In class this week, we read the “Cinderella” tales, which largely contrasted with the Disney version- no surprise there. These tales all feature a similar narrative arc, one that Ruth Bottigheimer describes as “rags to riches through magic and marriage.” This rather accurately describes how one can achieve wealth in the world of fairy tales. All of the “Cinderella” protagonists eventually were freed from their lowly stations through marriage to a wealthy character, and that would not have been possible without magic. But is that realistic?
Well, I suppose things in real life can happen that way. People wed significant others with differing financial situations all the time, usually resulting in the person with less money suddenly finding themselves with more than what they had before. Many a gold-digger has married a rich old man, only to inherit his worth upon his death (this is me playing off a stereotype, not abandoning my feminist ideals). But rags to riches? That’s a big leap; even gold-diggers usually aren’t in rags. But it happens, I’m sure.
I don’t think the rags to riches story always has to happen through marriage. There was one actress (can’t remember her name- I guess she isn’t that famous) that was discovered on the street while homeless, and ended up getting a role in some big time movie (this from an article I read on my Comcast homepage the other day about nobodies becoming somebodies). If that’s not rags to riches, I don’t know what is.
And then you have to consider the American Dream, which is all about how anybody can find success (i.e. money) through hard work, making a “rags to riches” situation possible for everyone.
But those last two examples don’t involve marriage, and none of them at all involve magic. Magic, in it’s usual definition, doesn’t exist, so it’s almost irrelevant. But things can be magical, they can have an essence similar to something that would happen via magic if magic were real. The idea of magic is one so present in society, in the collective unconscious (if you believe in that), that I suppose it exists, not as an actual thing, but as an idea.
Miracles could be magic, under that interpretation. A “rags to riches” story is somewhat of a miracle. Religion can also be magic, depending on what religion (some actually do magicky stuff) or depending on what you believe about religion (some thing it’s a bunch of hogwash similar to magic). But how does that tie in to a “rags to riches” real-life plot arc? I don’t actually know. It seems to me that the magic part of this is completely unrealistic outside of the fairy tale world.
Unless…and prepare for some sappiness here…magic is love. One could argue that love is magical (falling under the way I attempted to define it two paragraphs ago). And love is a major factor in most Western marriages today. So…rags to riches through magic and marriage? Totally possible. We don’t marry based on arranged marriages or dowries or social status hardly as much anymore as in the past (or in some other non-western countries). If love is magic, and marriage unites two people of vastly different financial standings, you could totally start out destitute and end up significantly better off.
However, in fairy tales, it seems that magic and marriage are the only means of becoming rich when previously you were in rags. Especially for women.