Glass Slippers and Lightsabers
Hannah Titman explores the functions and roles of characters in fairy tale story Cinderella and science fiction film, Star Wars: A New Hope. Hannah will also investigate whether or not the role of the characters has shifted, or they take on different roles as well as the ones they already have.
These films are well known to many people, in the UK and across the world from movie premieres, to social media and merchandising. When I was asked what I would like to put forward for this magazine I instantly thought of this topic. Vladimir Propp was a Russian scholar who analysed a wide number of Russian folk tales. His work has inspired a large number of influential people to apply his methods and findings to all manner of stories and story types. A character can experience many emotions in a story like sadness, happiness or anger, everyday emotions that we feel. They can also take on different roles including a hero, a princess and a villain.
Looking at the variety of remakes that Cinderella has undergone over the years since the Grimm version, there have been many adjustments to the narrative and the characters.
The Grimm version is far more graphically gory in description. The evil stepmother tells her daughters to slice off their toes and heels (I know, gross). Due to the nature of the Grimm tales, it is likely that these stories were for adults, weird I know. Anyways, the re-makes and new editions have been watered down or ‘sanitised’ for a younger audience, like the Disney versions and other films, which take a modern twist on the traditional Cinderella story, my favourite fairy tale ever.
Analysing the character and narrative functions in the fairy-tale of ‘Ashputtel’, (strange, but cool name) the false hero is the evil stepmother as she orders Ashputtel to collect three bowls of lentils from the ash, but the stepmother does not succeed. There is no Fairy Godmother, but the large tree serves as the magical helper giving Cinderella her dress. Exploring the 1950’s version of Disney’s Cinderella, the mice are the donors as they upscale her dress for the ball; this is destroyed by the evil stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia who also treat her as a servant (I never liked them or their dress choices).
In the original narratives, the key figures fit into Propp’s theory of character roles, however the Disney version removes some of the darker elements; it introduces the mice as helpers and uses animation, almost a cartoon nature similar to other cartoons children watch on television. In these remakes, the heroes have helpers like animals or magic weapons to support the hero, like ‘Jack Jack’ and ‘Gus’ the mice in Disney’s Cinderella. The mice were my favourite characters and still are to this day.
In modern day versions of Cinderella, the narrative function mainly stays the same, for example, in A Cinderella Story the initial tension is injected into the film when Sam’s father dies and his money is left to his new wife, who becomes the evil stepmother. (This is still one of my all-time favourite films that I love to watch whilst eating sugary food on the sofa with and a big duvet, LUSH). Later, Sam is attending school and dreams of going to university. Sam is told she must earn her keep; she becomes a servant in her own home and at her workplace and the family diner. Sam starts text messaging a boy named ‘Nomad’; (*sigh* Chad Michael Murray *sigh* thirteen years after the film was made he is still really good looking) they start an online relationship and agree to meet at the homecoming dance. Sam’s work colleague, Rhonda, provides her with a dress for the dance, she arrives with a sense of purpose but she discovers that ‘Nomad’ is Austin, the most popular boy in school. Sam receives a letter from her chosen university stating that her application has been rejected, so she resigns to working in the diner, but she chooses to stand up to Fiona and leaves… WOO you go girlfriend! Sam finds her dad’s will, stating all of his money belongs to her and her real acceptance letter for university. Sam and Austin go to Princeton University together. In this version, the character roles have stayed the same despite the film being a modern re-make of the tale.
As well as Cinderella, by looking at the vast narrative functions of the Star Wars films, the character and narrative functions are more advanced than others. We can see the similarities and differences between the two films. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke’s guardians are murdered and he is taken away from his home by a slave ship (cry). Here he has experienced loss and leaves his home environment. The audience know that the hero is Luke Skywalker as he fights Darth Vader and the storm troopers (May the force be with you, lol). Darth’s constant goal is to impose fear wherever he goes, by using his anger and hatred; this creates fear, which allows him to control those around him. The conflict between Luke and Darth Vader is clear to the audience which serves as the main conflict for the narrative.
One of the tasks of the hero is to help the heroine who is in trouble and needs rescuing. In many scenes, Princess Leia subverts the stereotype of the princess more so than in other narratives; she helps Luke and Han Solo defeat Darth Vader. GO PRINCESS LEIA. Luke and Leia’s roles and functions in the narrative are crucial.
Han Solo’s role is the helper as he aids the group to destroy the Death Star, the helper in Disney’s Cinderella are the mice. However, in Ashputtel, the tree is the helper as it gives Cinderella her dress. The dispatcher in A New Hope is R2D2 as he shows Luke the video of Princess Leia when Darth Vader captures her. R2D2 is most definitely my favourite character, beep bop beeeep.
Therefore, the Proppian analysis of Cinderella and A New Hope can be interpreted in many ways. The variety of Cinderella stories that have stemmed from the first one written by the Grimm brothers has provided people with different interpretations of the popular tale. Some character functions have stayed the same, thanks to the role, the nature of the character and the narrative’s goal at the end of the story. Cinderella is the princess, Prince Charming being her prince and her stepfamily being the villains. Some roles in more recent versions have shifted. For example, Sam’s stepmother treats her as a slave, much like the Grimm version. Comparing this with A New Hope the character roles have grown throughout the Star Wars film franchise depending on the different films that were released. Because of the first film, the roles have roughly stayed the same, with the exception of Obi Wan. For example, Princess Leia and Luke’s roles have stayed, however; Leia subverts the traditional role of the princess through being more active in the film rather than the ‘damsel in distress’ and plays an active role within the film. Darth Varder’s role has also remained; comparing this character to Ashputtel’s stepmother, she is the false hero as she betrays her stepdaughter. Despite these characters having different functions, they are all considered ‘villains’ and so they are seen within the same light by their audience regardless of their nature.