The portrayal of men and women in fairytales has always served as a representation of societal gender roles for centuries. Gender roles in popular fairytales such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty invigorate controversy and conversation for critic and reader alike. The role of women in such tales reflect the society of the time period in which they were written. In the eighteenth century when these tales were first written, women were ghosts of society – unheard and unrecognized. These popular fairytales emphasize the idea of the “perfect woman” during this time through the life of the heroine – unmistakably beautiful, submissive, and passive. “Most popular fairy tales had heroines who were passive, apparently dead or sleepwalking” (Harries 122). These qualities are consistently exemplified and accentuated from paragraph to paragraph. Throughout the years, these tales have been rewritten but the same overarching idea of the role of women in society timelessly remains the same. The main characteristic of the perfect woman always emphasized in these tales is their unmistakable beauty. Beautiful heroines described in these fairytales always succeed or receive their “happily ever after.” Is beauty the source of their success? What if these heroines were not beautiful, what would be their fate then? The general prototype of women in popular fairytales enforces the idea that reward and the power a woman has comes as a result of her beauty which is clearly depicted in the fairytales Cinderella by Grimm and Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault.
The main characteristic of beauty defines the perfect woman in these popular fairytales. Throughout these tales this ideal is consistently reinforced. In Cinderella before the reader learns Cinderella’s name or anything about her personality, they are introduced to her beautiful appearance. “They took away her beautiful clothes, dressed her in an old gray smock, and gave her wooden shoes” (Grimm 468). Introducing the reader to Cinderella’s appearance before mentioning her intellect or good heart confirms that her beautiful appearance is the main focus. This affirms the principal idea that beauty is in fact Cinderella’s most important trait as well as the most important aspect of a woman. “The feminine beauty ideal-the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is one of women’s most important assets” (Baker-Sperry 711). This feminine beauty ideal is clearly present as soon as the tale begins. Presenting the beauty of her appearance right off the bat highlights the importance of feminine beauty. Although the author does not directly say “Cinderella is beautiful,” he subtly brings the reader’s attention to her appearance. Her appearance becomes the reader’s first impression of her character.
This idea presents itself again when the King conducts a three-day festival in hopes that is son may find a suitable bride. “The king had decided to sponsor a three-day festival, and all the beautiful young girls in the country were invited so that his son could chose a bride” (Grimm 469). Once again, the author’s description of these young girls as beautiful emphasizes the importance of why woman need to be beautiful. Beauty becomes a necessity to the female character rather than a simple trait. The most important trait that these women will have to offer to the king’s son is their beauty – the most important thing for a woman to have. The power of being able to find a husband and capture the heart of the prince is solely based on the beauty of the women and nothing else.
Heroines in these fairytales are able to successfully escape their tragic lifestyles all because of the power their beauty provides them. Both tales depict the transition of heroines from their unhappy, dysfunctional situations to their happily ever after. In Cinderella, Cinderella is able to escape the plight of her stepmother and stepsisters because of her inner and inner beauty. In the fairytale, Cinderella is made beautiful enough to attend the ball that her stepmother and stepsisters attend as well. Cinderella’s humble, serving, and caring heart allow her to attend the ball. The beauty of her character gives her the power she needs to make her attendance to the ball a reality. The white pigeons dress her in “a gold and silver dress and silk slippers embroidered with silver. She looked so beautiful in her golden dress that her sisters and stepmother did not recognize her and thought that she must be a foreign princess” (Grimm 470). Cinderella’s seemingly ordinary appearance is transformed with the help of the white pigeon enhancing her existent inner and outer beauty. Without Cinderella’s inner beauty she would not have been able to attend the ball. Her inner beauty made her deserve enough to be made beautiful and attending the ball; it was the source of the power she needed. Her outer beauty caused her to be noticed by the prince which eventually led to her escape from her unhappy home. The prince is so drawn to her beauty at the ball that “whenever someone asked her to dance, he said, ‘She’s my partner’” (Grimm 471). The prince would not have noticed Cinderella if she looked like any other ordinary woman in the kingdom. Her astonishing presence and appearance were her power seeing that she was able to keep the Prince’s interest.
Beauty is not the only trait which reaps consequences. In Cinderella, her stepsisters and stepmother are “rewarded” for their ugly inner appearance. Throughout the tale it is observed that her stepsisters and stepmother do not treat Cinderella as family or even as a friend. She is more like a stranger in her own home. Her stepmother and stepsisters constantly order her around. “’Comb out our hair, brush our shoes, and fasten our buckles!’ they said. ‘We’re going to the wedding at the king’s castle.’” (Grimm 469). Not only did her stepsisters order her around, her stepmother spoke to her as if she was the maid rather than family. “’You Cinderella!’ she said. ‘You’re all dusty and dirty, and yet you want to go to the wedding?’” (Grimm’s 469). This continuous mistreatment finally ends when Cinderella leaves her dreadful home to live with the prince. As royalty, she is able to choose the fate of her stepsisters and stepmother who treated her so poorly. Their ugly personality and ugly behavior towards Cinderella results in their punishment. “They were punished with blindness for the rest of their lives due to their wickedness and malice” (Grimm 473). Just as Cinderella is rewarded because of her beauty, the ugly personalities of her stepmother and stepsister results in consequences. “While beauty is often rewarded, lack of beauty is punished” (Baker-Sperry 719). The lack of respect, courtesy, and compassion Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters show her is a direct reflection of their absence of inner beauty. Ultimately, their lack of beauty is cause for their punishment unlike beauty which results in reward.
Cinderella is not the only fairytale where beauty is constantly emphasized. The title of the tale Sleeping Beauty is a main indicator that this characteristic is so important. Before the tale is even read, the reader knows that beauty will be one of the main themes explored in the tale. Like Cinderella, the main heroine’s reward stems from the power her beauty supplies. In Sleeping Beauty, the heroine’s ability to awaken from her deep sleep is derived from her beauty. A young prince travels to Sleeping Beauty’s castle to rescue her after he learns that “the most beautiful princess that has ever been seen is in that castle” (Perrault 691). The prince hearing that Sleeping Beauty is “the most beautiful princess,” motivates him to awaken her from her sleep. If he had heard that she was the ugliest princess, he would have not ventured to the castle to save her from her deep sleep. Even if the prince had traveled to the castle not knowing of Sleeping Beauty’s appearance, he would not want to marry her upon arriving at the castle discovering she was not beautiful. “Many tales connote goodness with industriousness, and both with beauty, and characters are ‘rewarded’ for their hard work” (Baker-Sperry 719). Both heroines in each fairytale are extremely beautiful. Their beauty motivates the princes to save them from their circumstances which results in the reward of escaping their tragic realties.
Critics and readers may argue that the power of the female heroine and whether or not she experiences a reward does not depend on her beauty. Some may say that a heroine’s wit, cunning attitude, and use of language are the reasons why she has the ability to be rewarded and exist in a happily ever after. But how can wit, a cunning attitude, and use of language be of any use if these heroines go unnoticed by the males aiming to save them from their misery? Without beauty, none of these traits would be beneficial to the female heroine. The source of the female heroine’s success comes from her ability to entice and catch the eye of her “male savior” which can only be done through beauty not wit, a cunning attitude, or language. In both stories neither Sleeping Beauty nor Cinderella communicated with either prince before being rewarded by being saved from their catastrophic lives. Sleeping Beauty was unable to speak since she was in such a deep sleep. Cinderella never attempted to use language to go against her stepmother’s or stepsisters’ orders. Language cannot be deemed as a source of power if it is useless. Both heroines were completely passive in the tales. From start to finish Cinderella robotically served her stepmother and stepsisters who were always demanding of her. Sleeping Beauty lay asleep helplessly for years until the prince came to save her. Their wit and cunning attitude could not have possibly influenced their success in being rewarded. The only explanation that can account for their reward is their beauty. The power of their beauty was the backbone in saving these heroines from their despair.
There is no doubt that the ultimate source of a woman’s power is her beauty. The emphasis of this radiant physical trait epitomizes its importance. The tales Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella clearly demonstrate that the power of a woman comes from her unfailing beauty which conclusively allows for reward. Incessant references to beauty contribute to this ideal countless time throughout the tales. Not only is beauty the source of power but in turn all traits of a woman can essentially be neglected. No other trait is nearly important as beauty if it does not allow for the same amount of power; beauty is necessary in being rewarded. All of the good things which occur in the lives of these heroines happen because of their beauty. Without this trait, the destiny of these heroines would have not been so prosperous. In society today, those who are beautiful are often more well off because of opportunities and rewards their attractiveness provides. The idea that beauty is power continues to present itself in today’s society. These tales became the blueprint for a feminist ideal which may surely continue for centuries to come.