Book cover for Cinderella
Credit: Image courtesy of The Cinderella Project, Michael N. Salda, editor, The de Grummond Children's Literature Research Collection, University of Southern Mississippi
Perhaps it's because each of us feels like the poor, downtrodden sibling at times. But whatever the reason, something about the Cinderella story resonates with its audience. Five hundred versions of the tale have been found in Europe alone; related tales are told in cultures all over the globe. In America as well, the classic tale, re-envisioned in print and other media, continues to be popular. What changes does the Cinderella story undergo when it's translated from one culture to another? What remains the same? Why do we love the character of Cinderella so much more than her own stepmother does?
NOTE: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment lesson Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Plot and Setting, which concentrates on variability of plot and setting among Cinderella tales.
How does a folk tale change when translated to another culture?
The story of Cinderella, perhaps the best-known fairy tale, is told or read to children of very young ages. But Cinderella is not just one story; more than 500 versions have been found-just in Europe! The tale's origins appear to date back to a Chinese story from the ninth century, "Yeh-Shen." Almost every culture seems to have its own version, and every storyteller his or her tale. Charles Perrault is believed to be the author, in the 1690s, of our "modern" 300-year-old Cinderella, the French Cendrillon.
Famous children's writers and illustrators have interpreted Cinderella, including Arthur Rackham, Marcia Brown (her version won the Caldecott Medal in 1955), Nonny Hogrogian, Paul Galdone, and Amy Ehrlich. Most renderings of the story include an evil stepmother and stepsister(s), a dead mother, a dead or ineffective father, some sort of gathering such as a ball or festival, mutual attraction with a person of high status, a lost article, and a search that ends with success.
Male Cinderellas do appear, and not just in parodies, such as Helen Ketteman's "Bubba the Cowboy Prince" and Sandi Takayama's "Sumorella" ... "Billy Beg" of Ireland is just one of many of these versions of the story.
Cinderella, despite her popularity, has developed a reputation as a simpering, whimpering girl who is helpless until the right magic comes along. But this is the Cinderella of the later twentieth century. The earlier Cinderella, in many of her original forms, was not a wishing-only kind of person. She was self-reliant, devoted to family and ancestors, and willing to make her own future. Even later, Walt Disney was quoted reflecting on this character trait, “She believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn’t come along, she went over to the palace and got him.”
Types most frequently in Cinderella stories are 510: Cinderella and Cap o' Rushes, which includes such functions as the persecuted heroine, magic help, meeting the prince, overstaying at the ball, proof of identity such as the slipper test, a ring, or unique abilities such as that of plucking the gold apple, marriage to the prince, and the value of salt. 510A: Cinderella, the stepsisters, the missing mother who helps by means of animals. 510B: The Dress of Gold, of Silver, and of the Stars, where the father would marry his daughter; three fold visit to the church, identifying footwear.
If you did not use the companion EDSITEment lesson Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Plot and Setting as a prequel, begin by showing the class Cinderella Fitting the Slipper, a Cinderella illustration from Cinderella Bibliography. Ask students if they can identify the story from the picture. Most will know immediately. How is it that virtually everyone can identify that this illustration is from Cinderella? Ask students, "What about this illustration makes the story identifiable?" What's happening at this point in the plot of the story? (Define the term "plot" for students, if necessary.) Again, everyone probably knows.
If you previously used the companion EDSITEment lesson Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Plot and Setting, refresh students' memory of Cinderella Fitting the Slipper, a Cinderella illustration from Cinderella Bibliography, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website The History of Education and Childhood and then continue the lesson from here. Show the class Putting the Slipper to Her Foot, another illustration from a different version of the story, also available on Cinderella Bibliography. Do students recognize the story from this picture once again?
Challenge students to look closely and compare both pictures. There are distinctions in character traits between them. For example, in Putting the Slipper to Her Foot, the Prince looks more subservient to Cinderella. What might have happened differently in this version of the story? Let students hypothesize. There are many versions of Cinderella from all over the world (some of which students will read as part of this lesson) and differences in the nature of the characters within those various tales. And, because the characters are somewhat different, the stories tend to be a little (or a lot) different.
What characters and respective character traits from the Cinderella tale with which they are familiar can students list? Brainstorm as a class and write down what students say. Do they recall where the character elements they've listed come from? Ask students, "What did you read or see that makes you connect this character trait with this character?" (For them, perhaps the Disney animated feature or read-alouds from earlier grades.)
Read aloud to the class the text-only Perrault version of the Cinderella tale on Folklore and Mythology, a link from the EDSITEment resource Learner.org, or, even better, any of the many illustrated print versions, one of which you probably have in your school library. While you are there, check in your library for other variants used in this lesson. The Perrault version is the source of the most familiar Cinderella tale.
Which character elements that the students mentioned previously were in this version? As shown by what in the story? Which were not?
Using input from the class, fill in the "Chart for Characters in Cinderella" to model what students will eventually be doing on their own.
If you are going to adapt it, prepare the chart "Characters in Cinderella Stories from Around the World" for use in the next activity based on student input collected during this activity.
For this activity, students will read stories that experts have been categorized as Cinderella variants. The goal is to help students see that there will be variability in the character traits of the main characters, though many of the same plot elements will be present in the narrative. For example, in the Italian Cinderella, available via a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Learner.org, the heroine is very demanding and sure of herself, yet we still recognize her as a Cinderella. A list of Tales Similar to Cinderella is available from SurLaLune's index, The Annotated Cinderella.
Begin by modeling this process with the class, using the Italian Cinderella (Italy, 5 1/2 pages). Before you share the story, remind students of the characters and character traits in the familiar Cinderella, as you listed in Activity 1. Ask students, "In what way do you predict that the character traits of Cinderella, for example, could change?"
Read aloud the Italian Cinderella. Using the chart "Characters in Cinderella Stories from Around the World " or your own adaptation, help students identify character variations in the Italian version. Ask students, "What essential elements of the plot are accomplished—though differently—due to differences in character?" (for example, the Italian Cinderella does have a magical helper—like a fairy godmother—in the form of the bird, Verdelio, but she secures the bird herself.)
Now, small groups should be ready to analyze a Cinderella tale on their own. As you prepare to assign the stories, let students know that in some of these stories, the characters will be closer to the original than in others. Point out to students the different countries of origin for these variants, though that is not the focus of the assignment. Interested students are encouraged to do research on a country as desired (see the fourth bullet point under Extending the Lesson).
Stories for Group Assignment:
Each group should present to the class a plot summary and a brief explanation of the character changes and commonalities. Create a class list of the variety of character traits in the various heroines.
Because the class has focused on character traits in this lesson, dramatizing the stories will help students experience the differences as fellow students bring the traits to life. Student groups should work up staged readings of their assigned tale using the Reader's Theater technique or through a dramatic reenactment
…are they recommendable for youth? I know, that I with my opinion will contradict thousands of fathers and educators, but yet I for myself answer this question with a very decided No. Many fairy tales fill the imagination with horrible images, with terrifying figures and by this they lay the foundation of scare and fear… Is it a wonder, if the child does not want to stay alone in the dark? …I am of the opinion, that one should never tell children any extranatural (or, as many would have it) supernatural thing, no miracle stories, no fairy tales, nothing of fairies and ghosts; most of all one should not think, that a child, when told it is just a fairy tale, would not believe it for that reason. Far from it. Little children believe everything, because they do not think yet, and it does not matter much, whether one says with it: "It's true," or "It's not true".Discuss Dr. Oppel's opinions in class. Do students agree or disagree? Why?
Students may also be interested in researching the question why in this new millennium, fairy tales continue to flourish. Background on this can be found in an article, "The DNA of Fairy Tales: Their Origin and Meaning," available from Sunrise magazine, August/September 2000 issue. This is also the subject of EDSITEment's Thinkfinity Community blog post: Beyond Mirror Mirror - the Appeal of Fairytales for Generation Z!
2-3 class periods