Cinderella’s Amazing Grace: An Exploration of the Christian Themes in This Classic Tale
While watching the magnificent 2015 version of Cinderella, many timeless truths contained within the classic story became much clearer to me. Perhaps this is due to the film being comprised of real people as opposed to cartoon characters. Most evident to me were the many Christian ideals laced throughout the movie, which, in fact, aligns with the original European classic.
Many who watch the 2015 Cinderella are immediately taken by the film’s magical and enchanting elements. Viewers may become swept up in the splendor and beauty of castles, golden carriages, white horses, palace balls, evening gowns, and exquisite scenery. It’s apparent that authentic love stories appeal to anyone with a heart that loves and a mind that is able to dream.
Most evident to me in this particular film, and the underlying theme of the original Cinderella story, is its portrayal of genuine love, real courtship, and the invaluable influence of family. Ladies and gentlemen abound throughout this classic, in which authentic masculinity and femininity are unmistakably in vogue. Moral virtues seem to be the focal point as the film’s characters consistently exhibit traits such as kindness, humility, courage, patience, persistence, refinement, honor, and respect for one’s parents.
I suspect the most alluring aspect of the Cinderella story is the notion that for each one of us there is one true love – someone who desires to have only you, and will cherish and honor you for the rest of your life. And there’s no doubt that many find the idea of a prince or princess sweeping us off our feet and rescuing us from all of our misery very appealing.
And what child wouldn’t want to hear her mother sing her a lullaby as she drifts off to sleep? Or have her father lift her up and shower her with kisses as he arrives home from work? To me, the endearing relationship between young Ella and her father, and the special bond between the prince and his father, were poignant features of the 2015 film.
Today it seems that the notion of an ideal childhood is regarded as unrealistic, or even unfair. And since there are children who grow up deprived, we should level the playing field so to speak and interpolate society’s new version of a modern family. It seems America, once a country that championed Christian ideals, has conceded to the falsehood that genuine love stories and ideal families are an unattainable fantasy.
Yet, history testifies to the fact that ideals formed in love and grounded in truth will always be innately attractive to the human heart. And although many of us fall short of living up to the ideal, striving to live up to it should always be the goal, as opposed to tearing it down. Endeavoring to tear it down is as imprudent as it is futile; for ideals rooted in truth will never change, nor would we want them to. This is why we are drawn to stories that uphold and exalt the ideal, especially with regard to love and family.
Cinderella reveals that life is not about the possessions we have; it’s about who we are. Despite what we may or may not have, each of us possesses the means to become what we innately are and were created to be – divine persons formed in His image and likeness. God’s grace has the life-altering power to sustain us in hard times and raise us out of them, regardless of what happens to us once we enter this world.
There’s a reason the Cinderella story has endured time and appeals to people of all cultures and backgrounds. It seems what’s special, what fascinates us about the prince and princess in Cinderella, is how real and true they are to themselves. Both prince and princess exhibit unsullied innocence and childlike trust, with which we can all identify, and I believe, deep down, wish we could emulate. In the 2015 film, it’s apparent that both of their backgrounds involve parents who love them and earnestly desire and provide for their well-being. And although both the prince and princess lose their parents, it’s evident that they become carriers of their spirit.
Cinderella’s story is one of love, but also one of trial, suffering, and hardship. Both of her parents die when she is young. After learning about the death of her father she retreats to her dismal quarters in the attic for a restless night’s sleep. The next morning she is faced with a choice: to either resent her circumstances or see the beauty contained in all things, whether creature or creation. She often repeats her mother’s words to herself – “have courage and be kind.” She sings when she works and sees everything through eyes of love.
It seems Cinderella always seeks the positive aspects of her situation, including her dusty, dingy attic, which she regards as her sanctuary. “No one will bother me up here,” she reassures herself joyfully. Cinderella won’t permit a defeatist attitude to overtake her spirit, despite her miserable circumstances.
Good and evil live closely alongside one another in Cinderella, and there’s an obvious distinction between the two throughout the film. Symbolically, the evil stepmother’s cat, Lucifer, brings darkness to a home that had once been filled with light. The glass slipper seems to depict metaphorically the fragility of the human heart. Cinderella cherishes her glass slipper and places it ever so carefully in a box in the floor of her attic; the wicked stepmother seizes the fragile slipper and smashes it to pieces. When Cinderella asks her stepmother why she hates her so much, she responds, “Because you are young, and innocent, and good. And I….” she trails off, turns, and walks abruptly out the door.
Sometimes good people make others feel bad about themselves, and instead of looking within and striving to improve themselves they endeavor to destroy the good person. Sounds analogous to the Cain and Abel story. Even so, we should “have courage and be kind.” Or in the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid; love one another.” Treasure your glass slipper and, if the shoe fits, wear it proudly. Transparency will allow others to see through to our hearts, for God sees our heart. And although our parents may leave us or forsake us, He will never leave us (Deut 31:6). He will make us all queens and kings. He will lift us up from our pitiful circumstances, clothe us in white gowns, crown us, prepare a feast for us, and invite us to His palace. If we just have faith in Him He will raise us up.
It’s interesting that although the Fairy Godmother is a seedy old woman at first, Cinderella is not afraid of her. She sees her, even before she becomes beautiful. She sees her heart, just like God sees our hearts no matter how wretched we may become. She gives the old woman a bowl of milk from a well and this simple act of kindness unleashes a sequence of magical moments.
Since Ella was her birth name, “Cinderella” is intended as a mockery, but she wears it as a badge of honor. Though ragged and weary from hours of work, and covered in cinder from sleeping close to the attic fireplace, out of the ashes she rose like a phoenix. Cinderella reminds us to never give up hope, to never stop dreaming, for one day we will rise again. Real love takes hard work, as do strong marriages. We shouldn’t forego the foundational groundwork needed to form our character and strengthen our spirit, for if we do we might later pay a price.
Ironically, as Cinderella leaves the attic, the evil stepmother grabs her arm and says, “Remember who you are,” then sneers contemptuously, “you wretch.”
And while descending the steps to meet the king, the narrator asks, “Would who she was, who she really was, be enough? This is perhaps the greatest risk that any of us will take: to be seen as we truly are.”
“Who are you?” the king asks.
“I am Cinderella,” she proclaims, with her head held high. “I am no princess. I have no carriage, no parents, and no dowry. I’m just an honest country girl who loves you. Will you take me as I am?”
“Of course I will,” he says assuredly, “but only if you take me as I am, an apprentice still learning his trade.”
As they leave together hand in hand, she turns to look at her wicked stepmother and says serenely, “I forgive you.”
Love is stronger and will always triumph over the darkest forces of evil.
The depravity of Cinderella’s situation, no matter how dismal, never broke her. She had faith in the eternal things in life and hope for a brighter tomorrow. She permitted herself to feel the effects of all her circumstances, both joyful and sorrowful, and she allowed herself to sing and dream. We may think we’re not supposed to be joyful after a loved one dies. Sometimes we may feel guilty and hold back when joyful circumstances present themselves. But this is not what God or our loved one would want us to do.
Although Cinderella is regarded as a fairytale, this classification doesn’t do it justice, for it holds within it eternal truths. We tend to equate all fairytales with fantasy, yet many ideals contained within them are not fanciful notions, they are genuine truths. Whether through Ancient Near Eastern Myths or Mother Goose Tales, God has been speaking to us throughout the ages. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, we are pencils in the hand of a loving God.
In fact, the original Cinderella story, Cenerentola, by Giambattista Basile, was penned in 1634 in Naples, Italy after many years of oral tradition. This literary classic laid the groundwork for the more popular French version, Cendrillon, which was included in Charles Perrault’s famous Mother Goose Tales in 1697. Many poems written by Perrault were inspired by his Christian faith, with his most famous made into operas, plays, musicals, ballets (e.g. Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty), and films, both live and animation.
Stories depicting authentic love will always endure the test of time; for we will, indeed, be drawn to those whose underlying theme is grounded in truth. The ideal will always be true, and thus, will always be beautiful. This is why traditions last. Those formed in true love are the strongest, built on solid rock, like the rock of St. Peter. And these stories have the power to transform us, just like the Christian story has transformed us.
By Anna Githens
(Also published on Tumblar House: The Lounge)