The 1950’s classic Walt Disney film, ‘Cinderella’, which

The story of a young girl escaping poverty and abuse to go on to find true love and live happily ever after is an easy one for audiences to root for. Most people will recognize this storyline from the 1950’s classic Walt Disney film, ‘Cinderella’, which received worldwide acclaim and rescued Walt Disney Productions from bankruptcy. However, many do not know that Disney’s ‘Cinderella’ was based on French Author, Charles Perrault’s ‘Cendrillon’, which in turn has been said to have been inspired by Greek geographer Strabo’s ‘The story of Rhodopis’, which is considered to be one of the first accounts of the Cinderella story. The premise of the story remains the same throughout all of these different versions; a young woman overcomes unjust oppression and in turn, defies societal expectations, falls in love and marries above her means, raising herself out of poverty and securing her happily ever after. The trope of the Cinderella story does not often stray far from these guidelines. Some representations, however, can be said to complicate the Cinderella story. ‘Jane Eyre’, written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847, is a novel which is extremely similar in nature to the classic Cinderella story, however, can be said to tell a complicated version of that story. Jane Eyre takes the form of a bildungsroman, following the respective protagonist, Jane, as she struggles through an oppressive childhood, and strives towards bettering herself. However, the story is not as simple as that, and the novel explores varying themes and plot mechanisms which complicate the trope of the Classic Cinderella story and sets Jane Eyre apart in its own right from other representations of the classic tale. In this essay I will discuss the ways in which ‘Jane Eyre’ complicates the Cinderella story, paying consideration to themes, characterization, plot devices, and imagery.   ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte can be regarded as almost a perfect representation of the Cinderella story. There is an emphasis on similar childhoods; Jane loses her parents and is subject to the torment of her wicked ‘stepmother’ and ‘stepsisters’ as represented by her Aunt, Mrs. Reed and her cousins, Eliza and Georgiana. There is a strong emphasis on the ideals of a fairytale ending and importance of love and marriage as Jane finds her prince charming, represented by Rochester. The novel does not necessarily feature a Fairy Godmother type figure, highlighting upon the fact that Charlotte Bronte elects to portray Jane as a strong, independent heroine, co-aligning more so with the German version of Cinderella, which does not feature a Fairy Godmother. At the time Jane Eyre was published in 1847, the popularity of fairy tales was rising as a result of the recently translated ‘Grimm’s Fairy tales’, which was published in 1812 and translated to English for the first time in 1823. This publication included the tale of German tale of ‘Aschenputtel’, more commonly known as Cinderella. Micael Clarke in “Bronte’s Jane Eyre and the Grimm’s Cinderella” states that “it is significant that she specifically chose to deploy the German version in Jane Eyre” (Clarke, 2000) as it allows Bronte to explore elements and critique women’s struggles in patriarchal society. He goes on to state that,”the structure in Jane Eyre results in a feminist allegory…in which those that demean women’s intelligence, will, desire and integrity are assessed…it is the insertion into the novel of the Grimm Brothers’ Cinderella that conveys this feminist ethic” (Clarke, 2000)Part of Jane’s journey towards self-autonomy includes her spiritual understanding, and themes of religion and Christianity are prevalent throughout the novel. Jane rejects other’s understandings of God, instead electing to place her faith in herself, and maintain a private relationship with God as she believes there is no one right way to show faith in God. She does not wish to give up her passion, nor her principle. In contrast, the Grimm Brother’s Cinderella focuses heavily upon Christianity, emphasizing upon the fact that women within the church as expected to behave properly and maintain their faith in God as society expects. As stated by Clarke, incorporating specifically, the Grimm Brother’s version of Cinderella into Jane Eyre, allows Charlotte Bronte to escape the constraints of realism and explore the mythical and the symbolic.For example, in Grimm’s version of Cinderella, birds are extremely significant and symbolic as they represent Cinderella’s deceased mother and play the role of a Fairy Godmother as they help her overcome tasks that will enable her to attend the ball. The birds represent divine intervention and the connection between deceased mother in heaven and living daughter on earth. In Jane Eyre, birds represent Jane’s passion and freedom and often appear to her in times of need as symbols of her independence. In Volume Two, Chapter 8, she famously quotes,”I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”. (Bronte, 1847)This quote summarises Jane’s journey to independence and is an example of why birds are extremely symbolic for Jane, just as they are for Cinderella. Birds represent messengers; the difference between the two symbolisms, however, is the different message portrayed in each story. The birds in Jane Eyre act as a reminded to Jane regarding her independence and freedom whereas the birds in Cinderella act in place of the Fairy Godmother, completing her tasks for her so that she can go to the ball, reinforcing the notion that someone else will always save the day, a concept that Jane Eyre rejects. Charlotte Bronte electing to use the Grimm Brother’s version of Cinderella as inspiration can be used as further evidence in regards to ways that Jane Eyre complicates the Cinderella story. This version of Cinderella does not include a Fairy Godmother but instead focuses on the importance of allies as we see represented by the birds that aid Cinderella. Jane Eyre also focuses more so on the importance of allies, in regards to characters such as Miss Temple. It can be argued that Miss Temple stands in place of where the character of a Fairy Godmother would be. “To her instruction I owed the best part of my acquirements… Miss Temple’s friendship and society had been my continual solace; she had stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and latterly, companion” (Bronte, 1847)Miss Temple acts as a mentor and guide for Jane, electing not to take Jane’s fate into her own hands, but to push her towards independence and self-realization. Miss Temple impacts quite heavily upon Jane and it is through Miss Temple’s teachings that Jane learns to successfully control her emotions and make independent decisions. It can be argued that Jane would not have achieved her goals, were it not for Miss Temple. However, it is extremely important to note when considering how Jane Eyre complicates the Cinderella story that Jane’s happy ending is a result of Jane’s actions, and no one else’s. She does not have a Fairy Godmother or magical birds to grant all of her wishes with a magic wand, but she must strive to achieve those on her own, albeit with encouragement from those close to her. Although Jane Eyre lacks the direct sense of magic that we see in Cinderella, Charlotte Bronte does incorporate elements of the supernatural throughout the novel as a means of exploring female empowerment. The use of the supernatural in fairy tales, such as Cinderella, is mostly used as a means of oppressing women and although Jane Eyre does not directly address the supernatural, there are various references towards supernatural intervention addressed throughout the novel. For example, Jane refers to the idea that “a kind fairy, in her absence, had surely dropped the required suggestion on my pillow” (Bronte, 1847)  when discussing her thought to advertise her services in the newspaper. This can be seen as a nod towards the use of fairies in Cinderella but the key difference is that it is highlighted that it is Jane’s decision, and no one else’s. Jane is the one who is taking her fate into her own hands. The use of the supernatural in Cinderella sends an entirely different message. In Cinderella, the fairy godmother uses magic to push Cinderella towards her fate, whilst Cinderella herself is extremely passive and makes no attempt to take her fate into her own hands. Jane Eyre complicates the Cinderella story as a means of challenging the way women are portrayed in fairy tales.   “Fairy tales in the patriarchal tradition portray women as weak,submissive, dependent, and self- sacrificing, while men are powerful, active anddominant” (Parsons, 2004)This quote from Linda T. Parsons, author of “Ella Evolving”, discusses the oppression of women in classic fairy tales. We can see the ways in which both women suffer oppression throughout their respective stories. Cinderella is treated like a servant by her step-mother and forced to wear rags and sleep by the fireplace. When the Prince comes to find her, Cinderella is locked in her room as a means of preventing her escaping from underneath their tyranny and succeeding in achieving her happy ending. This is reflected in Jane Eyre, for not only is Jane treated poorly by her Aunt and is subject to constant ridicule. She is also locked away in a room in order to try and diminish her spirit and prevent her from gaining her independence. Charlotte Bronte complicates this aspect of the Cinderella story by adding elements of the supernatural and terror to this experience in order to represent the true lengths society is willing to go to continue to oppress women. Jane’s experience in the red room is reflected upon throughout the novel whenever Jane must make a decision and requires a reminder of the patriarchal society that she is fighting against. What makes Jane Eyre a more complicated version of Cinderella is the emphasis on Jane’s determination. Unlike Cinderella, it is emphasized that Jane cannot forget the trauma and abuse she has suffered, and it is her willingness to fight against her oppressors that sets her apart from the traditional Cinderella role. Although Bronte incorporates many elements of the Cinderella story into Jane Eyre, she does so as a means of exploring gender roles and societal expectations of women. Jane’s character does wish to succumb to patriarchal society as easily as Cinderella does.When discussing women within a patriarchal society, the notion of beauty and outward appearances are a huge factor to consider. Jane Eyre further complicates the Cinderella story in regards how Bronte portrays the concept of beauty and how beauty determines a woman’s worth. In classic fairy tales, a woman’s beauty is everything – the protagonist is always an extremely beautiful woman, and the evil characters such as the stepsisters are portrayed as ugly and plain. This sends the message that if you are beautiful, you are worthy of love and sympathy, whereas if you are ugly, you must be hateful and dark-hearted. Magic is used to transform Cinderella into an unrecognizable beauty; when she is wearing a beautiful ball gown, she is worth something. This sends the message that women must you must fit a certain ideal in order to receive your happy ending. The Prince can only accept her once he knows that she is the beautiful, high-class woman that he had previously encountered, not when he encounters her dressed in rags. The glass slipper reassures him that she can once again become that fantasy woman, and only then can he embrace and accept her. Jane Eyre complicates the Cinderella story by challenging this ideal. Women’s clothing throughout history has been defined by societal restrictions and used as a means of oppression. In Volume One, Chapter three, we witness a conversation between Bessie and Abbot, discussing Jane’s appearance, “Poor Miss Jane is to be pitied, too, Abbot.”…Yes, if she were a nice, pretty child, one might compassionate her forlornness; but one really cannot care for such a little toad as that” (Bronte, 1847)Immediately after criticizing Jane, they mention that ” a beauty like Miss Georgiana would be more moving in the same condition”, (Bronte, 1847)  and they fawn over her “long curls and her blue eyes”. (Bronte, 1847) Charlotte Bronte chooses to make Jane plain and less conventionally attractive in order to purposely complicate the Cinderella story. As seen in the conversation between Bessie and Abbot, for many, it is much easier to like and sympathise with a beautiful girl. It is the beautiful girl who is supposed to find the Cinderella ending, but Jane defies this notion consistently throughout the novel. When Jane agrees to marry Rochester, she is expected to undergo the Cinderella transformation and put on fine clothes and accessories that will transform her into what society expects of her. However, she states that she “never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester, or sitting like a second Danae with the golden shower falling daily round me”, (Bronte, 1847). Unlike Cinderella, Jane wants Rochester to love her for who she is, and not for what clothes she wears. This, however, does not mean that Jane does not struggle with the pressure surrounding the societal expectations of beauty and how this determines a person’s worth. It helps the audience recognize Jane as a fully realised character when we witness her insecurities. Cinderella always knows that she is beautiful. Jane, however, does struggle coming to terms with the fact that she does not fit a certain ideal. In Chapter eleven, she states, “I ever wished to look as well as I could, and please as much as my want of beauty would permit. I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer” (Bronte, 1847)The insecurities surrounding her looks portrayed here comes to light when Blanche Ingram comes to stay at Thornfield Hall and Jane immediately compares herself to Blanche, who meets the expectations of a woman whom society would deem deserving of love. Cinderella is surrounded by less attractive women, and the concept of insecurity is explored not by Cinderella, but by her “ugly” step-sisters. It is suggested that her step-sisters are jealous of her good looks and this is why they are so cruel to her and thus they do not deserve the chance of love, perpetuating the notion that less attractive people do not deserve the same fates as the beautiful. Charlotte Bronte further complicates the Cinderella story through the character of Blanche as despite her beauty, Blanche is portrayed as a very cruel and unlikeable character and Charlotte Bronte makes every effort to ensure the reader dislikes her. Blanche comes across as snobbish and extremely rude as seen in Volume two, Chapter Seventeen where she disrespects Governesses knowingly within earshot of Jane, stating that she has had “a dozen…half of them detestable and the rest ridiculous, and all incubi”, (Bronte, 1847) and later in chapter eighteen, she “scorns to touch Jane with the hem of her robes as she passes”. (Bronte, 1847)Bronte purposely challenges the notion that all ugly people are cruel, and all beautiful people are loving and kind through the character of Blanche Ingram, highlighting the fact that Jane is just as deserving of her happy ending despite the fact that she does not fit societal expectations. Jane herself admits that should Blanche have “been a good and noble woman, endowed with force, fervour, kindness sense, she should have had one vital struggle with…jealousy and despair”, (Bronte, 1847) but upon discovering her true nature, recognizes that Rochester could never love a woman like Blanche, for she lacks all of the internal qualities that Jane herself possesses, despite external appearances. This notion also challenges the ideals of the traditional Cinderella story, for Cinderella could have easily turned out to be just like Blanche once the Prince had spoken more than five words with her. Jane Eyre complicates the Cinderella story by challenging its representation of women and the link between beauty and worth.The pinnacle of both stories is, of course, the happy ending. After all of the trials and tribulations, our heroine finally marries her true love and they live happily ever after. Whilst this is the case for Cinderella, and essentially what happens for Jane, the version in Jane Eyre is of course much more complicated than meets the eye. At the time of Jane Eyre’s publication, women were still classed as inferior to men and, socially, men were still dominant in all aspects. Therefore, a woman’s best chance at life was to marry a man who could provide her with a comfortable life. This statement rings true in all prior representations of the Cinderella story so it is only natural that we would expect Jane Eyre to defy this expectation also, but she does not. It is true that Jane Eyre ends with marriage and a happily ever after, but Charlotte Bronte, of course, complicates the scenario in order to fulfill our expectations of Jane. The difference between Jane and Cinderella is that, first and foremost, Jane has a choice. Cinderella is never presented with a reasonable choice; she meets one man and must take the opportunity to marry him and pull herself out of her dire situation, or face the consequences and live the rest of her life subject to her family’s abuse. Jane, however, at the end of her novel, has achieved self-autonomy and in regards to her love life, she is given three choices; pursue Rochester, go to India with St John Rivers, or continue on her journey without a male companion. She chooses to pursue Rochester, having now accomplished self-satisfaction and gained full independence as a result of her inheritance. She chooses him, not because he is a knight in shining armour who can raise her up above her means, but because now they are truly equal and she has found space in her life for love, having achieved her goals. Although her marriage to Rochester may seem like a traditional Cinderella-esque ending, it most certainly is not. Bronte further complicates the Cinderella story by having Rochester play the role of the damsel in distress after Thornfield Hall burns down and he succumbs to injury, and it is Jane who plays the role of saviour. Jane states that, “Mr. Rochester continued blind the first two years of our union…I was his vision, as I am still his right hand. Literally, I was (what he often called me) the apple of his eye” (Bronte, 1847)This is a prime example of how Charlotte Bronte complicates the Cinderella story as it is Rochester who is dependent on Jane when they initially marry. Traditionally, it is only the young woman who must undertake any form of hardship, and the Prince only has to make an appearance and it means he has saved the day. Any insecurities Jane may have had about their relationship regarding their social imbalance is extinguished by the fact that Rochester can be dependent on her and no longer represents an upper-class ideal that Jane could never reach. Jane informs us “Reader, I married him”, it is very important to note the use of “I” as opposed to “he married me”. Once again, there is a strong emphasis on the fact that all of this is Jane’s decision and she is in full control of her fate. Despite the heavy influence of Cinderella throughout the novel, this novel cannot fully be considered a true Cinderella story as Jane Eyre does not conform to the oppressive nature of the tale, and continues to defy the expectations of patriarchal society up until the very end of the novel, despite the apparent traditional happy ending. In conclusion, it is fair to argue that “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte can be said to represent a complicated version of the classic Cinderella story. Jane Eyre possesses almost all of the traditional qualities of the Cinderella story such as the rags to riches motif, the wicked stepmother and stepsister characters, the use of the supernatural and the fairytale wedding, but at the same time, defies our expectations of how those qualities are portrayed. Jane Eyre emits any Fairy Godmother or magical birds, enforcing the fact that Jane must overcome all of her challenges herself, without relying on the external help of others. It also explores the oppression of women in a patriarchal society and challenges the way in which woman of all walks of life are perceived. The story does not end with a Prince rushing in and sweeping her off of her feet in order to save her from her circumstances as Jane accomplishes that on her own and instead, swoops in herself to rescue her prince from his own dire circumstances. Jane Eyre possesses all the qualities of a Cinderella story, but continuously defies our pre-determined expectations of those qualities. When considering all of this, the character of Jane can be said to represent one of the first modern-day representations of an independent Cinderella, and Charlotte Bronte achieves this by complicating the traditional story.