Bruno Bettelheim, the author of “Cinderella: A story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts,” believes that Cinderella is one of the best fairytales of all time because the tale has a deeper meaning than what meets the eye and it is something that everyone can relate with at some point in their life. Being a Freudian psychologist, Bettelheim believes that a person’s conscious mind takes the fairytale for face value, while the same person’s unconscious mind can view the exact same fairytale very differently.
Bettelheim tells that all children can relate to Cinderella on the levels of sibling rivalry and oedipal conflicts. The sibling rivalry part of the essay has the truth value to it because just like Cinderella is pushed down and degraded by her sisters, at one time in their life a child will feel hopelessly outclassed by his/her brothers and/or sisters. A young child does not understand the complicated role of his/her life.
However, children understand Cinderella and children can relate the story to what they understand. Bettelheim states, “despite the name “sibling rivalry,” this miserable passion has only incidentally to do with a child’s actual brothers and sisters. The real source of it is the child’s feeling about his/her parents. When a child’s older brother or sister is more competent than he, this arouses only temporary feelings of jealousy,” (653) In Bettelheim’s oedipal part of his essay he explains this stage as the sexual feelings a child may acquire towards their parent of the opposite sex.
The child may become hostile or jealous towards the parent of the opposite sex. In this stage the child questions if they are loved or not. Bettelheim believes children think, though they will not admit it, Cinderella did something to deserve her treatment. The child may begin to believe that they deserve to be punished like Cinderella. “Every child believes at some period of his life-and this is not only at rare moments-that because of his secret wishes, if not also his clandestine actions, he deserves to be degraded, banned from the presence of others, relegated to a netherworld of smut,” (654). Bettelheim also believes that, although they think Cinderella may have “deserved” what she got, the children can see she was still saved in the end.
Bettelheim’s psychoanalytic approach can be a little over bearing if you have never taken a psychology course and learned about the oedipal stage in life. Sigmund Freud explains these processes that and how they happen at young ages. It is disturbing to think that I may have participated in this stage! I am aware that this “stage” is something psychologists believe is real, however, I do not think that it should be compared to the story of Cinderella. I liked and disliked Bruno Bettelheim’s essay all at the same time. I would have to say I agreed with many of his points. The inner child in me simply wants to read a fairytale for its face value, a good story. I feel more often than not, that we complicate the most simple and beautiful things by dissecting them. I see a fairytale as entertainment; a way for words and pictures to come together and fuel ones imagination. The innocence can be lost so easily when harsh dissection unleashed with no boundaries.
The author sees Cinderella as having a great effect on children. Although Cinderella was helped with magic, the children understand that it was through her own efforts that she was able to get out of her situation of constant degradation. The story gives confidence to children that they, too, can survive worse situations.