Initially published by Charles Perrault in 1697 (Britannica), “Cinderella” continues to evolve in Children’s Literature as a beloved tale of oppression, magic, and triumph. The influence of the classic fairy tale is seen throughout popular culture in numerous tropes, plot devices and metaphors. Marissa Meyer’s Young Adult dystopian novel, Cinder, utilizes the structure of “Cinderella” with the basic plot of a protagonist under the guardianship of an evil stepmother. However, Meyers creates a new society, intertwining humanity, technology, with the existence of androids and cyborgs.
While Cinder can be read as a revisionist fairy tale, revisionism meaning the “departure from the original” (OED), the novel reads more to the use of sampling. Typically used when discussing pieces of music, the process of sampling refers to, “imitation” (OED) that brings something pre-existing into a new context and to a new audience. Meyer utilizes sampling in Cinder to re-contextualize “Cinderella,” taking the original framework of the story and re-working it to fit into a technologically advanced world.
Apart from borrowing plot and character structures, Meyer also draws on the notion of uncovering identity that is found in the subtext of the magical fairy tale elements in the original “Cinderella.” With Perrault’s tale, the climax of the fairy tale revolves around the Prince’s search for the identity of the girl who fits the glass slipper. What the original fairy tale and the revisionist elements found in Meyer’s Cinder explore is the notion of forcing characters to read either their own or others’ bodies to discover identity.
Judith Butler’s work on the body and performativity serves as an introduction to reading the body as a text. In Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions, Butler argues: “the body is figured as a surface and the scene of a cultural inscription” (78). For Butler, who also cites Foucault and Nietzsche, the body can be “understood as a medium…[or] a blank page” (78), which positions it as a text to inscribe and read. The body then, is a “medium which must be destroyed and transfigured in order for ‘culture’ to emerge” (78). Butler’s argument serves as a theoretical foundation to understand bodies as texts in both Perrault’s “Cinderella” and Meyer’s Cinder. Perrault’s folk tale places the body as the only source of identification. Likewise, Meyer’s dystopia places the physical body as not only the source of identity, but also an aspect in the creation of culture and societal structure in New Beijing.
In the original fairy tale, “Cinderella,” the Prince searches for his princess by looking for a foot that will fit into the glass slipper that was lost at his ball, announcing that “he would marry whoever possessed the foot for which the glass slipper had been made” (Perrault 101). Later, the Prince discovers Cinderella’s identity through the physicality of her body, where “as soon as [he] saw her foot, he knew it would fit the slipper perfectly” (101). Furthermore, when the Prince first meets Cinderella, he and all other attendees “can not help gazing at her” (100). Through very little interaction, the Prince understands Cinderella only through her physical body, initially in gazing upon her at the ball and later mirrored in his search for her identity through the size of her foot.
Similarly, Meyer uses the physical body as a text through the construction of a technologically advanced society. The dystopian society of New Beijing requires citizens to have a “small dark square in [their] wrist[s]—an ID chip” (Meyer 82). In New Beijing, “‘it is difficult to make a living without [an ID chip]—money, accounts, licences, they all require an identity’” (169). The ID chip serves as an advancement on modern society’s version of a driver’s licence, however, the important differentiation is that the chips are physically implanted, thus identities are inscribed into their bodies. The significance of ID chips and their implantation in New Beijing’s citizens marks the importance of physicality over internal aspects of identity and introduces the body as a text that is physically read by ID scanners all over New Beijing.
As Julia Kristeva discusses in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, the abject “has only one quality of the object—that of being opposed to I” (Kristeva 1). Kristeva mentions examples such as blood, excrement, and other bodily fluids to argue that the abject is what has been expelled from the body, ‘the other,’ that which you are not. The construction of the self versus the not-self creates the abject out of what “is radically excluded.” Using Kristeva’s theories on abjection, the opening scene of Cinder can be read as Cinder rejecting that which she is not. Cinder is introduced in the novel while she is removing her mechanical foot, “struggle[ing] to loosen the screw,” eventually “yank[ing] the foot from its socket” and feeling “a sense of release hovered at the ends of those wires—freedom” (Meyer 3). Although she states that she is removing her mechanical foot because it is too small, Cinder’s actions can be read through the abject lens. As we later discover, she was born a Lunar and was never “ask[ed] to be made Cyborg” (279). Cinder’s rejection of the foot, in this case her abject, thus represents her rejecting an identity that she was neither born with, nor chose, but one that was imposed on her physical body.
In a final example of the text as a body, Cinder discovers her true identity as a Lunar through Dr. Erland’s medical tests and scans. After a hovercraft accident, the only way to save Cinder’s life was to alter her body from that of a Lunar to a Cyborg. Remembering this alteration, Cinder expresses that “some surgeon, some stranger, open[ed] her skull and insert[ed] their made-up system of wires and conductors” (80). Through physical alteration, Cinder undergoes in an attempt to save her life, her identity as a Lunar is removed and her identity as a Cyborg replaces her body. As she says, “someone…altered her brain. Someone…altered her” (80).
Both the classic fairy tale “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault and the YA dystopian novel Cinder by Marissa Meyer place overwhelming emphasis on the body as a text. In both stories, the physical body serves as a site for the characters’ identities and their physicality leads to the discovery of new facets of their selfhood. Using both Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject and Judith Butler’s theories on bodily inscriptions, these perspectives place Cinder in the conversation of using the body for cultural and societal inscriptions and identities, where modern-day society favours the exterior over the interior.
- Is the idea of the body as a text gendered in Marissa Meyer’s Cinder? Think of how the body is used as a text in Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella,” where the Prince is depicted as a character of depth in contrast to Cinderella who is read only through her physicality.
- How does the description of characters’ physical bodies influence how we understand race and/or disability in Cinder?
Butler, Judith. “Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions.” English 2250G: Introduction to Cultural Studies, edited by Professor Michael Sloane. Western University, 2015, pp. 77-88
“Charles Perrault”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Perrault. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.
Kristeva, Julia. Power of Horror. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez, Columbia UP, 1982.
Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. Feiwel and Friends, 2012.
Perrault, Charles. “Cinderella: or The Little Glass Slipper.” Folk & Fairy Tales, edited by Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. 4th ed., Broadview Press, 2009, pp. 97–102.
“Revisionism, n. 1.” OED Online, Oxford UP, Sept. 2012. http://www.oed.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/view/Entry/164895?redirectedFrom=revisionism#eid. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.
“Sampling, n. 1.” OED Online, Oxford UP, Sept. 2016. http://www.oed.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/view/Entry/170421?redirectedFrom=sampling#eid. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.