.

Read "The Golden Apple" next. If that's not Luther's theology of the Cross I'll eat my hat!
http://www.authorama.com/grimms-fairy-tales-1.html

Anonymous said...

When I read Cinderella I got the idea that she was well to do, since her father was like a Courtier, or a Duke. Cinderella had nice clothes to wear, and even had her mother's wedding dress. The Step-mother only married him for his money, and I think she poisoned him so that he died, and she got the estate and his money, until Cinderella came of age and took on the responsibility of the estates and being royal blood she could have married a Duke or even a prince, but the Step-mother took all of her belongings and gave then to her daughter, no doubt she would have poisoned Cinderella as well if Cinderella did not get married to
the Prince. There was probably a will in the house where the Step-mother had not looked, so probably thought that she was free to live in the house for as long as she could. But justice came about and Cinderella married the Prince, and became even more famous than she would have if her step-mother were not so evil! What we lose here on earth we gain back in Heaven, So Cinderella got back what she lost and then some!