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Why Cinderella is an Evergreen Story Construct (and Cindy’s Favorite)

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a story that everyone knew … 

A tale of a young woman, oppressed and overlooked, who found her own inner strength after a mystical intervention, overcoming adversity to find love and happiness. 

The Cinderella narrative is universally cherished as her magic and moxie play across the heartstrings of time. From the classic Disney animation to countless retellings across literature, film, and television, to a movie on Prime that Cindy and I saw last month, this immortal story has proven its staying power on repeat. 

Cindy relates to the Cinderella narrative for multiple reasons, starting but definitely not ending with the daily abuse suffered under the reign of her wicked stepmother. But what is it about this particular narrative that grabs hold of hearts and minds across generations and cultures? 

It’s the universal themes, adaptability, and emotional resonance.

Universal Themes

At its core, the Cinderella story is a triumph of good over evil, a celebration of the virtuous underdog who rises above their circumstances. This theme speaks to our innate sense of justice, our desire to see the good in people rewarded while the wicked get punished.

But it’s not just about the victory of righteousness; it’s also about transformation and empowerment among the oppressed. Cinderella starts as a lowly servant, belittled and mistreated by her stepfamily. Through her own resilience and the intervention of a magical helper, she becomes a princess, both literally and figuratively. 

This empowering theme of rising above one’s station and claiming one’s true worth resonates across time and culture.

Despite her hardships, Cinderella never loses sight of her dreams. She continues to hope and believe, regardless of her adversity. The message that our dreams are worth fighting for and we should never lose hope strikes a chord with audiences of all ages.

And, of course, true love. The idea that love can overcome all obstacles and bridge the gap between social classes to bring a couple together despite all odds is a romantic notion that’s endured for centuries. People want to believe that true love is about the connection between two hearts, not wealth or status. 

Cindy never lost sight of her dreams, and remained forever vigilant in her search for a figurative prince. Spoiler alert: she found him at a flower shop in 1997. 

An Adaptable Construct

The Cinderella story is adaptable. The core elements — an oppressed heroine, her magical transformation, ultimate triumph over adversity, and finding of true love — can be transplanted into almost any setting, genre, or medium.

Cinderella-like stories can be found in the folklore and fairy tales of countless cultures, from the Chinese tale of Ye Xian to the Egyptian story of Rhodopis. These stories differ in the details, but they all share the same fundamental narrative arc and themes.

The Cinderella construct has been adapted into countless novels and short stories, from historical romances to modern-day comedies. We’ve seen Cinderella reimagined as a modern-day prostitute, a medieval adventurer, and in the latest example, which Cindy and I saw last month, an underling at an art gallery. 

“You do realize that this is Cinderella, right?” I asked her midway through Upgraded

She laughed, and instantly saw the entire movie through different eyes. 

The logline reads, Upgraded tells the story of an overworked, unappreciated intern aspiring to work in the high end art world. She is upgraded to first class on a flight and it sets off a chain of events that get her further and further in over her head.

If you’re not looking, it’s easy to miss the Cinderella in that story. It gets more obvious when you meet Ana’s boss and her two wicked coworkers. 

High adaptability means the Cinderella can be updated and reimagined to reflect changing social norms and values. The character is no longer a passive recipient of fortune’s favors in modern adaptations, but an active agent in her destiny, with her prince now more partner than prize.

Emotional Resonance

The Cinderella narrative is always about someone who has been beaten down by life but refuses to acquiesce. That’s a character audiences can relate to, from kids on the playground to adults in their cubicles. 

There’s also a powerful wish-fulfillment aspect to this story. Who hasn’t dreamed of being transformed, or of having their true worth recognized and celebrated? The Cinderella narrative plays into our deepest desires for transformation and validation.

Plus, in every worthy version of this story, its audience experiences the emotional satisfaction of seeing Cinderella triumph over her adversaries. After feeling her pain and frustration, the earned victory feels personal. A cathartic experience that leaves us uplifted. Modern adaptations might adjust some flavors in the dish, but the emotional resonance is a core ingredient. 

Modern Adaptations

Pretty Woman showcases the power of connection over circumstance; Ella Enchanted offers a spirited journey of self-discovery; A Knight’s Tale redefines chivalry with its innovative gender roles; The Princess Diaries portrays an ordinary teenager’s extraordinary transformation;Maid in Manhattan explores love beyond economic disparities with a modern twist;  and the Cinder series reinterprets the classic against a backdrop of dystopian intrigue, showcasing the Cinderella narrative’s endless adaptability for contemporary audiences.

The core elements are timeless. No matter the setting or the specific details, audiences are drawn in by an underdog rising above their circumstances to achieve seemingly impossible dreams. Cindy will gleefully watch this story in all its forms. 

Lessons and Values

The story teaches us the importance of kindness, even in the face of cruelty, and the value of resilience amid adversity. Cinderella’s circumstances may seem impossibly dire, but she never surrenders hope, and in the end, her perseverance is rewarded.

The narrative also teaches us that true worth lies in one’s character and actions, not in their social status or circumstances. Cinderella is a good person, hardworking and kind despite her treatment. Qualities that ultimately lead to her happily-ever-after. 

Cinderella speaks to our deepest desires for justice, transformation, love, and validation. As long as there are dreamers and underdogs believing in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, the Cinderella Story’s magic will never fade.