The Overall thesis of the story is how sibling rivalry affects the oedipal period in children. According to Bruno Bettelheim, "Cinderella" first points to what he calls the story's essential theme: sibling rivalry or Cinderella's mistreatment at the hands of her stepsisters. Competition among brothers and sisters creates a problem, Bettelheim says. In the story children are given tools that can help them resolve conflicts between brothers and sisters. Cinderella also resolves her conflicts with her two stepsisters. The unconscious message of the tale is that children hearing the story can resolve theirs as well. Bettelheim has divided the story into four sections: (1) Sibling rivalry, (2) Analysis of "Cinderella's hidden meanings, (3) Psychological makeup of children at the end of their oedipal period, and (4) The reasons "Cinderella," in particular, appeals to children in the oedipal period (Bettelheim 627).
"Cinderella" is the best-known fairy tale, and also the best liked by children. "Cinderella" was first written in China during the ninth century. Modern day society does not connect sexual attractiveness and beauty in general with extreme smallness of the foot. Ancient China practiced binding women's feet. "Cinderella" was a story of anger and hopes of sibling rivalry that winning over her stepsisters is a big win for Cinderella. In Germany, there was an ash boy you later became king that relates to "Cinderella". In German "Aschenputtel" it meant a dirty kitchen maid that needed to tend to fireplace ashes (Bettelheim 628).
Bettelheim notes the fairy tale replaces sibling relations with relations between step-siblings. Sibling rivalry is natural there are negative consequences of being a sibling. Bettelheim acknowledges Cinderella is expected to do all of the dirtiest work and although she performs it well, she receives no credit for it and there is more demanded of her. Cinderella's problems may seem great to the adult, to have a child get carried away by sibling rivalry. "A child involved in sibling rivalry feels that's how they mistreat me or would want to..."(Bettelheim, 629). This is how the child feels deep down; he or she attains an emotional quality of truth (Bettelheim 628-629).
Sibling rivalry has feelings although there are causes that go along with it. With exceptions of sibling rivalry they are far out of proportion with situations that come up between brothers and sisters. From Cinderella's achievement the child gains the exaggerated hopes for his future, which he needs to counteract the extreme misery he experiences. Also telling a child who is devastated by sibling rivalry that he will grow up to do as well as his brothers and sisters offer little relief (Bettelheim 629).
Many children believe that Cinderella probably deserves her chance at the beginning of the story. They feel this way, but they do not want anyone to know it. Most people give credence to Cinderella's goodness, so the child hopes, which is one reason why Cinderella is such a delightful story to read. Cinderella is indeed guilty of nasty thoughts of one of her step-siblings. The child on hearing her story feels that he or she is not guilty angry thoughts. Behind the surface humility, Cinderella lies her conviction of superiority to her stepmother and stepsisters. Bettelheim says, "You can make me do all of the dirty work, and I pretend that I am dirty, but within me I know that you treat me this way because you are jealous of me because I am so much better than you"(Bettelheim 631). (Bettelheim 630-631).
Bettelheim concludes Cinderella tells about sibling rivalry is the jealousy and enmity of the stepsisters, and Cinderella suffers because of it. There are many psychological issues touched in the story that the child does not become aware of them. The child answers to the experiences that not to create problems for him (Bettelheim 633).
- Bettelheim, Bruno. "Cinderella: A Story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. 9th ed. Eds. Laurence Behrens and Leonard Rosen. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2005.627-633. Print.