We all know the story of Cinderella, the classic fairy tale of rags to riches. But I’m sure most of us have never stopped to think about why this story continues to be read to children around the world, the complexity of the characters, and the social messages that you can extrapolate from it. The illustrations alone in Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story retold by Lynn Roberts and illustrated by David Roberts, tell a compelling story of a battle of class, gender and belief systems.
The social themes underlying the art deco version of Cinderella are important to take note of in analysing the characters, because it is the underlying socio-cultural themes that reveal their complexity. In interpreting the characters motives and actions, it becomes clear that Cinderella and her step-family are far from moral opposites because they are ultimately pursuing the same agenda by the same set of cultural rules and norms.
Briefly speaking, Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story is set in a society in which women are objects whose value is determined by the men in their lives. They are not valued for their hard work or intelligence, but as a physical manifestation of a man’s material wealth. Therefore women are concerned with men, beauty, and fashion, as they play an important role as signs of class distinction and social status. The material objects in the illustrations are important signs of this relationship.
This thinking object evolved out of a previous thinking object based on Cinderella: An Art Deco Love Story, titled How much is Cinderella’s father to blame for her situation? which provided students with a framework to analyse the moral ambiguity of the father character.
Because of the complexity of the imagery, it makes rich material for students to analyse as an exercise in visual literacy. The resource we have developed allows them to critically explore the subjective truths we are presented within the story of Cinderella, of a narrative of good vs. evil, by asking ” How malicious is Cinderella’s stepfamily?” and “How much is Cinderella to blame for the bad situation she finds herself in?”
A framework for the analysis of the images is provided. It allows students to address these questions and look at the ambiguity of Cinderella and the stepfamily’s characters – characters whose morality is usually assumed. Life is never as simple as good vs. bad. The question is why and what makes them behave the way they do, and how is this information conveyed in the imagery and constructed through interpretation.
I’m aware that is this is a visual analysis thinking object – without the illustrations – (for some reason copyright prohibits me putting the book online). But due to the pervasiveness of the story of Cinderella I hope that it provides you with an interesting idea of how to critically analyse imagery with students, in encouraging a subjective interpretative process.
Please feel free to post any feedback you may have regarding this thinking object as a resource. And if your work at NZCER you are welcome to borrow a copy to look over with the thinking object.