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Ellen McDaniel
Professor Dzubak
Childrens Literature
1 December 2015
Wicked Stepmother: Fact or Fiction?
If a random person on the street were to be asked about the Wicked Stepmother, chances
are they would know who she is. This infamous stereotype was born from the Brothers Grimms
collection of fairy tales, several of which feature the stepmother as the antagonist. Over time,
companies like Disney have created more adaptations of these tales, and some companies have
taken the stories even farther into horror films. In these stories, the stepmother is determined to
take away the happiness of the central character, acting without mercy or remorse. But what
affect does this have on stepmothers today? Granted, most stepmothers are not wicked, but is
there any truth behind this stereotype? Regardless, todays stepmothers are fighting against this
moniker that plagues them. The Brothers Grimm have created an assumption regarding
stepmothersone that has been fueled by modern adaptations and that is hindering stepmothers
from being accepted as members of their new families.
Many would connect this notorious archetype to the Brothers Grimm story, Cinderella.
Although the Grimm version is arguably the most famous, more than 300 Cinderellas have had
[a wicked stepmother], as the tale of the wicked stepmother has permeated mythology and
folklore across the globe (Singer). However, more than just one of the Grimm fairy tales feature
a stepmother worthy of being called wicked. Cinderellas stepmother belittles Cinderella to
nothing more than a household slave. She refuses to let Cinderella go to the ball, despite the

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several difficult and tedious tasks Cinderella performs without question. Also, she is so desperate
to make her own daughters princesses that she encourages them to cut off either their toes or
their heel to fit into the golden slipper. Although this may seem very cruel, Cinderellas
stepmother is hardly the worst case of wickedness in this collection of stories. The Queen from
Snow White was also a stepmother, one determined to kill her stepdaughter by any means
necessary. After learning that she is no long the fairest in the land and that her stepdaughter Snow
White is a thousand times more fair, the Queen becomes consumed with jealousy. Whenever
she looks at her stepdaughter, her heart [turns] cold like a stone. Envy and pride [grow] as fast
as weeds in her heart (Grimm, Grimm). Unable to take the envy any longer, the Queen sends a
huntsman to kill Snow White and remove her lungs and liver as evidence of her demise.
The wickedness continues in stories like Hansel and Gretel, The Juniper Tree, and
The Six Swans. In Hansel and Gretel, the family is running low on food, and is slowly
starving to death. The stepmother cracks a plan and tells her husband, lets take the children
down into the deepest part of the forest. Well make a fire for them out there and give them each
a crust of bread. Then well go about our work, leaving them all by themselves. Theyll never
find their way back home, and well be rid of them (Grimm, Grimm). Though hesitant, the
childrens father agrees to their stepmothers evil plan. Next, the stepmother in The Six Swans
is jealous of the attention that her husband gives to his children. Therefore, she curses all but one
of her stepchildren, turning them into swans. The only way to break the curse is for the last child
to neither speak nor laugh for six years, and to use that time to sew six shirts made from a special
flower for the six brothers who turn into swans. Lastly, The Juniper Tree is similar to
Cinderella, as the stepmother hates her stepson and she wants her own daughter to inherit
everything. When the opportunity arises, she severs her stepsons head by slamming the heavy

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lid of a large chest on his neck. To hide her fowl deed, she convinces her daughter that she killed
her brother. She then proceeds to chop him up put the pieces into a pot and [cook] them up
into a stew, which she feeds to the boys father (Grimm, Grimm). These are some of the major
examples of the stepmothers with crooked moral compasses created by the Brothers Grimm.
As times have changed and technology has developed, many of these classic tales have
moved from the pages to the big screen. Furthermore, there have been countless adaptations,
remakes, and spin offs of these stories, two major examples being Snow White and Cinderella.
There is the iconic, better known version of Snow White produced in 1937 by Disney, called
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This adaptation is more kid friendly by modern day
standards, compared to grimmer original tale. The film grossed $8 million, a staggering sum
during the Great Depression and the most made by any film up to that time (1938). Despite
being over 75 years old, the movie is still held in high regard. In June 2008, more than 60 years
after its U.S. release, the American Film Institute chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the
No. 1 animated film of all time in its category of American classics (1938). Other adaptions
of Snow White include Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Snow White: A Tale of Terror
(1997), and Mirror Mirror (2012). Spin-off movies have also become popular, based on classic
tales that everyone knows. Enchanted, starring Amy Adams, was made in 2007, with great
resemblance to the story of Snow White. Cinderella also joined Disney as the second Disney
Princess in 1950, and was picked up by numerous other companies for their own renditions.
Other versions of Cinderella include a live action Cinderella (2015), A Cinderella Story (2004),
and Ever After (1998). One movie based on Cinderella is Ella Enchanted, created in 2004,
starring Anne Hathaway. Regardless of these stories unending retellings and remakes, they have
never failed to feature a wicked stepmother. She has become an icon for cruelty and fear, and

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some have taken it a step farther by incorporating this archetype into new horror stories, like
Stepmonster (1993), The Uninvited (2009), and A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), all of which possess
a murderous or psychopathic stepmother. With such a large number of productions including an
evil stepmother, and with each movie being relatively successful, the stereotype is running
rampant. It enters the pliable minds of children from an early age through Disney films, and is
continuously reinforced with PG-13 and R rated movies as they grow up.
It is evident that the Grimm brothers were successful at creating a malicious character
that any child would have the right to fear. This fictitious character, however, is seriously
impacting real-world stepmothers. Since her conception, the wicked stepmother has become a
stock figure, a fairy-tale type that invokes a vivid image at the mention of her role--so much so
that stepmothers in general have had to fight against their fairy-tale reflections (Williams).
Unfortunately, the hardships faced by stepmothers that are brought about solely because of the
position they are stepping into is being widely overlooked. However, the existing research
suggests that the predominance of the stereotype of the 'wicked stepmother' creates a stigma
that places a significant strain on a stepmother's self-esteem and role enactment (Christian). The
strain of being a mother is hard on its own, but to be a stepmother adds an entirely new level of
stress. Regardless of the wicked stereotype, the role of a stepmother is difficult and can lead to
depressive illnesses that, ironically, may be where the idea of the wicked stepmother started in
the first place. The symptoms of these illnesses are very common in stepmothers, including
preoccupation with position in the family, feelings of anxiety, rejection, ineffectiveness, guilt,
hostility exhaustion; loss of self-esteem, and overcompensation. In fact, these symptoms have
become so frequent in stepmothers that this complex of issues has been labeled Cinderellas
Stepmother Syndrome (Cinderellas Stepmother Syndrome). Interestingly, if one were to

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amplify these symptoms, they would resemble many of the characteristics found in the Brothers
Grimms wicked stepmothers.
In conclusion, the Brothers Grimm established a truly wicked character that has
transcended the pages of their iconic stories. Prevalent in countless movies and even other books,
the wicked stepmother is a staple of our culture, and also the enemy of stepmothers today who
are fighting for acceptance in their new families. The foundation of this stereotype may be rooted
in some measurable proof, as the strain from entering the role of a stepmother could cause
mental health issues. To label these women as wicked, however, is unfair, as part of their stress
comes from the inherited moniker itself. To break from this timeless archetype would require a
new take on stepmothers in literature and movies. Until then, the stepmother will always be seen
as the woman who turned her stepdaughter into a slave; who handed over the poison apple; who
abandoned children in the woods; who turned six stepsons into swans; who fed a boy to his
father; who is undeniably wicked.

Works Cited

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"Cinderella's Stepmother Syndrome." APA PsycNET. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Christian, Allison. "Contesting the myth of the 'wicked stepmother': narrative analysis of an
online stepfamily support group." Western Journal of Communication 69.1 (2005):
27+.Academic OneFile. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.
Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm, and Maria Tatar. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. The
Bicentennial ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.
Singer, Alison. "The murdering stepmother in all of us." Antipodes 26.2 (2012): 276+. Academic
OneFile. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.
Williams, Christy. "Who's wicked now? The stepmother as fairy-tale heroine." Marvels &
Tales24.2 (2010): 255+. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.
"1938: Disney Releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." History. A&E Television Networks,
n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.