Another Cinderella Story: Evolving Politics and Societal Values in the Tellings and Retellings of the Classic Tale

Sara Miner


This thesis utilizes Cinderella to explore a singular, yet multifaceted, idea about the fairy tale genre as a whole. Fairy tales can be used to instruct society with specific, relevant values. While many aspects of fairy tales remain constant over time and place, the lessons intended to guide, lecture, instruct, or warn a society differ vastly. They expand or contract for social change depending on the cultural climate at the time they were created. Because of this, I can differentiate these tales into those that enforce preconceived behaviors and those that attempt to change or subvert those behaviors. This differentiation between conforming and transforming tales is not exact, as some aspects of a tale can relate to conformity while other aspects point toward transformation. It is still useful to consider these categories, however, to understand how fairy tales support or subvert the social behaviors of the culture in which they were recorded.

Using versions of the Cinderella tale as a case study of this phenomenon, I extract the values found in several adaptations. I then observe how these lessons about human character change with the cultural evolution of societies with different values and social structures. Cinderella has several transformational and conformational versions that all remain consistent with my primary argument. I argue that Cinderella, as an example of most or all fairy tales, is a direct reflection of the values of the society from which it emerges. It is also useful in influencing the values of a society, encouraging particular behaviors through the narrative.

This thesis progresses in a chronological manner, with the oldest versions of Cinderella discussed first before moving to the most recent adaptations. Each version or adaptation of the tale has its own section with consistent subsections, including a basic outline of the story’s structure and motifs, a cultural context for the work, and an exploration of the value-based lessons extracted from the story. Throughout this thesis, connections between versions of the tale become clear so that, by the end of the thesis, it is understood why the fairy tale genre has been able to persist in nearly every culture in the world for thousands of years.