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Cinderella and Evolution

fortunesfool's picture


Anne Dalke's picture

in the embers


I'm intrigued by your application of the notion of literary evolution to the fairy tale canon, and interested to learn of the wide dispersion of tales such as "Cinderella." I found myself wanting, throughout, more explication of the changes that took place in the fairy tale canon over time; you say @ the outset that "it is particularly interesting to examine its many incarnations," but you don't tell me what the punch line is. What are you arguing emerges from such an examination?

As you walk your way through the various stages of the evolution of fairy tales, I also found myself wanting more details: how did the 17th tales of French absolutism morph in 19th c. Germany? Strangely, you say nothing @ all about how grim the Grimm versions were--or about how the Disney forms erased all that was violent and disturbing about the tales. What psychological purposes might such violence have served? (See Bruno Bettelheim's work on "The Uses of Enchantment"). Your identification of the different strands of Cinderella were interesting to me, though that section of the paper focuses more on continuity, less on changes in the story. Your argument for the dominance of the "genetically disposed" story over the "biologically unnatural" (I'd say "genetically inefficient") one is quite clever--though that paragraph ends by raising several questions for me: why did fairy tales morph into children's stories? And why did "just generally disturbing stories" last for so long? What function did they serve?

You end with very general gestures towards the "inherently human," the "primeval human truth" of fairy tales--although your identification of exploitative stepmothers slides over the more general "human truth" portrayed by tales such as Cinderella: that we all are jealous of our siblings, want to outshine them, want them to punished. Why such tales endure (and are "fondly remembered"?!) is a question you essentially leave unanswered in the end.