Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cinderella vs. Donkey Skin

I think the most interesting information that can be garnered between a comparison of two story archetypes is the cultural ramifications of one form becoming more popular than another. But first, we must first argue that the two story forms are similar enough that they can be seen as nearly equivalent options, a zero-sum game where the acceptance of one implies a rejection of the other. The links between the two types, in this case the Cinderella story and the Donkey Skin story, must be isolated and defined. In both cases we have an abused young girl, splendidly beautiful and virtuous, being abused by an older figure. We already have lines of conflict drawn along similar boundaries; young vs. old, virtue vs. greed, beauty vs. ugliness. Tartar points out that the threats to the heroine in Cinderella stories are mothers or stepmothers whom force their daughter into a constant routine of domestic labor, out of jealous and general vindictiveness. The heroines of Donkey Skin stories are forced to flee from their homes, reject domesticity, because of the sexual advances of their "unnatural" father. It is interesting that in both circumstances, the solution for the female comes from escaping domesticity. In the Cinderella story, she escapes to the ball. In Donkeyskin stories the escape comes as well, just perhaps not as literally at first. In the Donkey Skin story "The She-Bear" from the Ashliman site, the heroine Preziosa takes the form of a bear, rejecting not only her domestic identity but her physical identity, to repel the gluttonous advancements of her father the King.

Darnton would argue not to weigh the details of an individual story too heavily in a discussion of broad archetypal forms, but it is interesting that in this one particular example, the link between external beauty and virtue gets manipulated in this way. In the "typical" Cinderella story, the heroine finds her escape from the evil mother by making herself beautiful, while in "The She-Bear" she makes herself ugly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cinderella and Donkeyskin

One of the main reasons that I think these two stories can be compared is through the need for a woman with the "perfect fit." As Tartar discusses on page 105, "Finding the perfect fit between fingers and rings and between feet and shoes becomes a task set both for fathers and princes." Even though the father figure/s in Donkeyskin do not by any means share similar traits with the prince of Cinderella, they both have a bizarre desire to marry the woman which the ring/shoe fits perfectly. [As a side note: I think it's very strange to want this since in reality, a ring or shoe can fit LOTS of women, especially when testing all of the women in a kingdom.] As we all expected, the ring/shoe fit the "forgotten girl" who is working in the kitchen. Typically, this girl is extraordinarily beautiful (but no one notices as she is constantly dirty or disguised) and virtuous. Even though there are quite a number of variations of both tales, they generally hold the same (albeit very basic) plot. Although we cannot be sure if one of these tales arose from the other, it would not surprise me if this were true. I say this by observing the personality of the main character, the forgotten but beautiful girl. In the versions of Cinderella, she always fits the stereotype of the quiet, submissive girl who is taught to obey her stepmother. She is, unbeknownst to the stepfamily, extremely clever though, and is able to go to the inevitable ball where she meets that prince charming. In Donkeyskin, the main character could be described almost identically. She is clever when she (or a third party, in some versions) thinks to ask for "impossible" items in order to delay the marriage. Again, she is described as having the highest beauty in all of the kingdom (even perhaps hinting more so than her deceased mother?), and she is always doing what she is told. This clearly works in her favor when she is able to marry the far-away prince. These personality traits are displayed in a way that the reader is convinced that without being clever and beautiful and obedient, she would not have achieved the "ultimate prize/life" of marrying Prince Charming. 
Overall, yes, I see these two stories pertain to each other. The details of incest vs. true love are minor in compared to the similarities of the main characters and their ultimate ability to achieve their shared goal of marriage. 

Cinderella and Donkeyskin

I agree that these stories should be analyzed together. I think that both types of stories are different from one another, but they mirror each other and have many similarities to the point that we will actually learn more if we analyze them together. If I had read the stories separately, I probably would not have compared the father or mother figures for example. I think if we do compare them, we learn more about fairy tales in general than if we were to analyze them separately. For example, lets take the father in both of these types of stories. In Cinderella, the father is generally nonexistent. He is either absent, or he lets the stepmother take over, and the reader does not even realize he is there. In Donkeyskin, the father is the source of the problem. He has sexual desires towards his own daughter and this freaks her out so much that she is forced to run away after it is clear that he will not give up in trying to marry her. If I were to analyze these stories separately, I would simply talk about how the fathers in fairy tales are apparently bad fathers. Maybe a lesson to be learned would be to be a good father, and you will not have any problems with your daughter. A good father would have made the stepmother treat Cinderella better then they are just a happy family. A good father would not have tried to marry his daughter and they could have lived on happily. So, we should focus on being good parents and remaining a happy family. This is good to realize, but we can take it a step further when we compare the two stories. Once we compare them, we realize that Cinderella is popular and Donkeyskin is not. This could be because the father is generally nonexistent in Cinderella. This takes the focus off of him, so we do not realize that he is the bad father. People would rather believe that the father does not exist or remains in the background as a neutral character than believe that the father would be the one to cause problems. Now we can analyze the psychological aspects of the audience and we could probably keep taking everything one step further. We can do the same for other aspects of the stories as well. Comparing the stories allows us to analyze these stories on a whole new level.

Also, on a side note, I found it interesting that these stories, although they had their major differences were actually very similar. On the Ashliman website, there were even some stories such as "The King Who Wished to Marry his Daughter" that combined the two stories. This story started out as a Donkeyskin type of story and ended with the prince finding the princess' shoe and trying it on everybody until he found her. This shows that these stories have great similarities, so it would be stupid not to compare them.

I agree with Tatar’s argument that the stories should be read together largely because I like the contrast in the stories of the agency given to the lead female roles and I think it is interesting to see how different cultures adopted these different stories seemingly according to social and gender norms. As Tatar writes of Jane Yolen, “she asserts that the shrewd, resourceful heroine of folktales from earlier centuries has been supplanted by a “passive princess” waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her”(102). I like that when you read both the Cinderella stories and the Donkeyskin stories you get a more dynamic interpretation of the character of this lead female character. I also think it is really intresting to see how, as Tatar argues, society tends to choose the Cinderella stories with horrible stepmothers and poor girls with little ability and self-determination versus the strong-willed and able girls being chased by incestuous fathers.

Another interesting point is how these stories interpret virtue and apply it to the different stories. In both stories piety, chastity and beauty are upheld but also in Donkeyskin ingenuity, daring, and manipulation in a way are also seen as virtues. For example, in All-Kinds-of-Fur on the Ashliman site it says of the daughter, “The princess was horrified at his godless intentions, but because she was clever, she told the king that he should first get her three dresses…” and later she takes initiative and runs away. However in other Cinderella stories like “Doralice” on the Ashliman site the daughter Doralice escapes her father by hiding in a trunk because her servant told her to and then she is literally sold into her next husband. In that story she has no agency, I think reading stories like these next to each other help establish the daughter in these stories as a more well developed character.

Cinderella and Donkeyskin

I definitely think that these stories should be read and studied together. I think that paying attention to the similarities and differences of these two fairy tales can give a lot of insight into the society that accepts one and/or the other. Tartar claims that, "The two plots can be seen as conveniently dovetailing to produce and intrigue that corresponds to the oedipal fantasies of girls." Each story suppresses one of these components, love for the father and hatred for the mother. For example when reading " All Kinds Of Fur" and the Cinderella stories I noticed countless parallels that involved incestuous father or the evil stepmother. For example, in All-Kinds of Fur, the King will do anything to get the daughter to marry him, buying her the most beautiful dresses. On the other hand, in Grimm's Cinderella, the jealous stepmother will do anything in her power to keep her away from the ball. Both characters have these intense desires toward their daughter whether it be fervent love or jealousy and they are both willing to go to extreme measures. Basically, these stories mirror each other so much as they are centered on the beautiful girl, but they are really fueled by these two different characters', evil stepmother and unnatural father, desires.

I think its interesting and important to study both of these texts especially in relation to our own society, as we choose to retell the Cinderella story rather than the Donkeyskin story. Do we feel more comfortable with women being the evil villians rather than this "unnatural" father? I know that the father's proposal to the girl in Donkeyskin made me a little bit uncomfortable, but is that just because I have been brought up in the world of Disney where something like that is unheard of? I think its crucial to ask why these Cinderella stories have persisted while the Donkeyskin stories have kind of been on the back burner. I would also be interested to know whether some sort of society accepts the Donkeyskin version as opposed to the Cinderella one.


My initial aversion to Tatar’s grouping of the Cinderella and Donkeyskin stories came from the very knee-jerk reaction that Tatar anticipates: the two story types are driven by entirely different things, the “anxious jealousy of biological mothers and stepmothers” on the one hand and the disconcerting incestuous efforts of fathers on the other. Furthermore, the apparent points of contact between the story types are really quite generic elements of patriarchal society and can hardly be considered unique to these two narrative traditions. For one, the requirement of a heroine to complete arduous domestic tasks (or to complete normal tasks like baking exceptionally well) seems to require no special explanation given the overwhelmingly domestic role that has been imposed on women for millennia—the second century story of Cupid and Psyche provides a telling example outside the immediate tradition of fairy tales, as the heroine must sort grain and shear sheep for her heroic quest. Likewise, the idea of the heroine revealing her beauty in order to convince a prince (or whoever) of her goodness or acceptability as a mate is only an extension of an idea so universal and obvious that it can’t properly be assigned as a literary maker: human civilization has long associated beauty with other logically unrelated character qualities, sometimes quite openly but always on a subconscious level.

Though I still believe the above points have some validity, other considerations shifted my viewpoint much closer to Tatar’s. Perhaps the most important realization was that the enormous differences I saw between the two tale types (i.e., incest vs. wicked stepmother) resided in elements that the narratives themselves didn’t always focus on. The idea of incest immediately jumps out to a modern reader, but is quickly abandoned in stories like Fair Maria Wood—the only mention of the princess’s early tribulations lies in a throwaway line about the wedding company “staying to hear her story.” Similarly, Perrault’s Donkeyskin only reintroduces the heroine’s father in one conciliatory paragraph at the very end of the story. Rather than dominating the plot, the King’s/father’s advances really only enable it; considering how variable the fates of Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters are (as Tatar notes in the beginning of her Introduction), it seems a small jump to claim that they are also only catalysts in the Cinderella stories, not the substance of them. Meanwhile, the resulting “bulks” of both types of stories seem perfectly homologous, most notably in the repeated “ball” scenarios of anonymous beauty (the “ball” is not always an actual ball, of course—in Fair Maria Wood, the prince only spies on the heroine in her house) and in the “perfect fit” investigations that Tatar mentions only briefly. I still have some resistance to her idea of the Cinderella and Donkeyskin traditions as two sides of the oedipal coin (perhaps because I don’t see those sections as crucial to the story, or perhaps because psychoanalysis isn’t very romantic), but Tatar’s insistence on reading the story types together is spot on.

Cinderella & Donkeyskin

In Tartar’s article Introduction: Cinderella, she states that “Again and again, mothers are the real villains, extracting promises that end by victimizing both father and daughter” (pg. 105). For me, this statement establishes the connection between Cinderella and Donkeyskin. I think that it is somewhat empowering to juxtapose Cinderella, the damsel in distress and Donkeyskin, the proactive heroine. In both tales, the (good) mother unfortunately initiates what becomes a series of cataclysmic events. In Cinderella, Cinderella’s mom dies and her weak willed father is in oblivion of “love” (damn near emasculated in my eyes) or removed from the story all together and unable to respond to the mistreatment of his daughter. In Donkeyskin, the mother’s impending doom either restricts her from lucidly outlining the conditions of her husband’s remarriage or leaves her request open to (loose) interpretation by the King. Either way you look at it, it is ultimately the mom’s fault for the calamities that befall her husband and progeny. Luckily, in both stories, redemption prevails. Cinderella’s piety and supernatural help helps her prevail and Donkeyskin’s initial help from the supernatural coupled with her culinary skills and ingenuity earns her happiness. Although all fairy tales have phantasmagorical elements, I would have to say that Donkeyskin is a tad more realistic than Cinderella. It seems more believable that a girl would have to create her own happily ever after than the happily ever after stumbling upon her. Donkeyskin possesses that proactive element and derivatives of Donkeyskin do so as well. Gold Teeth for example is an Italian adaptation of the Donkeyskin tale that begins with the same fate that plagues the family, the mother’s seemingly innocuous request that is interpreted strictly and (unfortunately) shamefully. Supernatural forces guide the daughter to delay the marriage and ultimately help the daughter in her travels after escaping. She still endures some assault as a flea skinned girl but ultimately triumphs in the end because of her culinary skills. As with most of the Donkeyskin stories, the royal kings and queens are too preoccupied with their positions and are unnaturally “perfect.” It is that perfection that prevents them from adhering to their obligatory parental duties. Consequentially, their intense and manipulated love drives them to think illogically and make ghastly decisions. Similarly, Cinderella’s dad is too blinded by love or manipulated by new wife to stop the madness before it happens. This is principally why I think that these tales can be read cooperatively as they both begin with similar motifs, spin those motifs in directions that instigate immorality but fortunately work out in the end.