Friday, March 21, 2014

Ella Enthused

Wikipedia Commons
I originally had too many ideas for my paper. Now that I have narrowed it down and eliminated the ideas that I felt didn't connect as well, I have been left with a problem. I think my paper lacks a "so what?" After writing this much, it seems to me that the goal of my paper has become a comparison, taking Ella Enchanted and Cinderella side-by-side and talking about what each text teaches young girls about womanhood. There aren't high stakes.

Does anyone have an idea of how I can make this idea matter? I think I am summarizing and pointing out some general truths, but I need help finding a way to make it have more weight. What if I incorporated how women have to fight to be a heroine, whereas men are expected be the hero? Thoughts?

Ella Enchanted: Regaining Feminist Control

There are certain roles society assumes appropriate for women and they are often reflected in literature. Young adult literature in particular envelopes the topic of gender as a dictator of status and expectations for young women. In the novel Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine there is no mistaking the feminist connotations. It is meant to be a retelling of the classic fairy-tale Cinderella; however, Ella, the young female protagonist, is teaching an opposite lesson than Cinderella. Ella begins the novel by explaining a curse of obedience that prevents her from having the agency to make her life her own. She is also fighting something much greater than her curse. The plot follows Ella's journey to rectify this curse of obedience, and along the way Ella defines a woman’s beauty, success, and happiness as a result of hard work, wit, and determination rather than from the actions of external people or circumstances as in Cinderella.

In Cinderella, her outward feminine beauty defines her worth. It is her pretty dress from her fairy godmother that gets her the prince in a matter of moments. In Ella Enchanted, this idea of beauty is addressed and discredited.
“I collapsed on the stool next to the stove, sobbing so hard I couldn't catch my breath. Then Mandy's arms were around me, and I was crying into the ruffles along the neck of her apron, where I had cried so many times before for smaller reasons...
“She couldn't be a fairy. Fairies were thin and young and beautiful. Mandy was as tall as a fairy was supposed to be, but who ever heard of a fairy with frizzy gray hair and two chins?" -Ella Enchanted
Ella asks the question, "Who ever heard of a fairy with frizzy gray hair and two chins?" and the rest of the novel answers it. Mandy is beautiful because of who she is, and not because of what she looks like. Dame Olga, Hattie, and Olive, her step-family, are all ugly because of the way they act more than their physical appearances. Lucinda, the fairy who cursed Ella, masks her true nature with make-up, perfumes, and beautiful clothing in an attempt to stand out and appeal to people. Her shallowness makes her instead, very clearly unappealing.

In the classic tale, the fairy godmother comes, and gives Cinderella everything she's ever wanted. Which is what, exactly? To go to the ball, to be with people, make friends maybe. It is interesting; all it takes is a pretty face and dress and she has landed a high place in society. She gets everything she wants. The shallowness of Cinderella is in part, its charm, but Ella Enchanted manages to capture the charm and incorporate the depth and complexity of a real life perspective and that's what makes Ella Enchanted so wonderful. Ella’s Fairy Godmother doesn't come and rescue her in her moment of need. Instead, she is there all along, quietly encouraging and teaching her how to accept and deal with problems.

In the story we all know, Cinderella does little to nothing to fight against her very unjust living situation. While she is treated as a slave and denied all that she could ever want, she simply takes it, crying silently to herself until magically she is rescued because of a few tears. It is very unrealistic and pathetic that all Cinderella did to summon her Fairy Godmother was cry. Inversely, Ella does not passively accept all of the demands of her odious step family members. She has no choice but to obey. In Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine eliminates a Cinderella who is submissive and enduring of cruelty, replacing her with a woman who stands up for herself and find new ways to overcome her challenges. 

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading your mini paper! I really love your voice and how your comparison is formatted. I totally see what you mean by the so-what issue. Maybe if you up the stakes a little bit more, by explicitly stating that Cinderella idealizes/oversimplifies women and that Gail's version redeems it? I see that that is what you are suggesting, but I think making that more of a claim would maybe add a harder point to your paper.