One way to take your students’ analysis skills to a whole new level is to have them look at something they know in an entirely new way. A few years ago, I started using fairy tales and Disney movies along with critical lenses and it was a total game changer! I broadly talked about this subject a few weeks ago in another post, but for the next several posts I will be sharing some of my favorites and what lenses I paired with them. This is just ONE part of my total fairytales and critical lenses unit.
Today, I will start with Cinderella. Gather around and let’s begin, “Once upon a time….”
Ah, Cinderella! The one princess so important that she still has her own giant castle at Disney parks. The cleaning woman who became a princess through her generous spirit, good deeds, and her ability to never give up in the face of poor hatred. Humans are fascinated with rags to riches stories, so it’s not surprising that there are over 100 Cinderella stories from cultures all around the world.
However, I focus on two versions- Perrault’s “The Little Glass Slipper” and Grimms’ “Cinderella”.
I love to compare these two versions because while they are similar, they are also quite different. Perrault’s version ends so sweetly with Cinderella being full of forgiveness to those that had treated her so cruelly her entire life. It didn’t even stop there, she even gave her wicked stepsisters homes and matched them with upper class husbands! Perrault was even kind enough to give us his morals to be taken away from the story at the end. No doubt this reinforced to many children for decades to come of how kind, forgiving, and generous a young lady should be in order to live a truly good life.
The Grimms’ version has a slightly different take. The wicked stepsisters that tormented Cinderella end the story being horribly deformed and mutilated by the helpful animals that had assisted Cinderella on her journey from the ashes. While we are never given a moral, I think it is safe to say that the key takeaway is to be a good Christian girl and live happily ever after or don’t and…..
There are three critical lenses I personally like to use while covering Cinderella– archetypical, Marxist, and feminist.
You can teach them lenses first and then let them analyze the work for whichever lens they choose or you can teach all three and have them look for examples of each lens as kind of an introduction activity before unleashing them to another text.
From a archetype standpoint- the story is a rags to riches one. With this lens though, they can make connections with other stories they have seen the hero go through in similar ways; make connections with symbols seen throughout the text/movie; and even connect the villain with similar ones seen in other texts/movies.
For example, in the Grimms’ version, Cinderella goes to her mother’s grave crying and praying for assistance three times. Once students understand that the number three is an archetype of a holy number, they can make the connection that Cinderella’s mother was a good woman and is sending divine intervention for her pure daughter. There are so many other archetypes to see in these tales, but I don’t want to take too much of your time here 🙂
From the feminist lens- Students will ask themselves questions such as: What constitutes masculinity and femininity? How do characters embody these traits? Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? Cinderella is presented as all things feminine- cooks, cleans, cares for the family, loves her parents, etc. The step-mother though is severe, cruel, and only interested in elevating herself in society. One possible analysis statement students could come up with with this lens is, “The wicked stepmother in Cinderella was created to show young girls what will happen if they do not conform to the traditional female role of a caring wife and mother. By daring to want more out of life, it will warp you into something twisted and unfeminine.”
From the Marxist lens- Students look at the socioeconomic statuses and power structures within characters in the story. Some key questions to ask:
Who has the power?
Who wants the power?
How are the social classes depicted?
Cinderella is portrayed as a young girl who grew up somewhat wealthy in her early years and is then thrown into severe poverty by the actions of her stepmother. In this way it is arguable that the upper class does everything in its power to keep the poor in their place.
Also, it is alluded that the only way out of poverty is to be lucky enough to marry “up”. Thus, instilling into young girls to place more value on a perspective husband’s bank account than character.
Again, these are all just theoretical takeaways and lead to really interesting conversations with students. I personally still love to watch all the Disney princess movies. However, I have found that by pairing these “safe” texts with critical lenses invited students into the thought of analysis in a non-threatening way. I hope that this has inspired you to try it out as well!
If you are interested in using my materials for analyzing Cinderella you can go here. Interested in checking out my 6-week unit that is differentiated for gifted, on-level, and remedial classes covering Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, The Princes and the Frog, Rapunzel? Go here. I also have this shorter on-level 5-week unit here.