All children listen to fairy tales in childhood. These fairy tales not only entertain, they also give the first moral lessons to young children. Fairy tales teach children to distinguish between the evil and good, the moral and immoral and the wise and foolish. All these fairy tales however, come with either white or black characters. There is no grey shade in any central character; they are either egregiously evil or angelic good. The negative characters are diverse and varied like the real world itself.
The fairy tales abound in witches, wizards, crones, hags, demons, beasts and many more. However, the ‘evil stepmother’ is an extremely hackneyed, oft repeated and probably the most common negative character in fairy tales. In this paper we examine the similarities and differences between the two most hated evil stepmother- those of Cinderella and Snow White. The two very popular Disney Princesses Cinderella and Snow White are alike in many ways. Even Walt Disney himself ‘saw in “Cinderella” a story to compare to “Snow White. After the death of their mothers, both Cinderella and Snow White are acquainted with the cruel step-mother figure. In comparing the ‘stepmother figure’ in the Disney version of Cinderella and Snow White, one finds numerous similarities and differences.
In the Disney version of Cinderella, we find that she had a widowed gentleman father who was very kind and gentle toward his daughter. He was a devoted father and ‘gave his beloved child every luxury’. He actually married Cinderella’s step-mother thinking that his daughter needed a ‘mother for care. Her step-mother is said to be ‘wife of a good family’. However, after his untimely death, the true nature of the step-mother and her two daughters is revealed; she turns out to be a very cold and cruel woman extremely jealous of Cinderella’s charm. The absence of Cinderella’s father gives the step-mother endless power inside the chateau. Therefore the step mother’s jealousy, bad manners and her competition with Cinderella is not over the father (and the husband). At this point, the presence of the step-mother’s two daughters; Anastasia and Drizella, should be underlined.
These two girls are the same age as Cinderella and obviously lack her beauty and charm. The step-mother takes her own daughters’ lack of beauty and charm as a point against Cinderella. She treats Cinderella as a servant and gives her menial jobs to perform and makes her wear ragged clothing, as if attempting to dilute Cinderella’s beauty. Similarly, taking cue from their mothers’ behavior, the selfish step-sisters mistreat, humiliate and abuse Cinderella, because of jealousy.
This seemingly one-sided rivalry–as Cinderella remains kind and gentle throughout the story- between the same-aged girls, reaches its peak at the Royal Ball scene, starting with the entrance of the chateau, where the step-mother and the step-sisters are shocked when they see Cinderella in such a pretty silhouette. They had given her plenty of work so that she wouldn’t be able to attend the ball, because if, by any chance, she did, they all knew that she would be the most charming and stunning one. Then, of course, Anastasia and Drizella would not have a chance in marrying the Prince.
Throughout the story, the step-mother is never seen feeling pity or any sign of good feelings to Cinderella from the heart. She and her daughters are ugly. Cinderella, being kind, gentle, caring and very beautiful is the stark opposite and thus raises their ire. The extreme jealousy and hatred of the step-mother causes her to lock Cinderella in her room when the officers from the Royal Palace arrives on the command of the King, to let every girl in the kingdom try the glass shoe on. Throughout the story, thus, we find instances that the step-mother does everything she can to make Cinderella’s life miserable and servile.
There is no doubt that the step-mother and the step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella are treating Cinderella the worst they can. However, they never attempt to kill her. Herein lies the primary difference between the evil stepmothers of Cinderella and Snow White as we shall further. Another beautiful princess of Disney, the Snow White, is also a victim of a ‘wicked step-mother’. Just like Cinderella, she is suffering from an evil stepmother jealous of her beauty. However, in contrast to Cinderella’s, Snow White’s step-mother is actually beautiful and she’s aware of this; she just doesn’t want a competitor.
Snow White’s step-mother’s competition with Snow White is completely about herself. The Queen (step-mother) has a beauty-obsession, which is the reason why she has her very precious possession: the magical mirror. She knows she is pretty but she is so obsessed she can’t let herself be put in the second place in terms of ‘beauty’. To avoid this, she finds ways to destroy Snow White, forever, and become the most beautiful female alive. As her first trial fails and she finds out from the mirror that the heart that the huntsman had brought belonged to a pig, she decides to take the mission over.
Her cruelty, jealousy and deep desire to be the number one lead her to use supernatural powers. Her use of the magical mirror is one of the most attracting points of the fairy tale. This mirror gives direction to the story, as it informs the Queen about the ‘fairest one of them all’, the fact that Snow White is more beautiful than herself and later on the truth about the huntsman not killing Snow White, that she is alive and living with the seven dwarfs. She also uses magic to transform herself from a beautiful queen to an ugly old lady in order to fool Snow White and finally get rid of her.
She ages her voice, whitens her hair, shrouds her clothes and looks old in general. This is a glimpse into the actual inner world of the Queen. She may be beautiful and fair outside but her inner character is rotten and old. It is a very strong metaphor and a primary moral lesson of the story. Considering the two stories, we find that there are a number of similarities between the two evil stepmothers. It is also possible to state that both step-mothers have caused their step-daughters to be servants somehow.
This is very obvious in ‘Cinderella’; her step-mother and step-sister gives her terrible duties non-stop. Snow White, however, cleans cooks and does all the house-work for the dwarfs possibly by her own will. However, her step-mother is the reason why she is at that house, so in a way it’s a result of the Wicked Queen. The ‘happy endings’ of both stories happen to be parallel to what trouble the step-mother caused them throughout the fairy-tale. Cinderella marries with the Prince and lives happily ever after; her step-family is no longer pronounced after the fitting-glass-shoe scene.
However, seemingly because Snow White’s step-mother aims to kill her step-daughter, she actually dies herself as a punishment, by falling off a cliff. The similarities in the characters of the stepmothers are, however, not the end. There are numerous differences as well which may be subtle but essential to the essence of the stories. The primary difference between the two evil stepmothers is the fact that Cinderella’s stepmothers’ cruelty reached its zenith at locking up the poor girl and making her lead a servile life; on the other hand, Snow White’s stepmother actually tried to kill her not once but a number of times.
Both characters are exact definitions of ‘wicked step-mothers,’ nevertheless; Snow White’s step-mother is a couple of steps ahead in malice. There are many minor differences as well. In Snow White’s case, there was only a step-mother to with which to cope; Cinderella had a step-family: she had two additional step-sisters. Snow White’s step-mother’s using ‘magic’ is another fact that distinguishes her from Cinderella’s step-mother.
There is magic in ‘Cinderella’, but it is not caused by the step-mother, it’s the fairy god mother and the animals that create the magic in the story and it affects her in a positive way. Snow White’s step-mother is beautiful, smart and even more powerful with the help of magic. Lastly, Cinderella, because her step-mother wanted so, used to live and was locked upstairs; the top floor caused her trouble; in Snow White, the significant floor is downstairs, as the queen (her step-mother) goes down to her underground place where she makes her evil magic.
In relating the evilness from the step-mothers to the little girls to their fathers (the step-mothers’ husbands), we had seen that Cinderella’s father is dead and her step-mother became so evil after his passing away which means that everything that had happened in the story might not have happened with her father’s presence. He, a very loving and caring father would not let his wife to act in such way. However, Snow White’s father is perhaps still alive but he is awfully passive and ineffectual over the female issues taking place in between her wife and daughter.
His name is only pronounced at the very beginning of the fairytale to identify who Snow White and her Wicked Step-mother is. Thus, we find that though the story is about the beautiful princesses Cinderella and Snow White, but the cruel stepmothers play an extremely important role. As antagonists, they help to bring out the positive points of the protagonists by stark comparison. Also, the moral lessons which the fairy tales bring forward would be incomplete without them. To point out the good, it is essential to underline the evil.
While Cinderella and Snow White are epitomes of goodness, their wicked stepmothers are paradigms of evil. Both Cinderella and Snow White of the Disney version, deeply suffer, but finally win over them. The stories thus preach the victory of good over evil. The woebegone lives of both Cinderella and Snow White take a turn for happiness when they are rescued from the clutches of their evil stepmothers by their handsome princes. In a typical fairy tale fashion, they live happily ever after, without having to obey to their step-mothers rules or even see their faces at all!