Tale of the Shoe

May 6, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Emma Donoghue’s version of Cinderella named ‘The Tale of The Shoe’, written in 1997, the reader is introduced to a different Cinderella; one that would be living in our time.[..] It is Donoghue’s more of a realistic and gloomy take on the story. The altered character of “Cinderella” is not plagued by her family- her stepmother and stepsister do not force her to do household chores. Which clearly supports the post-feminist claim that women are no longer powerless victims. Donoghue also tries to analyze the stereotypical concepts of gender and sexuality, replacing such contrasts with diversity. In addition, she also has Cinderella attending 3 balls instead of one.

Feminism is a very prominent theme in Donoghue’s retelling. Rather than Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters pressuring Cinderella into doing the house chores and being spiteful towards her (an external conflict), we see more of an internal conflict within Cinderella: ‘Nobody made me do the things I did, nobody scolded me, and nobody punished me but me. The shrill voices were all inside’ (Donoghue 2). This conveys the idea that she is no one’s ‘property’ and answers only to her own orders, which can apply to society in the late twentieth century. It also highlights and brings up a mental conflict which was common back when the tale was published, making Cinderella even more applicable to people (the proportion of men committing suicide between 1995 and 2000 in Ireland increased by fourteen percent.) (EU Commission 26). What I believe Donoghue attempted to show is that we are no longer living in a time where women were expected to answer to people, as in the old Cinderella. Women have become independent.

[..] In much the same way, the concept of gender identity is also dealt with. Second-wave feminism has pointed out the fact that women are still seen, primarily, as creatures of the home, their natural habitat being that of the domestic sphere, and their natural role is that of a mother. Cinderella states repeatedly that the “Fairy Godmother” is not her mother. She is even referred to as a mysterious “stranger”. The female identity is not equated with the maternal identity. Instead of taking on the role of Cinderella’s lost mother, the “Fairy Godmother” replaces her Prince Charming. The idea of homosexuality definitely opposes the classic Cinderella, who loved a man.

When she states “because I asked, she took me to the ball. Isn’t that what girls are meant to ask for?” (Donoghue 3). “So, then she took me home, or I took her home, or we were both somehow taken to the closest thing” (Donoghue 8). Her tone conveys the idea that even if she had not gone to the ball, she would not have regretted it, unlike the first Cinderella. It seems she was almost expected to want to be there, simply because she is female. She is not interested in the dresses, the high heels, the dances, or perhaps anything with feminine connotations. [..] This is evident especially here: “The musicians played the same tune over and over…I swallowed a little of everything I was offered, then leaned over the balcony and threw it all up again” (Donoghue 6) this quote implies that Donoghue’s Cinderella does not necessarily find joy in the luxury. It seems she found it rather excruciating to put on this persona. Getting rid of the glass slippers could be a metaphor for Donoghue dismissing the original fairy tale for its sappiness: “I threw the other shoe into the brambles where it hung, glinting”. Donoghue may be suggesting, especially with the spontaneity of how Cinderella and the woman met, that we cannot choose who we love, or deny who we truly are, heterosexual or not. We must embrace ourselves no matter how we may be.

The theme of love from the classic tale remains consistent in ‘The Tale of The Shoe’. I do believe, however, Donoghue attempted to give us a more realistic outlook on love and finding love. Where the classic Cinderella hoped to go to the ball to meet the prince and marry him, Donoghue’s Cinderella did not plan to encounter the woman that was soon to be her lover, meeting her was a very spontaneous event: ‘Once, out of all the times when I ran to the door and there was nobody there, there was still nobody there, but the stranger was behind me’ (Donoghue 2-3). Donoghue implies that love is not something to be found or searched for, it is something that will find you and come to you when the time is right, possibly even when you least expect it to; life and love is not a fairytale.

Furthermore, to elaborate on the theme of love, what I also found very interesting and bound to challenge many people, especially the conservative part of the audience, is that Cinderella was written to be a homosexual. In 1993 in Ireland, private homosexual acts between two men over the age of twenty-one were decriminalized (The Irish Times, 8). So, Homosexuality was still new and was not that freely practiced in 1997, the year where the book was published in, this supports the fact that Donoghue was bold and challenged society.

In conclusion, ‘The Tale of The Shoe’ is a very witty piece of work by Emma Donoghue. She delivers subliminal messages through implications and literary devices. She empowers women and encourages freedom of choice. Instead of feeding us just another fairytale, Donoghue decides to give us a more realistic version of the much-loved tale Cinderella, one which challenges many, yet enables us as the audience to be able to adapt the story to our own lives. Donoghue encourages us to accept spontaneity and unapologetically be ourselves because that is how to find a real-life happy ending.

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