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Friday, April 29, 2011

Summary of “ ‘Cinderella’: A Story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts

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Bruno Bettleheim, the author of “ ‘Cinderella’ A story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts,” believes that “Cinderella” is one of the greatest fairy tales because it relates to something that everyone has to deal with at some point in their life, sibling rivalry. However, he believes that it goes deeper than that. The story reaches not only the conscious mind, but also the unconscious mind. He believes that the mind has two important elements in which it uses to influence how we behave and what we believe. These two elements are our conscious and unconscious minds. Because Cinderella is a girl whom is degraded by her step siblings and step-mother, and then is risen to position of heroin at the end, she is seen to have resolved her conflicts. The story sends messages to the subliminal mind of how to solve conflicts in realistic situations of sibling rivalry. Not only that, but it also inspires confidence. However, this fairy tale most relates to those children toward the end of their Oedipal stage because of the feelings of guilt that overwhelm them. Those feelings present the feeling of being unworthy of the parents’ love at a time that the child is in strong need and want for love. This leads the child to fear rejection, which then gives him the distress that others are favored over himself. These feelings, and the way in which the child responds to these feelings, is where sibling rivalry originates from.


“Cinderella” is among the best known fairy tales. The origin of the story comes from both the Chinese culture and the German language. Although it is not the modern thought, in the past, the Chinese culture associated small feet with beauty. Its German origin derives from what Bettleheim interprets as the true meaning behind the story of Cinderella, sibling rivalry. In the German language, to “live among the ashes” signified degradation of one sibling caused by the other sibling or siblings. It originated from unpretentious kitchen maids who had to clean the ashes from the fireplace. The term “ashes,” alone conveyed an impaired worth of a person. The term probably originally inaugurated from the Bible. Bettleheim points out specific examples, such as the Biblical story of Cain and Able, where Cain is indomitable and sinister, and Abel is feeble and, therefore, is coerced to be his “ash brother.”


Bettleheim applies reasoning that the bona fide meaning behind the fairy tale, “Cinderella,” is sibling rivalry. However, he theorizes that the use of a step-mother and step-sisters is intentional to condone the antagonism that is really present among factual brothers and sisters. Granted, realistic situation do not tend to be as inordinate as that of Cinderella’s, in the child’s perspective, they feel just as degraded.


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Bettleheim redundantly uses the phrase “sibling rivalry” to allude to a pattern of intense emotions in which this fairy tale evokes in a child. To the child, both sympathy and empathy are present in their feeling toward Cinderella. Although the child may be aware that his situation is not nearly as extreme as that of Cinderellas, he is not fully able to look at his own predicament in an unbiased way. Bettleheim points out that a child tends to see things in an abstract way, meaning that in the majority of circumstances, the way he feels is an inconsistency of how he is actually being treated. “Cinderella” appeals to children because they feel they can relate to the feelings of mistreatment that is excerpted on Cinderella. A child’s imagination brings him to feel just as degraded by his siblings as Cinderella is by her step-sisters. However, the other aspect of this story that brings appeal to children is the happy ending. A child will hope for the same ending, a rescue from the situation he is now in. For the child whom lacks confidence in his future, this happy ending gives some conviction and optimism that he, too, will one day gain triumph.


Bettleheim suggests that this fairy tale gives hope to children. At some point, every child is overwhelmed by the feeling of debase due to lack of confidence. When something bad happens to them, they feel as if they are deserving of it. The child craves the assurance of simplicity and purity in which he assumes his siblings inherits, which then causes animosity between siblings. The child hopes that his parents will see him the same way in which he assumes they see his sibling. Because people believe in Cinderella, the child hopes that people will also believe in him.


Because the step-sisters and step-mother are so brutal toward Cinderella, any feelings of anger and hate toward them are admissible. A child will then use that logic in his own situation to validate any feelings of resentment toward his sibling.


Fairy tales, such as “Cinderella,” give images to children in which they can express their feelings of how they perceive they are being treated. Bettleheim uses an example of a five-and-a-half-year-old girl whom felt as if she were being treated like Cinderella. Not only did she use images from the fairy tale to exaggerate her feelings, but she also demonstrated the intuitive message she gained from the story by stating that her sister is jealous of her beauty. This girl was able to subliminally pick up on Cinderella’s prevalence to the step-sisters and stepmother. Bettleheim reinforces this by pointing out that Cinderella is saved by her prince at the end of the story.


Bettleheim believes that the story of “Cinderella” relates to the child during the end of their Oedipal stage. He explains this stage by defining the Oedipal complex as the positive sexual feelings a child inhibits toward the parent of the opposite sex. The child may also gain hostility or jealousy toward the parent of the same sex. When a child is in the beginning of this stage he feels freedom from moral wrong. The child is in complete content and is inhibited with the feelings of simplicity and purity. He feel as if he is the center of the universe and there is no questioning thought of whether his is loved or not; he knows he his. However, toward the end of this stage is when the child begins to lose his confidence in himself and in the love between him and his family. He begins to question his self worth and feel as if any criticism toward him is because he is not good enough and he sees it as rejection. When a parent does not give him his way he feels it is because what he wants is wrong and he begins to feel guilty. When the child is in this stage, the feelings he has toward his parents is natural to him, so when he comes to the end of the stage he begins to feel guilty for those same feelings. The child begins to think something is wrong with himself and his confidence in himself is lowered. He feels so guilty about these feelings that he cannot tell anyone about them. He then begins to believe that his siblings are better than him and they do not do wrong things as he does. The child feels lower than his siblings and he is no longer preferred.


This is where Bettleheim compares and relates the story of “Cinderella” to the child’s feelings and thoughts. Although the child most likely will not speak of this, there is something deep inside him that makes him believe that there is something that Cinderella did to deserve the treatment that she gets. A child at the end of the Oedipal stage begins to gain positive sexual feelings and feelings to be the love of the parent of opposite sex; while the feeling for the other parent is the complete opposite. Because the innocent feeling he once had is so natural to him he cannot help but feel guilty for having these feelings. Although the child may be able to convince himself to not think in such a manner, he is unable to gain back the feeling of innocence; this in turn leads the child to the overwhelming feeling of worthlessness. The child begins to think that they, too, deserve to be punished as Cinderella. The fear of ending up like Cinderella is present in his mind because he believes that if someone were to find out what he was thinking, that would be his fate. This, too, is why the happy ending gives hope to the child. Although Cinderella may have deserved what she got, she was still saved at the end.


Bettleheim sees “Cinderella” as having a great effect on children. Although Cinderella was helped through magic, the child understands that it is due to her own efforts that she was able to get out of her situation of constant degradation. Therefore, the story gives confidence to children that they, too, can survive the worse of situations.


Although “Cinderella” is based around sibling rivalry at its worse, it still allows children to see how the story relates to themselves and the situation in which they are in. The story has many unconscious meanings in which the child is not aware of. However, the child will still respond to these messages.





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