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Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

July 24, 2020

‘Cinderella Is Dead’ and the Social Commentary of Fairy Tales

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Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron presents a unique twist on the classic Cinderella tale. Set in a fictional world two hundred years after Cinderella’s death, Cinderella is Dead confronts the very real legacy that fairy tales have left behind in our society. The story follows Sophia, a 16-year-old girl, as she struggles to define her own identity against the restrictions of her world.

In Sophia’s world, Cinderella’s story is no mere story; it is fact, the law and order of her world. Every girl in the land is required to follow Cinderella’s example: To dress up in her finest, gaudiest fairytale dress and attend the annual ball, ready to be snatched up like a present by the first man whose eye she catches. Cinderella’s story is a promise that the man you meet at the ball will become your happily ever after. In love with her best friend, Erin, and tired of being thought of as nothing more than a future wife and mother, Sophia yearns to escape her society. When her first night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she gets the opportunity to not only escape, but change her world for the better.

My favorite part of Cinderella is Dead has to be the inventive way that Bayron tackles the Cinderella tale. Ever since Angela Carter, fairy tales have been reimagined in subversive, feminist perspectives. Their effects on the creation of womanhood and their role as societal models have only become more scrutinized and questioned over time, and the classic Cinderella tale is no exception. Bayron literalizes the fairy tale, making it history rather than story — a literal roadmap towards the societal ideal of feminine excellence, one in which women are silent, unnamed and beautiful, blessed by a fairy godmother solely to attract a husband. In this sense, Bayron’s version of the Cinderella tale exposes the inherent propaganda of classic fairy tales, questioning what kind of ideal they represent and the damaging consequences of adhering to those ideals too closely. The world Bayron crafts regards fairy tale as fact, as not merely a reflection of society but as its driving creed, in which young girls are forced to serve the whims of men who neither care about nor respect them as anything more than beautiful objects — objects which, once used up or found uninteresting, are simply cast aside. Their lives considered expendable.

The main — and best — character of the novel is Sophia. Having grown up in Lille, the capital of the kingdom, she has been surrounded by the king’s indoctrination from birth. Unlike her friends, however, who actively buy into the ball’s promise of happiness and love, and her parents, who understand the tyrannical nature of their world yet accept it anyway, she actively questions her society, unwilling to believe what she’s been taught simply because it’s the norm. The strength of her conviction is unwavering throughout the novel, and in this sense, she is a refreshing change from the perennially uncertain protagonist. She knows what kind of world she wants to live in, and once she finds a way to make it happen, she does not hesitate to act. Significantly, as well, Sophia is not a warrior; she is just an ordinary girl. Truth, not strength or knives, is her weapon. Together, she and Constance — the last descendant of Cinderella’s stepsisters — work to uncover the truth behind the Cinderella tale, discovering more about their history and growing closer to each other.

This novel is the quintessential revolutionary tale. In this sense, it does not add any particularly new twists to the classic structure, but this only solidifies its stance as a fairy tale adaptation. Its strength lies in the uniqueness of its setting and characterization rather than its actual plot, as it thinks through the issues it presents in an engaging way. Cinderella is Dead is as much a fairy tale as the tale it takes its name from, offering a voice to those not traditionally represented as the heroes and proving that you can always work to make your world — and your life — a place that accepts you rather than belittles you, that helps you succeed rather than puts you down. It reminds us that even when we do not think change is possible, we just might be the ones to make it happen.

If you’re looking for a fresh reimagining of the classic Cinderella tale, peppered with twisted magic, a sweetly budding romance and full of headstrong young women refusing to be silenced, Cinderella is Dead is definitely worth the read.

 

Jessica Lussier is a senior in the college of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jll335@cornell.edu.