First of all, magic is not very realistic at all, so that excuse flies out the window already, unless you’re talking about the magic of luck. The common stories like to say that Cinderella makes it out due to her patience, virtue, and persistence. All of that sounds nice; however this explanation leaves out something key: the help that she got from many things. In the Grimm story she receives help from birds, in the Perrault she gets help from a godmother, in The Black Cow he gets help from the cow, and others receive help from various other trees, mysterious people, and creatures. All of these protagonists have major help from someone else and that person’s magic, which again is not very realistic in our realm. Another main factor that sets these Cinderella figures apart is that they were in positions of power before their fall. Simply by being a former noble Cinderella had a huge advantage, especially when she could take the beautiful dresses and gold with her. In these cases she never truly loses everything. This question reminds me of the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In his book, Gladwell emphasizes that many famous people such as Bill Gates, professional hockey players, and the Beatles are all famous due to their connections and luck at being born at the right time to the right people. Cinderella was born to nobles and provided with the many things she would need to later impress a prince and the people involved in his life. Her marriage is not as simple and lucky as everyone may have thought, thus reducing the likelihood of increasing status through marriage for those who are actually poor to begin with. Therefore, the true rags-to-riches scenario is much less believable in my eyes. A true example would involve a girl born into the peasant class who was then found and married to someone in power with money, and while I’m sure stories like that exist, they are not the ones that were read for class.
So… if it is so difficult for something like this to happen, why does the story exist? Bettelheim argues about the positive effects it can have on sibling rivalry and the guilt a child can feel during youth. That’s entirely possible. The story provides an outlet for the guilt and the idea that things get better. Another possible explanation is that it’s an idea that many can identify with. Who wouldn’t want to rise from poverty and humiliation to something more? As a child it is a fantastic idea that one day you could meet that right person and suddenly be whisked away to a life full of grandeur. Heck, I was determined to become a princess when I was younger, to which I was told that I’d have to marry Prince William or Prince Harry, but I guess now we have Kate Middleton in the way…I enjoyed the idea of being a princess so much that I was even Cinderella for Halloween back in 1995:
|And wasn't I cute?! Although I suppose I was lacking the necessary rags before-shot...|
So why does something like this exist? Because deep down I think many people across the world would enjoy earning that happy ending, especially if it all it involved would be patience, virtue, and a bit of menial labor. Perhaps the idea of Cinderella is to make the situation seem so grand that we want to attain the riches through working and staying patient, however it also makes it seem unattainable to such an extent, so we’ll make do with just a bit less and still be happy. The extreme unlikelihood of a Cinderella story can be motivational, but perhaps we’ll make our own magic or try harder to find that magic marriage, gold diggers watch out.