Friday, September 25, 2009

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

When one thinks of the cinderella fairy tale, I typically think of either the disney version, or this Caldecott award winning version.

Cinderella is good and sweet to everyone, despite being forced to labor for her wicked step-mother and step-sisters.

So Gregory MaGuire's version was quite refreshing - because the story was more complicated and the characters more complex than the stereotypes. I liked the novel more than Wicked, as it was more semi-based in reality (set during the tulip bulb mania in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century).

If you would like to read the novel and are not interested in spoilers, you may want to stop reading now.


One of the things I've been musing about recently is what motivates a person to change. I think "Confessions" does an excellent job of explaining when a person will change - and includes the prices that we pay for change.

I think a person will not change until he or she is completely ready to - until they can no longer "make it work". They choose to do something different only at the time when getting by stops working.

That's when a person will do something different - not usually before.

How this leads back to "Confessions" is that Clara, the Cinderella character, is in a deep depression over the death of her mother. She was raised to have certain privileges (some might say spoiled) - and she (Clara) can't deal with the changes or her own grief. Her father is unresponsive and won't defend his daughter against the tyranny of her (new) step-mother. The reader has sympathy for her/Clara (I have sympathy for her) - but then she becomes a martyr of sorts - choosing to spend her time in the kitchen and in the "cinders".

In the sense of - I'm not going to try and make my life (or my family's life) better, I'm going to sit here and feel sorry for myself.

Now, to some extent, Clara has lots of reason to feel sorry for herself, and she is in a tenuous position. And there is a time to mourn and really acknowledge one's feelings. I'm not trying to diminish that.

Where the change comes into account is when the step sister hero (Iris) talks Clara into going to the ball/party - which Clara initially doesn't want to do. She doesn't want to change, she doesn't want her situation to get any better - despite the fact the family is going broke. At least, in misery, in martyrdom, she knows what will happen. She has the illusion of control over the situation.

And she (Clara) has the ability to change every one's fate (including her own), by entering into a so-called good marriage. For whatever reason, after this conversation, Clara decides that she is willing to help herself - to leave that situation. To make things better - even though whatever she is going into may not be the ideal.

And in the end, it's clear that it's not "happily ever after", Clara has simply made the choice to step into adulthood, support those she loves and live how she can.

I just think it's interesting to think about (and study) how we hold ourselves back, how we make excuses about why we don't want to change or think of things differently. Why we don't want to examine new information or try out new ways of doing things/relating to others. Why we can't accept the bad things that have happened to us - the bad situations that we're in, and try to make them better.

Life isn't as simple as black or white - good or evil.

I appreciate art/fiction that goes into the gray - the space between black and white. I've found much of life is gray. There (usually) aren't good and bad choices, there are just choices. And everyone has to make them.

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