Merida vs. Cinderella

The more I hear/read people talking about Brave, the more I feel she’s still getting too much credit, particularly when it comes to being empowered.  Cinderella seems the obvious person to compare her to as her situation was also dominated by her relationship with her mother-figure.  Cinderella is often viewed as one of the weakest female characters in fairy tales, while Merida was supposed to be a new, more feminist princess.  The more I think about them together, the more I feel Merida makes Cinderella look good.

First off, I have to say that I have never been as down on Cinderella as many people are.  I always felt she developed relationships with mice and birds in order to preserve her sanity and keep from growing embittered.  As a young girl thrust into a lonely, tough situation, choosing to put forth extra effort (which the mice clothes show she clearly does) for these reasons shows foresight, self-awareness, and resourcefulness.  Add to that, she is forced to work long hours, do many manual jobs, and clearly isn’t allowed enough sleep.  In this situation, putting forth the energy to do that much for yourself and to better your circumstances is incredible.  I think it’s courageous of her to try and hold onto her happiness.  It shows that she doesn’t internalize the messages she gets from her family, she still believes in her own self-worth.  The fact that she is doing so while trying not to vilify her family any more than she must is an added effort of will to keep her sane and from the trap of being bittered, again-lots of foresight, lots of willpower.  Many people have a down on her for not getting out and making her own way in the world, or not doing more.  I think Cinderella was already doing more than many real people would.  Compare her to someone in a dead-end job that they hate-they don’t get along with their coworkers, there’s barely any time for them to have a social life, there’s a lot of pressure and demands.  Sure, they’d rather be somewhere else but finding a job is tough-at least they have a place to sleep and enough to eat, and they know enough to appreciate that.  At least they’re better than these rich, lolly-gagging idlers who just do nothing all day.  You have satisfaction in knowing you can get stuff done, even if it’s not stuff you’d particularly like to do.  People might wish these people into better circumstances, but does it really reflect badly on them that they keep going on and doing their job because they feel that they must?  Particularly if they are still working to keep up a rewarding social life and to not become embittered?  That person is the common hero or heroine of today, and Cinderella is a wonderful guiding light from them.


To get back to the comparison, look at Merida’s position.  She’s already a princess, she’s clearly well taken care of physically, she has a family who clearly loves her, days of total freedom, and her biggest complaint is that her mom is trying to control her.  Yeah, tell Cinderella about it.  Now, for the crucial point: how they handle their one magic wish.  To be fair, Merida does show more spirit in needing to insist on receiving a wish instead of simply being given magic like Cinderella, but then Merida also had magical wisps giving her the hint to claim something important.  On to the actual magic.  Cinderella wishes for the equipment to get to the ball.  This may seem shallow or short-sighted.  However, after seeingBrave, I see Cinderella’s wish as more self-assured.  She asked for the equipment to accomplish a certain task-she trusted herself to actually see that task through.  Merida, on the other hand, in spite of starting out with a huge advantage over Cinderella, didn’t think she could “change her fate” on her own, even with a little help.  No, Merida only saw that her mother was in charge, not that Merida herself could take control of her own fate.  In terms of control, I think we can all agree Cinderella’s mother figure had far more control over her than Queen Elinor does of Merida, but Cinderella still managed to think of something she herself could do, if just given the opportunity.  Moreover, Merida was entitled enough to put her wish on someone else.  Cinderella, at least, takes all the consequences of her magic to herself, not using the moment to put something unwanted on her family or trying to change them to make her life easier.  That gives Cinderella’s magic the moral high ground, especially considering how much more Lady Tremain deserved a magical alteration compared to Queen Elinor.  This is even before considering that Merida’s desire to change that particular event shows that the educated princess totally missed the big picture and failed to consider the consequences her actions would take.


Who would you rather have running your kingdom?  The resourceful princess who was always forward-thinking and only experiments with magic on herself? Or the entitled princess who’s willing to magically ‘change’ family members and doesn’t wonder about the consequences?

I declare Cinderella the victor.  Merida’s a new, more empowered spin on a princess, my ass.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bluedetective
    Oct 26, 2012 @ 00:53:57

    i,on the other hand,declare merida.
    Cinderella’s success didnt come frm her hard work,it was all MAGIC!
    Merida,however,relied on herself and achieved her goal,yah,with a bunch of failures on the way.
    And on Cinderella’s part,the prince helped her,not because shes hard working,he clearly doesnt knw that,but he helped her go from poor to rich because she is PRETTY.


    • wheresmytower
      Oct 26, 2012 @ 13:27:07

      I agree that the Prince’s motive with Cinderella is entirely shallow. However, that’s really a separate issue from the heroine analysis under discussion here.

      In what way to Merida rely on herself? She ran off asking for magic, whereas Cinderella had a fairy godmother who came to her because she was a deserving person. Ergo, either the two are the same in their running to magic or Cinderella is better because her hard work and perseverance was deemed worthy of a fairy godmother, whereas Merida pushed her own way into magic because that’s the only way she could see to ‘change her fate.’

      Moreover, ultimately it is Merida’s mother who comes up with the solution to the problem, kills off the threat, and gets life back on course. True, Merida keeps her mother alive for awhile, but when the danger came from Merida’s original magic use it seems kindof a hollow victory. Also, that’s ALL she did-it was Elinor who saved the marriage question, which was Merida’s ‘goal’. Hence, Merida did not achieve it. You could say Elinor fixed it because of what Merida made her see, but then Merida only managed to show her point through MAGIC, so she’s every bit as culpable of just getting things through magic as Cinderella.

      You could say she’s very self-reliant out in the wild, but then Cinderella is equally self-reliant in the ways of society.


  2. Anne
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 07:34:12

    i used to like Cindrella well she was my fav princess but though she is very pretty and such a gentle caring person she dosent really do much apart from loose a shoe so when Rapunzel came along she was my fav but now shes been replaced by Merida she teaches us theirs more to life than marring a prince shes free spirited wild and fisty and i wouldnt like to get on her wrong side shes the modern princess for the 21st century Cinderella is from a time when females dremt of marring princes making home and having a guy do everything but Merida is very independent though i still like Cinderella Meridas my fav now and shes scottish like me


    • wheresmytower
      Jun 06, 2013 @ 14:31:58

      See, Cinderella was never my favorite. Her personality pales badly compared to heroines like Belle and Jasmine. I use her as comparison because both her movie and ‘Brave’ focus on mother-daughter relationships. I felt so disappointed after seeing Merida, who is supposed to be independent, that I had to point out all the reasons I felt she failed in this role and made me appreciate Cinderella better. Of course Merida seems stronger at first-she was raised as a princess by a supportive family who taught her things like archery. Given how, even in that situation, Merida feels so incredibly sorry for herself and like she can’t do anything to change her situation without the help of magic,I feel quite sure that if Merida were put in Cinderella’s situation and raised as a servant-Merida would definitely have been far more pathetic than Cinderella.


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