The Lady’s Maid and Cinderella: Two Similar Storylines
Children’s stories are often simple, with loveable characters and a feel-good ending. However, these simple plots sometimes have an underlying meaning that may be the basis for adult stories with social, intellectual, or emotional themes. For example, The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, is not only about a girl who is looking for the way home who meets some charming friends along the way. It was written as Populist propaganda for the entire Populist movement of the early 1900’s! The children’s tale of Cinderella can be interpreted in much the same way. It portrays a young orphaned girl named Cinderella who is enslaved by her stepmother. She works diligently throughout her life, searching for love, comfort, and a home. The myth in Cinderella is very strong. The presence of a Fairy Godmother creates a supernatural element in the story. Through the mythical godmother, Cinderella eventually obtains happiness by marrying Prince Charming. In “The Lady’s Maid,” by Katherine Mansfield, the narrator and maid is named Ellen. (Name similarity?) She, much like Cinderella, is loyal and quiet in performing her daily duties. Ellen is also searching for something to complete her life. But several incidents in Ellen’s life contribute to her un-Cinderella-like ending, including the fact that she does not have a mythical figure to help her out. These scenes, which are shown through Ellen’s responses to interactions with characters around her, prove Ellen to be a very complex character. Both Ellen and Cinderella experience sadness from childhood experiences and devotion to the ladies that they serve, but whereas Cinderella overcomes her problems in the end and finds happiness, Ellen carries her emotions so deeply that she cannot break free from her enslaved life.
When comparing Cinderella and Ellen, a their childhoods are obviously similar in many respects. Both the girls lack a constant loving home and a strong mother figure. Losing a parent at a young age is distressing to Cinderella in much the same way as it is for Ellen. Because the girls were never close with their parents because of death, they never developed the ties of loving mother-daughter relationships. Cinderella worked for her stepmother at a very young age, and after Ellen lived with her grandfather and an aunt, she was sent to work as a maid at age thirteen. The shuffling of parental figures for both Cinderella and Ellen causes them intense emotional trauma and likely triggers feelings of guilt for the loss of their parents. Cinderella and Ellen spend their days devoting much time and attention to those people in their lives who do give them attention. Because they never feel the true love that a parent can give, they mistake the orders from the old ladies as parental love. The maternal instincts that these girls both feel are similar, because they are struggling with the lack of parental influence and consequently cope by devoting their energy to those who give them any attention at all. And because they end up devoting much of their lives to those people who give them negative attention, neither Cinderella nor Ellen have anyone who truly care for them. As Cinderella and Ellen were growing up, they had no one that loved them the way a parent can love.
Cinderella and Ellen had unfulfilling childhoods that later caused them to attach later in life to anyone who should care for them. Because of their dependence to these people, the girls are both easily manipulated. Cinderella does all her chores for her stepmother and constantly cooks and cleans for the family. She feels that it is her duty to serve the family for allowing her to live with them. Cinderella is very dependent on the malicious, unloving family because she has no one else who cares about her. The stepmother and stepsisters are very cruel to Cinderella, and she does not like the way she is treated, yet she still does her work cheerfully, constantly singing and talking with the birds and the dog. Cinderella seems to create happiness for her and for others, seemingly drawing from an internal reservoir of pure heartedness, goodness, and beauty. There is no external source refilling her with love, support, and comfort. Ellen’s lady does not treat her cruelly, but Ellen’s life is emotionally unfulfilling, like Cinderella. Her lady wants her to be happy, but still places high demands on Ellen, like an employer. The lady does not offer any true feelings of love to Ellen that a young woman needs to feel. At this age in the girls’ lives, they need to be feeling love as experienced in a marriage. Similar to Cinderella, Ellen attaches herself to the lady because there is no one else, and is controlled into pleasing the lady. Ellen has become so devoted that her primary concern is pleasing the lady. She says, “I’ve got nobody but my lady” (Mansfield 37). Ellen and Cinderella feel emotionally isolated throughout their young adult lives, and in order to feel needed, they attach themselves to their respective ladies.
Cinderella and Ellen have very similar lives until it comes time for them to break free of their mundane lives. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother appears on the night of the ball, makes her a beautiful dress, and whisks her off to the ball in a pumpkin carriage. There, she meets Prince Charming, and eventually they are married and live “happily ever after” (Cinderella). She overcomes her problems and escapes her cruel stepfamily, to eventually be happy. Perhaps this is because of the intervention of her Fairy Godmother, a luxury that Ellen does not have. The mythical godmother provides outside assistance that may be paralleled to divine intervention, referring to a force that is greater than one. Perhaps, when Cinderella was written, this force was very important in daily lives. And when “A Lady’s Maid” was written, this divine force was not as powerful as a truth in daily lives, which is why Mansfield did not include it in her story. Ellen cannot escape her life with the lady. Harry, Ellen’s suitor, has lives full of flowers and family planned out. The couple will live above his flower shop while running the business. However, Ellen rejects the idea of marriage, telling Harry “I’m not going to marry you. I can’t leave my lady” (Mansfield 40). Ellen’s choice to stay with her lady over being with a man that cares about her shows her abnormal amount of loyalty and devotion (almost puppy-like) to her lady. There is no one to show Ellen the way to happiness, as there was for Cinderella. Ellen concludes her story by saying, “She says, ‘Good night, Ellen. Sleep sound and wake early!’ I don’t know what I would do if she didn’t say that, now” (Mansfield 40). Ellen is so devoted to her lady that she cannot leave her, even though she had a better life with Harry. Her guilt, desperation to please, dependence, and devotion to her lady overcome her desire to have an emotionally fulfilling adult relationship in the end. Instead, she stays with her lady. The loss or gain of marital love is a prevailing theme throughout both stories. The difference in the endings for Cinderella and Ellen is significant; Cinderella obtains happiness while Ellen remains in her state of near-slavery.
The reason for the difference is not in their characters, because they have experienced the emotional trauma from an early age, and consequently both have very similar thoughts, actions, and emotions. From Cinderella, the reader sees an oppressed young girl who obtains freedom from her evil stepmother by marrying Prince Charming with the help of her Fairy Godmother. The reader understands that mythical forces, such as fairy godmothers, are there to help out when times are tough, and that eventually everyone will get their own Prince Charming. Katherine Mansfield wants the reader of “A Lady’s Maid” to see Ellen’s desperation to please and her devout service to the lady, all while revealing deep inner troubles of a character who is not able to resolve herself in the end. While Cinderella is a charming, mythical story that children of all ages love, Mansfield’s modern story form provides a realistic and truthful ending.