A exploration in a Jungian story analysis of the Cinderella archetype, through large scale drawings in charcoal, glitter and oil pastel.


Cinderella was created by Harriet as part of her first year  MFA work at the University of Ulster in 2008. It was shown for the first time publicly in a side Gallery Space at the Safe House Gallery in Donegall Street, Belfast in December 2010 alongside Harriet’s solo exhibition Electro’Cute in the main gallery.

Here are some photos of this work in progress, some preliminary sketches and some shots from the gallery:


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Exploring the Cinderella Archetype.

Cinderella is one of the most recognized stories around the world. The themes from the story appear in the folklore of many cultures. The tale always centers on a kind, but persecuted heroine who suffers at the hands of her step family after the death of her mother. Her father is either absent or neglectful. The heroin has a magical guardian who helps her triumph over her persecutors and receives her fondest wish at the end of the tale. Most of the tales include an epiphany sparked by an item of clothing (usually a shoe) that causes the heroin to be recognized for her true worth.

The earliest recorded version of the tale comes from china. It was written down by Tuan Ch’eng-shih in the middle of the ninth century A.D.  The tone in this version implies the story is even older at this stage. The heroin in the Chinese tale is Yeh-shen. There is no fairy godmother in this earliest known version. A magical fish is Yeh-shen’s helper instead. However a golden shoe is used to identify Yeh-shen to the prince who wants to marry her.

The most well known version of the story enormously popularized by Disney comes from Charles Perrault in his Contes de ma Mere L’oye in 1697. From this version we received the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage, the animal servants and the glass slippers. Perrault recorded the story that was told to him by story tellers while adding these new touches for literary effect. Perrault also modernized the story in an age of emergent middle class domestic ideologies, the glass slipper being symbolic of unbroken virtue.

The Grimm Brothers’ German version, known as Aschenputtel, or Ash Girl, does not have a fairy godmother. The heroin plants a tree over her mother’s grave from which all of the magical help appears in the form of a white dove and gifts.

In Angela Carters modern version Ashputtle (or the mother’s ghost), her concern is focused on relationships between women: between Cinderella and her mother on the one hand, the second wife and her daughters on the other. Yet as Carter is quick to point out, the farther is “the unmoved mover, the unseen organizing principal. Without the absent farther there would be no story because there would have been no conflict.” It is not to her farther that Cinderella turns; help must come from another source.

The characters objects and animals in these story’s can be seen as being symbols, reoccurring in their various ways across the many variants of the story. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung looks to such symbols in fairy Stories, mythology and nursery rhymes as mode of descriptions of the active psyche.

Jung theory divides the psyche into three parts. The first is the ego, which Jung identifies with the conscious mind. The personal unconscious which includes everything that isn’t presently conscious, but can be such as memories that are easily brought to mind and those that have been suppressed for some reason. But Jung’s theories do not include the instincts that his contemporary psychoanalyst Freud would have included.

Instead Jung’s third part of the psyche made his theory stand out from all others: the collective unconscious. You could call it your “psychic inheritance” It is the reservoir of our experiences as a species, a kind of knowledge we are born with. And yet we can never be directly conscious of it. It is our intuition working influencing all of our experiences and behaviors, most especially the emotional ones, but we only know about it indirectly, by looking at those influences.

The experience of love at first site, of déjà vu and the immediate recognition of certain symbols could all be understood as the sudden conjunction of our outer reality and the inner reality of the collective unconscious.  Grander examples of the collective unconscious include parallels across different cultures throughout history in Art, Music, religions, Fairy tales, nursery rhymes, folklore and mythology.

The image of birds as an example Jung describes symbolically as reflections of thoughts, fantasies and symbols which dwell in the upper regions of the psyche representing those flights of fancy which carry man into the realms of the unconscious, also can signify the mind trapped in a primitive, subhuman condition. Birds act like messengers between man and the cosmos in which he dwells.

The symbolic content of the collective unconscious are called archetypes, an unlearned tendency to experience things in a certain way.

Part of this collective unconscious is divided into the Anima and Animus: Anima being the female aspect in the collective unconscious of men and animus the male aspect present in the collective unconscious of woman. Together referred to as syzygy when unbalanced we in our selves are not of full conscious and may act more so on blind compulsions. Too much Anima we become vague. Too much animus we become aggressive. When we are in good consciousness and making good decisions our Anima and animus is more evenly balanced. In some religious art Jesus is presented as a rather feminine man and halos on religious characters represent the splendor of the fully conscious mind.

In her book Women Who Run With The Wolves’ Jungian psychoanalyst analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes explores the female psyche through the symbols found in fairy tales.  She explores the Russian variant of Cinderella:  The doll in her pocket or Vasalisa the wise. The book breaks down the sequence of events in the story into tasks for the psyche to complete before it can become fully conscious. Cinderella’s like Vasalisa archetypal sequence of experiences concludes with her receiving her fondest wish, for Cinderella this is the prince.

I have approached these Cinderella drawings by breaking the story down into six major characters, objects or events then referring my ideas to Este’s descriptions of archetypal tasks. Informed also by Tom Chetwynd Dictionary of Symbols a book based on the Jung’s exploration of symbols. These six parts are:

Task one: Cinderella letting the ‘too good mother die’.

Accepting that the ever watchful, hovering, protective psychic mother is not adequate as a central guide for ones future instinctive life (the too good mother dies). Taking on the task of being on one’s own, a new situation, developing one’s own consciousness about danger intrigue and politic. Letting what must die, as the too good mother dies a new woman is born.

The second task: Ugly stepsisters.

Environmental influences, exposing the crude shadow.  Learning more mindfully, the need to let go of the overly positive psychic mother. Finding that alone and outside the protection of the child psyche being good, being sweet, being nice all those things here will not help as Cinderella becomes a slave.

The stepsisters represent the underdeveloped but provocatively cruel elements in the psyche. They are shadow parts of the ego, aspects of oneself that are considered undesirable. When these suppressed elements of the psyche erupt and the source identified we grow becoming stronger and wiser.

The third task: The wicked stepmother

Learning to face a great power in others, and subsequently one’s own power, letting the frail and too-sweet child die back even further. In completing all the wicked step mothers’ demands Cinderella begins to recognize her own power as hard work has built up her inner strength. Although her work is complete the wicked stepmother still prevents Cinderella from going to the ball.

The fourth task: The fairy godmother.

Another person who gives a gift of confidence, reassurance something that shows them a way out of a bad situation but this is only a glimpse because the magic ends at midnight and Cinderella with her new found confidence has what she needs to make things happen for herself.

In the recent film The Devil wears Prada a contemporary version of the Cinderella archetype the heroin is befriended by a stereotypical gay male friend who teaches her about fashion and gives her a pair designer shoes, instilling new confidence so she can get ahead in a the very competitive career as a fashion magazine editor. I have played with this more recent retelling as a point of inspiration for my own version set in a city workplace.

The fifth task: The Royal ball.

Cinderella with her new confidence and sense of self goes after her prize.

The sixth task: The prince or the prize.

Here ends the Cinderella archetype and when this phase is done the next archetype can begin.

These are the ideas that I have woven through my own variant of the Cinderella archetype. My Cinderella is an aspiring photographer who is trying to get ahead in her career, blocked by jealous co-workers (the ugly sisters) and a condescending supervisor (the wicked step-mother) a fashionable and friendly co-worker sees her worth and gives her a gift of confidence as a pair of sparkly shoes with just six images to tell an elaborate story the viewers of this work are left to fill in the blanks of detail between each of my ‘task’ drawings intended to stir them into their own imagination of the narrative but evidently my Cinderella arrives in presenting her photography to the big bear boss guy wearing her sparkly shoes, with the last image shows her emancipated, camera to hand, as a new shiny version of herself, with her own office, personal photos on the wall and a big window with a view like that of the bosses office.

Contextually as the surrealist were much inspired by such Psychology a new breed of surrealist artists have inspired my work, a new wave of art called Pop Surrealism: Surrealists that have come of age in an era defined by the mass media. The mass media acting almost like a more physical collective conscious, by mining popular culture they use peoples associations of iconic imagery and styles re-configuring them to make their new surrealist art. I have referenced the step family from the Disney version of Cinderella in my modern narrative of this Cinderella archetype alongside a Bratz doll inspired Cinderella.

The Bratz contemporarily represent the new face of classical blond heroin, forcing Barbie into a severer sexy redesign in order to compete in sales ratings in today’s marketplace.