The Cinderella Syndrome

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Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
Second Web Paper
On Serendip

The Cinderella Syndrome

Fritz-Laure Dubuisson

Dennett's idea of universal acid can be found in many aspects of human civilization. Darwin's universal acid was released into the scientific world as other forms of acid were being released and eating away at foundations society had taken centuries to set up. With the foundation quickly crumbling it became the task of several self selected individuals to patch up the cracks that were quickly becoming giant holes. Universal acid is an idea or thought that has the potential power of disintegrating long held beliefs or truths. " Darwin's idea cuts much deeper into the fabric of our most fundamental beliefs than many of its sophisticated apologists have yet admitted, even to themselves" (Dennett 18). But it can also be an idea which has the means of molding societal norms through its mere existence.

An example of this would be fairy tales especially those written by The Brothers Grimm. These stories were not treated as a lethal form of universal acid because they were used to create social norms. In the fairy tales little girls and boys learned how to be women and men. They were also taught the rules of engagement for this new and diverse wilderness called civilization. The fairy tales and other such stories transcended culture and language. All over the world there are variations of Cinderella and other popular fairy tales.

The universal acid in these stories was used as a means for eradicating inappropriate or deviant behavior. The acid shaped and molded what made good little girls and boys. Those who were outside the parameters set by these stories would, according to the fairy tales themselves, meet with horrible consciences. They would either not be chosen by the prince or would not receive the award that awaited the good girl. This is displayed in Grimm's rendition of Cinderella's dying mother's words "Dear child, be good and pious, and then the good God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you" (Grimm 121).

Being good is never enough. In order to survive happily in the new wilderness and individual would have to be not only good, but pretty. Beautiful, would be preferred, but being just pretty could be utilized to the individual's and their family's advantage. Through these fairy tales beauty is equated with meekness and even temperedness. These things are then used as commodities to bartered the family's way up the societal ladder and therefore increase their chances of survival in civilization.

Through the attainment of financial security the family can not only survive, but can participate in the "happily ever after" ending, if and only if they were also "good". The idea of what is "good" is also clearly described in the "stories". Being "good" means, the poor know their place; the rich are all good looking and therefore deserving of their wealth. But if by some freak chance of nature or magic, usually in the form of a fairy godmother, a "good" poor couple should happen to have an attractive child, then that child is also given access to the world of the rich.

This access is usually in the form of marriage. The poor, but good young man marries a princess after saving her from whatever situation is preventing her from being with a rich prince. The pretty and good young woman marries the prince after she has proven her ability to withstand pain, humiliation and other sorts of character building exercise. These obstacles are undoubtedly placed in her path to prepare her for a life of deserved luxury. Deserved luxury is very different for boys and girls in these long revered classics. Boys earn their right to luxury by being brave, sometimes handsome, but most defiantly steadfast and brave of heart. Girls have to be good and meek, while inspiring acts of bravery from the young men of equal or opposite economic class. As stated in the article by Marica Lieberman, "Good, poor, and pretty girls always win rich and handsome princes, never merely handsome, good, but poor men"(386).

The beauty described in these stories is very specific, just as there are certain undeniable character requirements of being "good", there are certain requirements which are made for being "beautiful". These specifications are usually set up in opposition to the female villainess in the fairy tale. If the villainess is not old and ugly then she is terribly beautiful. If she's not good and beautiful then she must be terribly beautiful or dark and beautiful. The beautiful villainess is never, merely pretty or slightly attractive, she is the ultimate beauty gone wrong. It is through her villainy that she will lose her right to not only be rich, but beautiful.

Just Cinderella's evil step-mother and step-sisters," And thus, for their wickedness they were punished with blindness all their days" (Grimm 128).The stories usually end with her disfigurement or transformation into the hideous beast within, as in Disney's rendition of Sleeping Beauty. She is the warning held up to the pretty and beautiful young women who do get the prince. Not only do they have to be "good" not, but they have to remain that way in order to keep the prince the kingdom and her looks, sometimes her life. " Among other things, these tales present a picture of sexual roles, behavior and psychology, and a way of predicting outcome or fate according to sex, which is important to because of the intense interest that children take in "endings"; they always want to know how things will "turn out" (Lieberman 384).

Coloring and color also play an important role in these fairy tales, the villainess can be fair and pale to dark and dangerously beautiful. The heroine is not allowed such color variances. She can be fair or fairer. The only things which can actually change are her hair color or in some instance the color of her dress. But even this usually carries countless cultural affiliations with colors that signify beauty and purity. The idea of fair can be in relation to her temperament or a direct description of her physical coloring. This interplay between colors is explicitly used in many latter works which follow the fairy tale plot, such as Comedy: American Style. Poor pretty girl, treated badly by ________, saved by equally pale or golden tanned handsome prince, after many trails and tribulations. The tan coming from his many adventures into the wilds of fairy tale land and the sun exposure he endured to come to her rescue, not biology. "Olivia dreams he light skinned daughter Teresa marries a princely (white, rich) husband. The achievement of Olivia's dream is thwarted by the larger, racial issue which informs the novel, the issue of passing"(Lupton 410).

With this new form or socially constructed natural selection, the evolution of the fairy tale story becomes a mutant. The majority of the society which the stories were meant to influence does not fulfill the Beauty category with satisfaction. It is easier for the men to fill the requirements of princehood, or its close relation, good and hard working. But with so many variance in the real world of the fairy tales it becomes questionable whether the existence of these stories is evolutionary in their ability to shape children's minds or de-evolutionary because the checklist for hero and heroine seem so unattainable. As a form of universal acid, authors have tried to cover and recover the endings of the original Grimm's Fairy Tales, which were not all happy. The endings were being good did not necessarily save an individual for the bad things and ogres of the world. The need to attach happy endings to these stories is an admittance of the unattainable prototype.

So to make being good and pretty desirable, the happy endings were added to sooth the wounds inflicted by the ideas being carried out through the unpleasant endings of the stories. Not only could you not be happy if you weren't beautiful and good but even then, happiness is not assured. Just as Dennett include a section titled, "The Moral First Aid Manual", the happy endings were meant to act as a salve. "At every stage in the tumultuous controversies that have accompanied the evolution of Darwin's dangerous idea, there has been a defiance born of fear" (Dennett 521). This is the same fear which birthed a need to end the fairy tales happily. In the end it was not the children who could not handle having a "happily ever after", but the adults. By experiencing a world in which they did not and were not experiencing the happily ever after they needed to be able to read the fairy tales to save them from the world which was too much like world portrayed by Grimm.

Works Cited
Grimm, Grimm's Fairy Tales. New York: Pantheon Books. 1944.
Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1995.
Lieberman, Marcia R. "Some Day My Prince Will Come: Female Acculturation Through the Fairy Tale." College English 34.3 (1972): 383-395.
Lupton, Mary Jane. "Clothes and Closure in Three Novels by Black Women." Black American Literature Forum. 20.4. (1986): 409-421.

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