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New Course Twists Classic Fairy Tale Cinderella into Different Stories

(Posted October 26, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The classic Cinderella folktale is known far and wide. Imagine diverging from the universal version and reading a tale where Cinderella is a sweatshop worker trapped on the eighth floor of a burning building, or living in France's Normandy region as her father is sent out with an army to invade England.

Lynn Cockett, associate professor of communication at Juniata, has found a unique way to incorporate the story of Cinderella into a classroom setting by surveying the historical and cultural origins and pathways of the story.
The major project for the course, which is currently under way as a fall semester class, is to write and illustrate a one-of-a-kind Cinderella screenplay based around the significant cultural time period each student is given, such as the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a New York City industrial tragedy where 140 garment workers, most of them women, perished in a fire, and the 1066 Battle of Hastings where King Harold of England died in battle fighting Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror.

"I think story is one of the most interesting parts of being human, and so I hope students learn through this course that humans all over the world tell tales in order to understand and make sense of the same kinds of things: jealousy, beauty, persecution, or fairness."
Lynn Cockett, associate professor of communication


Cockett's primary hope is that "students will walk away with a sense of the international breadth of Cinderella." She says, "I think story is one of the most interesting parts of being human, and so I hope students learn through this course that humans all over the world tell tales in order to understand and make sense of the same kinds of things: jealousy, beauty, persecution, or fairness."

During the course, students will explore several variants of the Cinderella story from different parts of the world including China, England, France, Russia and several other cultures. Ultimately, they will use one of the variants as a guide for writing their individual screenplays.

The meaning and thematic content behind the Cinderella tale is so densely detailed, Cockett explains, "I have always thought the story would lend itself well to a full semester course."
For Juniata students, the Cinderella course fulfills a cultural analysis requirement. This requirement involves studying human culture in its various forms: philosophic, literary, artistic, economic, social, political, and scientific. Each course focuses on the thoughts and behaviors of individuals and groups and how relationships between ideas and institutions have shaped societies.
As for Cinderella, Cockett believes the class fits well in the cultural analysis realm because it "is a story that explores universal themes within varying cultural contexts, which shows us the extraordinary influence of class, gender, and family structure on many cultures."

Students are gradually growing a dynamic view of the individual cultures they are researching during the course in addition to getting a broad knowledge of how Cinderella's story has become engraved in American pop culture.
Paige Johnston, a senior from Lancaster, Pa., admits, "After realizing some of the hidden meanings and elements in the story, it makes me think about Cinderella and other fairy tales in general from a different perspective."

Written by: Molly Sollenberger

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.