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Cassidy Tran
Professor Haas
Writing 37
15 November 2015
Sleeping Beauty: The Evolution of a Passive Princess and a Happy Ending
Over the centuries we have transformed the ancient myths and folk
tales and made them into the fabric of our lives. Consciously and
unconsciously we weave the narratives of myth and folk tale into
our daily existence.
-Jack Zipes Fairy Tale as Myth / Myth as Fairy Tale
The fairy tale genre has been popular for centuries, and across several cultures, which
makes it useful for understanding how texts reflect and are shaped by their rhetorical situation.
For example, the well-known story of Sleeping Beauty, has been around in writing for almost
400 years, and was probably told in oral tradition for hundreds of years before that, and with
each telling, the conventions of the genre reflect each versions culture, time period and
audience. Steven Ford, a production editor of the Orlando Sentinel, writes: if youre like most
Americans of a certain age and have been raised on the story of Sleeping Beauty from beautifully
illustrated storybooks or an equally beautifully illustrated animated film by Walt Disney, you

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might not recognize key elements of the story from this point. Because, in Basiles account, a
hunter comes along after a hundred years and, after a while, finds the princess. Naturally, hes
captivated by her beauty. But rather than an enraptured embrace and true loves kiss, well he
rapes her. In the first known written version, Sun, Moon, and Talia, published in 1634 by
Giambattista Basile in Italy, Talia (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty) is raped by the King in her sleep after
she falls unconscious by pricking herself with a spindle. The Queen finds out that the King has
been fooling around, so she attempts to cook Talia alive, but fails to do so. In the most recent text
adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, The Sleeper and the Spindle published by Neil Gaiman in 2014, a
queen on her wedding day sets off to rescue a princess from an enchantment, only to find out that
the princess is not who she seems to be. In these recent re-inventions of the Sleeping Beauty
story, Sun, Moon, and Talia, and The Sleeper and the Spindle, classic conventions of the genre
such as a passive princess and happy ending reflect the current cultural attitudes in order to
entertain the twenty-first century audience.
One classic plot convention of the genre is a passive and beautiful princess who has no
real function in the plot but to sleep and wait for the prince, who has agency. When looking at the
1634 version of Sleeping Beauty, Sun, Moon, and Talia, and comparing it to the 2014 version
of Sleeping Beauty, The Sleeper and the Spindle, one will notice that the twenty-first century
author has re-invented the fairy tale convention of a passive princess so that a brave female
heroine is present instead, to represent the current rise and support of female empowerment and
In the 1634 version of Sleeping Beauty, Sun, Moon, and Talia, the King takes action
and rescues Talia after she suffered through the harsh orders of the Evil Queen, which not only

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shows that Talia is feeble, but also shows that she is dependent on the King for her survival:
[The Evil Queen] told him that she had had them slaughtered and served to him as meat. When
the wretched king heard this, he gave himself up to despair, saying, You renegade bitch, what
evil deed is this which you have done? Begone, you shall get your desert as the stumps, and I
will not send such a tyrant-faced one to the Colosseum to do her penance! So saying, he
commanded that the queen should be cast into the fire which she had prepared for Talia
(Basile). The King intercedes with the Evil Queen for Talias sake, while Talia is not even
mentioned once during this scene because she is futile and incompetent to fight for herself.
Talias frail character reflects womens status around the seventeenth century in Italy. An online
article, Women from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment by Christa Dierksheide, who has a
Ph.D. in Age of Revolutions, describes and explains the reason of womens low status around the
seventeenth century: For thousands of years women enjoyed very few economic, legal, or
political rights and, in theory, were expected to be submissive to their fathers or husbands.
Women were confined to traditional gender roles, which forced them to remain in the domestic
or private sphere of society. From the Renaissance (ca. 14001600) to the eighteenth-century
Age of Enlightenment, women were consistently considered to be inferior to men and their role
in society continued to be primarily domestic. However, the representation of and attitude toward
women started to gradually improve, particularly through the medium of literature. Women
around the seventeenth century were viewed as powerless in comparison to men, but not in the
modern time period.
In the most recent text adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, The Sleeper and the Spindle, a
powerful heroic queen, not the traditional male hero, rescues the cursed docile princess. At the
beginning of the tale, the true loves kiss that was going to break the curse was not specified to

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be from a prince because in the end, the queen is the one who revives Sleeping Beauty. It all
starts when a queen, who hears about a cursed princess, decides to go on a quest to save her.
Travelling for days while encountering sleepwalkers trying to attack her, the queen triumphantly
reaches the castle where the princess is in and kisses her on the lips to wake her up:
Well, said the third [dwarf]. Somebodys got to do the honors.
I shall, said the queen, gently. She lowered her face to the sleeping womans. She
touched the pink lips to her own carmine lips and she kissed the sleeping girl long and hard
(Gaiman 49).
The twenty-first century is now promoting feminism, so this change in convention from
the idle princess who is reliant on a prince, to a courageous heroine, was made to the tale of
Sleeping Beauty to conform to these modern ideas. In their book Controversy and Coalition: The
New Feminist Movement Across Three Decades of Change, Myra Marx Ferree and Beth B. Hess,
both professors in sociology and members of the Womens Studies Program, state that In
addition to local and national feminist initiatives of all three types that have emerged since the
mid-1970s, the womens movement has grown most dramatically in recent yearswhere
feminists are building ever more connecting and coordinating institutions (12). Martha Vicinus,
an American scholar of English literature and Women's Studies, writes: Very few feminists
fought for women as human beings who were potentially equal to men in intellect, instincts, and
morals- a radical message unacceptable until the early years of the twentieth century (16). A reinvented fairy tale convention of a female heroine is added to the plot to capture the attention of
people who support the new feministic society and culture. The public did not always encourage

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feminism, but now-a-days, people are advocating for gender equality. Including audacious
female heroines instead of coward princesses in stories furthers the idea.
It is traditional to read a fairy tale and easily spot the plot convention of a happy ending:
the prince always ends up with the princess at the end of the tale; yet in modern times, the new
texts still have a happy ending, but the happy ending is defined differently according to current
attitudes. As time passes from Sun, Moon, and Talia, the first version of Sleeping Beauty being
published, to The Sleeper and the Spindle, the most recent text version published, society
progressively changes their view on women and does not identify a womans happy ending as
marrying a man, but a happy ending of being independent and strong-willed.
In Sun, Moon, and Talia, the King rapes Talia when she was unconscious and leaves
her to go back to the Queen. Once Talia awakens, she is lured into the castle by the Queen, who
wants to kill her, but is stopped by the King who coincidentally appears at that moment and
saves Talia. At the end of the tale, the King marries Talia and they live happily ever after: He
married Talia to wife; and she enjoyed a long life with her husband and her children (Basile).
Talia marrying the King is a representative of marriage standards in seventeenth-century
England. Alice Brabcov from the University of West Bohemia writes: In seventeenth-century
England, marriage and sexual morals played a far more important social role than nowadays. A
family centered around a married couple represented the basic social, economic and political
unit. (21). Marriage in seventeenth-century England revolved around status and the radical idea
of marrying for love, which explains why Talias happily ever after constituted marrying the

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The fairy tale convention of a happy ending is interpreted differently in the twenty-first
century than in the seventeenth-century. At the beginning of The Sleeper and the Spindle, the
queen contemplates: She wondered how she would feel to be a married woman. It would be the
end of her life, she decided, if life was a time of choice. In a week from now, she would have no
choices (Gaiman 14). At the end, the queen ends up abandoning her fianc and instead of
travelling west back to the castle, she makes a fearless choice of travelling off to the east by
You do know were heading east, dont you? said one of the dwarfs.
Oh yes, said the queen (Gaiman 66).
The well-known happy ending of the prince always ending up with the princess is not
relevant in the twenty-first century anymore due to changes in present-day values. Pepper
Schwartz, a professor of sociology and a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families,
a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families, reports: Currently, 53% of
women over 18 are in the singles column. Put another way, women now have choices that allow
them to customize the arc of their lives and some of them find that it is best for them to put
marriage aside. The queen decides to be single at the end because she realized she had a choice
and does not need to be tied down to a man. The twenty-first century is freeing for a woman
because this may be one of the few times in history when so many women could choose from
such a full range of life choices without penalty or stigma (Schwartz). Being a single
independent woman is more acceptable in societys eyes now-a-days than it was in the

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Sleeping Beauty, along with many other fairy tales, have been altered and edited after its
original release to readjust to the current time period and audience. As time changes and peoples
views on women changes, the conventions of the genre, a passive princess and happy ending,
change as well. Two re-inventions of the Sleeping Beauty story, Sun, Moon, and Talia, and
The Sleeper and the Spindle, reflect their time periods cultural values through modification of
their plot and characters.

Works Cited
Basile, Giambattista. "Sun, Moon, and Talia." <i>Sleeping Beauty</i>. D.L. Ashliman, n.d.
Web. 3 Nov. 2015. &lt;http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0410.html#grimm&gt;.
Brabcov, Alice. (n.d.): n. pag. Marriage in Seventeenth-Century England: The Womans
Story. Web. 14 Nov. 2015. <http://www.phil.muni.cz/angl/thepes/thepes_02_02.pdf>.

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Dierksheide, Christa. "Women from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment." (n.d.): n. pag. Oct.
2012. Web. 13 Nov. 2015. <http://www.saylor.org/site/wpcontent/uploads/2012/10/HIST201-8.2.3-WomenRenaissancetoEnlightenmentFINAL1.pdf>.
Ferree, Myra Marx., and Beth B. Hess. Controversy and Coalition: The New Feminist
Movement across Four Decades of Change. New York: Routledge, 2000. Web. 14 Nov.
Ford, Steven. "Original Story of Sleeping Beauty Would Have Terrified Even Maleficent."
Orlando Sentinel. N.p., 29 May 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
Gaiman, Neil, and Chris Riddell. The Sleeper and the Spindle. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 23 Oct. 2014.
Schwartz, Pepper. "Why More Women Choose Not to Marry." CNN. N.p., 15 Oct. 2014. Web.

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14 Nov. 2015. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/15/opinion/schwartz-single-women/>.
Vicinus, Martha. Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women. London:
Virago, 1985. Print.
Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tale as Myth/myth as Fairy Tale. Lexington: U of Kentucky, 1994. Print.