There are some stories that are so timeless they have been retold in various forms longer than any scholar could even begin to guess. This is especially true of folklore, often in forms we now refer to as “fairy tales.” The tale of Cinderella is perhaps the most well known, and in no small part from Disney’s popular animated version (the live actions they’ve done have never stuck well). Of course, Disney was by no means the first to tackle this story. Heavens no. The Cinderella tale, also known as the rags-to-riches story, has been told and retold all over the world for hundreds of years. In fact, no one knows for sure where the story began. As soon as one old tale that seems the be the “original,” known academically as the “Ur tale,” is found, another text shows up even older and on the other side of the world to boot. It is for this reason (among others) that many professors believe the Ur tale to be a myth itself. They often believe that these stories stem from basic human needs or some kind of collective human consciousnesses. But regardless of whether or not you believe such theories, the fact remains that these motifs and plots are used heavily in nearly every culture in the world.
Which brings me to Fruits Basket‘s main heroine: Tohru. She’s a near perfect example of the Cinderella character. She has a painful past, yet smiles. She had a horrid family, yet remains kind. She is overworked and taken advantage of by others, yet continues to be cheerful. All of these attributes are seen in Cinderella’s heroine, even in the odder versions from various points on the globe. The universal idea that a girl who does not lose her integrity and “goodness” despite being in bad circumstances shall surely be rewarded in the end is pretty strong in this show. And, of course, there are two very separate camps on whether or not this Cinderella tale is as wonderful as it first seems.
One camp of thinking is that this kind of selflessness is demeaning to women. That the entire story was (and still is) a way to tell women to take whatever hardship and abuse come their way with a smile and a submissive nature that never questions anything. I fully admit that this is a compelling point considering that there are indeed many folk tales that were used as… “instructional” materials, to put it gently. However, like many stories that have been retold so many times, whatever intentions may have first existed in the stories’ creation, new ideas have indeed been added and the “point” of Cinderella may not be as straight forward as it seems. After all, is not hardship inevitable for many in life? How many exist in the world in situations that are horrible through no fault of their own? Bad things can and will happen in our lives. Should we use these bad events to justify being angry, spiteful and hateful people ourselves? I certainly hope not! And so, the Cinderella tale still makes a good point or two – so says the second camp of thinking.
I’m more in the middle myself. You will get angry over things that happen in your life that are unfair. Emotions are a part of us and that will never change. But the strength is in not allowing those emotions to control you. Not in never having them at all. And so while the Cinderella tale – and characters based off of it – has a message we all need to strive towards (that is, not letting the events around you control who you are), I think it’s a bit more understandable – and healthy! – to see a bit more of the emotions one must conquer first. Genuinely smiling after someone has cruelly bullied you is no easy task. You have to face the rage and pain inside you first. It’s not impossible to move on, it’s just not quite as easy as Cinderella (and Tohru) would lead many to believe.