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American Cinderella Is Completely Bogus: Opinion Essay

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Cinderella is a story that many people know and love. In “America’s Cinderella” Jane Yolen argues that the American Cinderella that is loved and adored by many is wrong. Yolen explains that true Cinderella stories entail a number of themes and incidents. Yolen says that the themes are “riches recovered” (21), “rich person rescued from improper enslavement”(21) , and a “shrewd and practical person winning a share of power”(21). Her incidents include: “a scene with a radiant display” (21), “aid of a magical gift or advice from a helper” (21), “ill treated but worthy heroine in disguise, recognition through token” (21). Many movies, and books fits the criteria Yolen deems necessary for a story to truly be a Cinderella story. One of the many films that meets the criteria for a Cinderella story is titled Slumdog Millionaire. The main character Jamal is the Cinderella figure in the movie because he is rescued from improper enslavement, he is very shrewd and practical, and he has riches that are recovered.

The movie Slumdog Millionaire is about Jamal Malik, a boy from Mumbai, India. Early in the movie Jamal is seen enjoying life, playing with his brothers and friends when suddenly his town is attacked and his mother is killed. Jamal and his brother take to living on the streets where he meets a girl named Latika. They were kidnapped by a group of men who essentially kidnapped, and pimped out kids that they knew people would not miss like Jamal. Jamal loses his brother because of this, not in a physical way but he lost his brother mentally. His brother, Salim soon became involved in a life of criminal activities, women and drugs. Jamal worked odd jobs after escaping the ‘Camp,’ but he could not save the girl he loved, Latika so he was alone. Eventually Jamal made it to the show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and surprisingly won. Shortly after his radiant display Jamal was arrested, because how could some uneducated kid from the slums of Mumbai possibly have literal million dollar answers? Jamal in the end recovers everything that he had ever lost and then an additional abundance.

One of the criteria Yolen says is necessary to be a true Cinderella story is for “the rich person to escape improper enslavement”. Jamal and his brother were kidnapped by a gangster named Maman. They were kept in a compound filled with kids. All who were forced to sing on the street and beg for money. One night Maman and his goons were making boys sing and then blinding them. Jamal was asked to sing for the men and could have possibly been blinded and so he and his brother took it upon themselves to blind one of the goons and run. Though some may argue that the boys were not in a much better situation in the streets, freedom is much better than forced work and the risk of losing one of your senses. Yolen says “She makes intelligent decisions for she knows that wishing solves nothing without the concomitant action.” (23), which Jamal also exhibits. Jamal did not sit around and simply hope that they choose not to blind him, or that for some reason if they do blind him then maybe it would only be temporary. He knows that these are dangerous people so he does what he has to do in order to escape.

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Yolen also says that the character must be “shrewd and practical” in order to be a cinderella figure. Jamal proves that he is very shrewd and practical several times throughout the movie. His escaping of the prison can be seen as shrewd and practical judgement because he had to think out how to correctly execute his escape or he would have died. Another example of Jamal’s shrewdness can be seen by him going on the game show “Who Wants to be a millionaire”. Unlike most people Jamal did not go on this show because he wanted millions of dollars. He knew that because of his background it was extremely unlikely that he would actually win the show. He went on the show as a somewhat desperate attempt for the woman he loves, Latika. As he is being interrogated by the police he states “I went on because, I knew she’d be watching” (Beaufoy). Jamal knew that it would be dangerous to try to take Latika away from the dangerous criminal who was essentially holding her hostage, so he reached out to her in the only way that he knew possible. This proves that Jamal is practical because he did not risk his life. It also shows that he thinks things thoroughly out before executing anything.

Another one of Yolens criteria that Jamal meets is “riches recovered”. Jamal’s riches were not monetary. He was never rich, he was always a boy from the slums. He did however have a loving family. Early on Jamal lost his mother in a village raid. He then lost his brother to a life of crime. As if that was not enough tragedy, Jamal lost the girl that he loved over and over again to bad men who happened to have guns. Though Jamal does win the money those are not his riches. Him being able to be with Latika once again is his riches being returned to him. He once again had ‘family’ that loved him. Though all of his biological family was dead, he was no longer alone. He was able to share life with someone else once again. He had experienced so much lost that the money no longer mattered to him. He never even had money to recover because he had always been poor.The money was just an extra something that he benefited but in all actuality if he had of lost that game show he would have still been happy because he recovered the one that he loved which was all that mattered him.

The final criteria of Yolen’s that is met by Jamal is a “scene of radiant display”. Jamal’s scene of radiant display is not when he won the game show obviously because he was arrested shortly thereafter. His scene of radiant display is at the end of the movie as he and Latika perform an intricate bollywood dance number. This is his radiant display not only because he is with the woman he loves and has longed for, but this is one of the only times the viewer can see Jamal being jovial. Life had run him so into the ground that throughout much of the movie he looks sad and alone. In this part of the movie they are dressed in colorful garb, laughing, dancing, and smiling. This is his radiant display because he is finally allotted true happiness.

Yolen’s criteria narrows down what can and can not be categorized as a Cinderella movie. Slumdog Millionaire fortunately meets many of the criteria laid out by Yolen. Jamal is an unconventional ideal of Cinderella but in the end he received what was rightfully his. He was a “rich person who escapes improper enslavement”, “shrewd and practical”, and his riches were recovered. Cinderella is not the typical abused step daughter, but anyone boy or girl who meets the criteria laid out by Yolen.

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American Cinderella Is Completely Bogus: Opinion Essay. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“American Cinderella Is Completely Bogus: Opinion Essay.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
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