In class last week, we discussed how the role of traditional gender stereotyping is a main theme that is present in all fairy tales in one way or another. Many fairy tales focus on a narrative of romance and marriage with some sort of social conflict in between. Ella Enchanted takes on a different gender role as it places the main character Ella as the lead character of the story.
At the beginning of the story, Ella is born and is visited by the fairy Lucinda. Lucinda gives Ella the gift of obedience. Because of this gift, Ella has to do everything she is told regardless of whether she wants to or not, or whether it is dangerous or not. The book starts to describe the gift of obedience as a curse, which is the first sign of confronting gender stereotypes. Ella says, “Anyone could control me with an order, and against an order I was powerless”. This is showing that being completely obedient without a choice and not having a say in one’s own life can actually be dangerous to them. This challenges the stereotype of submission and obedience in most fairy tales.
Throughout the story, the readers are shown multiple times how Ella’s curse controls her life. It becomes impossible to live with so Ella makes it her mission to try and find Lucinda, the fairy that “gifted” her with obedience, and get her to undo the curse. Over the course of her journey, Ella falls in love with Prince Charmont. Most fairy tales have the “love at first sight” theme, but Ella Enchanted is different. In this story, the two love interests fall in love over a period of time as their friendship grows. One comparison of this specific version of the Cinderella story to other versions of this story, is seen at the ball. Ella is told to be home by midnight and she loses a glass slipper, which allows Prince Char to find her in the end. When Prince Char finds Ella while looking for the girl that fits the glass slipper, she tells him that she does not love him and does not want to be with him because she is afraid of what the curse could do to him. She says, “I’m cursed. You wouldn’t be safe if I were your wife.” By telling the truth about her curse and breaking the promise that she made to her mother not to tell anyone, it broke the curse and Ella was free. Although, this story conforms to the romantic element of fairy tales, Ella saves herself and her love from the controlling power of the curse instead of Char saving her. She says, “I had been able to break the curse myself. I’d had to have reason enough, love enough to do it, to find the will and the strength.”
Along with the more realistic love story elements, Ella defies most fairytale gender stereotypes just by being who she is. She is smart, and strong willed. On many different occasions we are told that Ella is excessively clumsy. This is one reason that her father sends her to finishing school so that they can try to teach her to be a lady and not so clumsy. While at finishing school, she proves to be very intelligent and kind and makes true friendships there. She uses her intelligence and wit to escape many dangerous situations caused by her curse. She escapes an ogre-infested forest along with other challenges at finishing school and saves many people she loves along with herself. We are told that Ella is very stubborn, which completely defies gender stereotyping of the timid, submissive princesses of traditional fairy tales. By challenging this obedience aspect as a curse, the author clearly makes the importance of free will a theme throughout the book.
I believe that this is a wonderful book for young girls because it shows them that they are strong too, and that they do not need a boy to fight their battles. I grew up reading the more traditional styles of children’s fairy tales, and although I have seen the movie Ella Enchanted, I had not thought about the different gender roles that this story portrays. I enjoyed reading this book and seeing the story through the eyes of a strong, independent girl.
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