Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Different Kind of Cinderella

So since I am taking an English class that requires me to write essays, I thought I'd share the more interesting ones with you! I enjoyed writing this one. :) We read five versions of Cinderella and had to pick one that we would read with a child and argue why we would choose it over the others. And while all of the Cinderella stories have value, one especially caught my eye. So here it is: my Cinderella story of choice and why you should read it, too.

          “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.” Albert Einstein’s advice may seem far-fetched at first, but it is a belief held by many parents and experts. Reading to a child is an important formative and bonding experience for both the reader and the listener. Having made the decision to read to a child, however, a new question arises. What will you read? One of the best loved fairytales in history is that of Cinderella. There are many versions of “Cinderella” available to choose from, spanning from the Grimm Brother’s version to the Disney rendition. The version I would choose to read to my favorite child would be the Native American’s Cinderella story because it showcases inward beauty, the Cinderella character takes initiative, and it is a unique story that a child would otherwise never hear.

            The Native American “Cinderella” is more accurately called “The Rough-Faced Girl.” In this story, the Cinderella character, named Oochigeaskw, is burned by her sister, scarring her until she is hideous. The village rejects the young girl, but this does not stop her from seeking out a better life. There is an invisible “prince” that, if she can see him, she can marry. Of course, she is able to see him; and his sister gives her a bath that makes her outwardly beautiful as well (245-47).
This story gives the reader an opportunity to reinforce the value of inward beauty in a child. Unlike other versions of “Cinderella” where she is captivatingly beautiful and only needs to be freshened up before showing off her physical beauty, Oochigeaskw is unsightly and covered with scars. She is outcast by her village because of her homeliness. She does not gain physical beauty until she proves her inward worth by being able to see the invisible prince. The narrative reinforces this concept: “the poor little girl… was an awful sight, but she was kindly received by the sister of the Invisible One. And this was, of course, because this noble lady understood far more about things than simply the mere outside which all the rest of the world knows” (247). The prince’s sister then bathes her, and her scars wash away, her hair grows, and her eyes light up. Her beauty is made to match what she already possessed in character. Her sisters further this example. They are able to dress themselves up until they are beautiful, but they cannot see the prince. The story emphasizes the value of inward beauty over outward appearance.
            One weakness that critics often find with the Cinderella story is that the girl does not take initiative. She either cries until her fairy godmother rescues her as in the Perrault and Disney versions, or she is granted wishes for clothes from birds in a tree as in the Grimm and Sexton versions. Cinderella is dependent on others for her success. 
(just saying.)

On the other hand, Oochigeaskw takes initiative. She does not let her disfigurement keep her from trying to see the invisible prince. She does not have a godmother to grant her wishes. Instead, she goes into the woods and builds a dress out of whatever she can forage. Another factor to consider is that Oochigeaskw is independent. In the Disney version, Cinderella has “her little friends the mice,” and in the Perrault version she has her trusty fairy godmother (Grant 249). In the Grimm version she is taken care of by two pigeons and a wish granting bird, and likewise for Sexton’s adaption of the story (241-43; 251). Oochigeaskw, however, is derided by everyone except for the prince’s sister. The only help she gets is a few wampum shells from the kinder of her two sisters (247). She is shouted at and shamed by the entire village, not just her cruel family. Despite this derision, she determines to give her best effort for a better life with the Invisible One, and she succeeds. Oochigeaskw is a role model of strength and determination despite difficulties.
“The Rough Faced Girl” possesses many good qualities that set it apart from other Cinderella stories, but its most distinguishing factor is simply the fact that it comes from a different culture. A child will hear the mainstream Cinderella story many times in his or her lifetime, but he or she may never hear the story of the “Rough-Faced Girl.” A child needs to hear the tale of an ugly heroine gaining success just as much as he or she needs to hear the story of a beautiful princess. A child will also benefit from being exposed to a different culture at a young age. Seeing how different societies work will fuel a child’s imagination and help the child realize how big the world really is. It will spark his or her curiosity to learn about other people and will, at the very least, give the child a more rounded perspective of the world he or she lives in.
Despite the benefits of reading this story to a child, some would say that it is too dark for a young person. The story is sad and focuses on the terrible plight of the young lady. It also contains violence, as the older sister burns Oochigeaskw with coals. A sensitive child could easily be confused or brought to tears by the treatment the Cinderella character suffers.

(an illustration showing the cruel sisters in contrast to the burnt and mistreated Oochigeaskw)

While I would agree that it may not be appropriate for a very young or oversensitive child, the violence is minimal and the sadness is appropriate. Furthermore, both the Grimm and the Sexton versions of Cinderella contain a larger quantity of more graphic violence than this story. For example, compared to “the maiden cut the toe off” and “[the prince] looked at her foot and saw the blood streaming from it,” “the wicked sister would burn her hands with and feet with hot cinders” seems mild (Grimm 244; “Oochigeaskw” 246). On another note, children today often find themselves in dark situations where they face real violence and mistreatment. Children need to hear that oppression can be overcome, because they are sure to face it at some point in their lives. Furthermore, the violence in the story opens up an opportunity for discussion. Talking with a child about the evil and its consequences will help the child to mature. The violence and sadness of this story actually makes it more valuable, not less so.
In conclusion, I recommend “The Rough-Faced Girl” as the Cinderella fairy tale of choice to read to your child. Not only does the story reinforce good morals, but it offers opportunities for discussion and an introduction to another culture. Oochigeaskw is a role model for children, demonstrating inward beauty as well as determination and initiative despite opposition. Fairytales fuel a child’s imagination, ethics, and even intelligence, and this Native American Cinderella story does just that—and more.

                                                          Works Cited
Behrens, Lawrence and Leonard J Rosen, eds. Writing and Reading across the Curriculum. 12th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.
Grant, Campbell. “Walt Disney’s ‘Cinderella.’” Behrens and Rosen 247-49.
Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. “Cinderella.” Behrens and Rosen 240-45.
 “Oochigeaskw—The Rough-Faced Girl.” Behrens and Rosen 245-47.
Sexton, Anne. “Cinderella.” Behrens and Rosen 249-52.