But the stepmother said, "No, Cinderella, everyone would only laugh at you. You shall not come with us, for we would be ashamed of you." With this she turned her back on Cinderella, and hurried away with her two proud daughters.Once they had left, Cinderella went to her mother's grave beneath the tree, and cried out:
Shake and quiver, dear little tree,
Throw blue and silver down to me.
Then two birds threw a dress down to her, and slippers embroidered with silk and silver. The gown shimmered like morning light, blue and pale as the sky. She quickly put on the fine clothing and went to the festival.
Her stepsisters and her stepmother did not recognize her. They thought she must be a foreign princess, for she looked so beautiful in the fine dress. They never once thought it was Cinderella, for they thought that she was sitting at home in the dirt, looking for lentils in the ashes.
When I went to design my version of Cinderella, I read the story over and over and contemplated how I wanted to retell it. For me, the issue of prejudice to skin color became a very real reason for the Stepmother's hate. I imagined Ella as the daughter of an Englishman and an woman he'd met in his travels- perhaps an Indian woman set during the time when Britain reigned over that land. When they returned to the West, she caught ill and passed. Her father remarried the Stepmother (with her blonde, English daughters), but was soon off on his travels again.
With the father gone, the stepmother and sisters would treat Cinderella as a servant, and tell the visitors she wasn't their sister- which no one would question due to the racial prejudices of the land.
To me, this helps make Grimm's wording of "silk slippers" and "foreign princess" even more purposeful to me.
I was worried when I presented my thesis that people would think I made Ella a woman of color just to garner views, or attention. I chose to portray her as such because it truly does fit with my version (and understanding) of the story- and because I feel that there need to be more stories about mixed children rising above being outsiders.
In the original tale, "the king proclaimed a festival that was to last three days", and Cinderella's mother (from beyond the grave, buried under the tree) gifted her three dresses, each more beautiful than the last.
This FIRST dress is suggestive of the dead of winter. The tree on the grave is barren, and Cinderella's heart is filled with sadness (traditionally portrayed as blue) because of all she's been through. There is beauty in her dress and in her person- but as a whole the piece feels "still" and "stiff" on purpose because she hasn't opened her heart up yet.
(This image is copyrighted. The use of this image is prohibited unless prior written permission from the artist is obtained.)