Reflections on “Cinderella”

Folklorists collect and categorize folk- and fairy-tales.  There are stories from all over the world that are in the same category as the story we typically know as Cinderella.  There are specific characteristics of a story that qualify it to be placed in this category.  Some of these include:

I      Persecuted Heroine
II     Magic Help
III   Meeting the Prince
IV    Proof of Identity
V     Marriage with the Prince

Item IV, Proof of Identity, piques my curiosity. A common structure of stories is: loss, journey, test and return. In the  structure of the Hero’s Journey, the Hero commonly is tested before he or she is granted victory (e.g. facing and slaying the dragon). Frequently observers of tests (readers / listeners / viewers) can see the test and that the character is being tested. However, the test may designed in such a way that the character does not see it as a test.  The Hero merely acts according to a predisposed natural response (i.e. his or her true character). In the Cinderella variants I have read, the only “test” I could detect was this one of “Proof of Identity”.

If her only (or at least significant) “test” is Proof of Identity then she must have some innate character that when recognized and confirmed elevates her to a deserving status. Cinderella’s prince is of a higher economic, political and social status and probably a higher intelligence as well. However, the Proof of Identity and subsequent marriage implies that she is his equal in all these aspects. That is to say, she had it in her all along to be his equal.

In several of these stories Cinderella was not forbidden to reveal her identity.  She has ample opportunity to do so, but does not. There must be something about this Proof of Identity (Recognition and Authentication) at the preordained moment by the appropriate person that is critical to this story.

Sometimes she is recognized prematurely and by the wrong person. She then has to trick that person into believing that she was not at the ball at all. Here we see that who recognizes her is significant. In fact in these cases, she was recognized as the “Ash Girl,” where the desired outcome is to be recognized as the “Queen of the Ball.”

So what you are recognized as and who is doing the recognizing is pivotal. Recognition at the right time by the right person and the authentication of identity are significant aspects not only of Cinderella stories, but upon reflection, I think you will see that these are significant in each of our individual life as well.

Image from

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If I look at who “recognizes” me, often there is a corresponding “identity.”  Observe in your own life who “identifies” you and what “identity” you portray: the “Ash Girl” or the “Queen of the Ball”?  Do you have some innate quality, that when recognized and confirmed by the right person at the right time, might also elevate you to a more deserving status?