- Amy MacKinnon
Why Cinderella Wears Glass Slippers
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Why Does Cinderella Wear Glass Slippers?
That was a question a student asked me once when I was teaching high school literature. We’d been talking about Christian themes and elements in stories where it wasn’t obvious (and why that was a good thing), and I mentioned that the traditional fairy tales were very Christian stories.
Yep, that definitely led to more questions!
How are they Christian?
What about all the violence in the stories?
Why are all the girls princesses?
Why did Cinderella wear glass slippers?
That last one stumped me--I had no idea why Cinderella wore glass slippers!
That’s why I started investigating fairy tales
I knew they were basic morality tales, but once I started to read them closely...I was amazed to discover what gems these short tales really are!
I knew that most of the authors in the Western tradition used Christian imagery and ideas as the foundations and building blocks for their stories.
I also knew that many of the best stories wove images and themes of creation, the fall, and salvation into the fabric of their stories, but that most of them hid that in their fictional tales so that they weren't obvious the first time you read them (you really have to look carefully to de-code and find that in their stories).
I also knew that Cinderella was basically a morality tale, because she always chose the path of virtue--even when she was seriously provoked. She always met cruelty, rejection, and mockery with virtue and grace.
So Where Did the Glass Slipper Fit into That?
Charles Perrault's version of Cinderella in his Mother Goose Tales introduced the element of the glass slipper into the story. There have been different versions of that story in every culture, from time immemorial, but none of them added slippers that were made from glass.
Why Did He Do That?
Like the Brothers Grimm did about a century later, Charles Perrault told his story as a Christian morality tale. He used the framework of creation, fall, and redemption in his fairy tales (some of his stories were actually cautionary tales; click here to read my post on the difference between fairy tales and cautionary tales). He also used a lot of references to the Bible, and the overall theme of the story is the path of virtue which leads Cinderella to true wisdom.
There's a type of wisdom that comes with age, but not everyone who reaches an advanced age is wise.
There's also the type of wisdom that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
That, the wisdom that comes from God, is the wisdom that Cinderella receives as a result of her constant pursuit of virtue and goodness throughout the story, and the glass slippers play an important role in showing us that.
I know, that sounds weird...
Good stories, especially fairy tales, use a lot of symbolism to tell their tale. When all of the symbolism is obvious even the first time you read a story, then it's not just a boring story--it's a story that's not told very well. The symbols should be part of the story so that they work within the story in a way that they enhance because they fit into the story. If you're reading a story and start to notice that has a lot of symbols and that they're obviously stuck in there as symbols, then it's a badly told story.
A good story should entertain and captivate us so that we're caught up in the story itself while we're reading or watching it. If we're thinking through the symbolism while we're still reading or watching it, then it's become just an academic exercise, and either the storyteller has failed by being too obvious (or worse--lecturing us!), or we're not reading the story as a story.
We're treating the story like an academic word exercise!
The first time we read a story, we should just enjoy it as a well-told tale. Afterwards, when we think about it, that's when we can think about the deeper meanings: why the events happened the way they did, and why the characters spoke and acted in certain ways.
Reading or watching a story should be like talking to a friend: if we're caught up in talking to each other and enjoying each other's company, then we're not looking for ulterior motives and examining everything they say and do. That's part of how friendships deepen.
If we're thinking about everything that could possibly be behind what they say and do while we're talking to them, then we're not involved in the conversation (or the story).
So how did Charles Perrault use the glass slippers as a symbol?
He laid the framework for it throughout the story
He didn't just throw the glass slippers into the story at the end; he very carefully wove them into the story.
The ways and places where he does this are really important--they’re not just used at random.
That's what I explain in the book,
Cinderella's Glass Slippers
In this book, I go through the deeper meaning behind the story, showing how Perrault used symbols and images from the Bible to enhance our experience of the story.
The reason for discovering the symbols and Christian elements and references that are hidden in fiction is so you can understand how stories affect and change you; whether it’s for the better or for the worse.
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