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Bruno Bettelheim’s and Karen Kolbenschlag’s interpretation of “Cinderella” Essay Sample

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Bruno Bettelheim’s and Karen Kolbenschlag’s interpretation of “Cinderella” Essay Sample

As is well known, the famous storytale “Cinderella” has many variants across cultures and time periods. These variants have been found to have the same general plot, which is characterized by the persecuted heroine, the meeting with the prince, the revealing of an inner identity, and marriage with the prince. This plot is simple enough to be understood by a child, yet the details that support the story’s timeless popularity are more difficult to discern, and are sometimes viewed quite differently by different critics. This shall be demonstrated in the synthesis of Freudian psychologist Bruno Bettelheim’s work “‘Cinderella’: A Story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts,” and an excerpt from Feminist writer Madonna Kolbenschlag’s work “Kiss Sleeping Beauty Good-Bye: Breaking the Spell of Feminine Myths and Models.”

The story of Cinderella finds its way into so many children’s hearts because of a resemblance children feel with the heroine. Both Bettelheim and Kolbenschlag agree that sibling rivalry is both a very real and very strong force in a child’s emotional composition. The feeling of unimportance inflicted by sibling rivalry allows children to associate closely with the character of Cinderella. Regardless of how absurdly overdramatized Cinderella’s burdens seem to adults, children see themselves in a position that mirrors the characters’. Both critics go on to suggest that because Cinderella’s “true identity” is later released, and that she “lives happily ever after,” that children see themselves someday leading extraordinary lives also. Where Bettelheim and Kolbenschlag begin to differ on this topic is how each sex is affected differently by the main plot of the story. Bettelheim makes no distinction between the perceptions of girls and boys of the story, whereas Kolbenschlag says differently. Kolbenschlag feels that both boys and girls are attracted to the story in a similar manner, but she also believes that the tale lays a blueprint to be followed by girls in order to achieve the goal of happiness. This plan involves conforming to a male “ideal.”

Bettelheim also describes a variant for the attraction of children to “Cinderella.” As a Freudian, he believes that all children undergo some period in their life where they feel ashamed and lowly because of their internalized thoughts and feelings. These feelings can stem from sibling jealousy to oedipal conflict, in which the child secretly desires to replace the parent of the same sex in order to achieve the undivided love of the other parent. These children believe that they deserve to be degraded because of their thoughts. They see Cinderella as being mistreated because she too, deserved it. When Cinderella becomes exalted at the end of the story, it delights the children who relate themselves so closely to her.

Bettelheim and Kolbenschlag agree that the inclusion of ashes and the depiction of Cinderella as being equivalent to ashes is a very symbolic structure. Being from a German background, Bettelheim is able to provide some interesting insight into the motif of ashes. He states that there are many examples in the German language of how being forced to work among the ashes is not only a symbol of degradation, but also of sibling rivalry. There are even examples in which a debased sibling is able to surpass the brothers or sisters that degraded him. Bettelheim concludes that “having to live among the ashes” symbolizes the debasement in comparison to one’ siblings, regardless of their sex. He describes the topic of a German story in which an ash-boy later becomes king as a reference to this symbolism. Kolbenschlag believes Cinderella’s association with ashes suggests several associations. Like Bettelheim, Kolbenschlag states that the obvious symbolism of ashes signifies Cinderella’s degradation. Kolbenschlag also believes the association to be symbolic of Cinderella’s likeness to the virtues of the hearth, including innocence, purity, and docility. This symbolism depicts Cinderella as a meek female who must train herself to present her virtues so that she may someday meet her savior. The only apparent difference between the views of Kolbenschlag and Bettelheim on this subject relate to the special connotations that girls might face given the symbolism of the hearth.

The slipper in “Cinderella” is perhaps the strongest icon of the entire storytale. Bettelheim and Kolbenschlag view the slipper in quite different respects, and even to different degrees of importance. Bettelheim has little to say regarding the slipper made of precious material. He mentions that the smallness of it indicates an Eastern origin. The ancient orient viewed the smallness of a woman’s foot as sexual attractiveness, which lies in accordance with their practice of bind women’s feet. Kolbenschlag details her view that the slipper serves as a symbol of sexual bondage and imprisonment as a stereotype. She too describes the Chinese practice of foot binding, but she words her description much more strongly and open than Bettelheim’s. Kolbenschlag also believes the slipper to be a symbol of power. That power includes the ability to demand conformity, which is indicated by the actions of Cinderella’s sisters in which they cut and mutilated their feet in a frantic effort to make them fit into the slipper. Kolbenschlag believes strongly that the slipper serves as a tool of symbolism by which men can lead women to conformity.

Regardless of how differently Bettelheim and Kolbenschlag view certain complex aspects of “Cinderella,” they both agree on the details that support “Cinderella” as a classic. Despite the differences in the lives of children and Cinderella the strong association children feel with her character ensures its timeless popularity.

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