Although the story's title and main character's name change in different languages, in English-language folklore "Cinderella" is the archetypal name. The word "Cinderella" has, by analogy, come to mean one whose attributes were unrecognized, or one who unexpectedly achieves recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect. The still-popular story of "Cinderella" continues to influence popular culture internationally, lending plot elements, allusions, and tropes to a wide variety of media.
The Aarne–Thompson system classifies Cinderella as "the persecuted heroine". The story of Rhodopis, about a Greek slave girl who marries the king of
Folklorists have long studied variants on this tale across cultures. In 1893, Marian Roalfe Cox, commissioned by the Folklore Society of Britain, produced Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin and, Cap o'Rushes, Abstracted and Tabulated with a Discussion of Medieval Analogues and Notes.
Further morphology studies have continued on this seminal work.
The Aarne–Thompson system classifies Cinderella as type 510A, "the persecuted heroine" [more on this below]. Others of this type include The Sharp Grey Sheep; The Golden Slipper; The Story of Tam and Cam; Rushen Coatie; The Wonderful Birch; Fair, Brown and Trembling; and Katie Woodencloak.
The Aarne–Thompson system classifies Cinderella as type 510A, "the persecuted heroine". Variants of the theme are known throughout the world.
The Cinderella motif may well have originated in classical antiquity. The Greek geographer Strabo recorded in the 1st century BC in his Geographica (book 17, 33) the tale of the Greek slave girl Rhodopis, "Rosy-Cheeks", who lived in the colony of
They tell the fabulous story that, when she was bathing, an eagle snatched one of her sandals from her maid and carried it to Memphis; and while the king was administering justice in the open air, the eagle, when it arrived above his head, flung the sandal into his lap; and the king, stirred both by the beautiful shape of the sandal and by the strangeness of the occurrence, sent men in all directions into the country in quest of the woman who wore the sandal; and when she was found in the city of Naucratis, she was brought up to Memphis, became the wife of the king ...
Herodotus, some five centuries before Strabo, supplied information about the real-life Rhodopis in his Histories. He wrote that Rhodopis came from
Another synopsis is given by the Roman author Aelian (ca. 175–ca. 235), showing that the Cinderella theme remained popular throughout antiquity.
Aspects of Cinderella may be derived from the story of Cordelia in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. Cordelia is the youngest and most virtuous of King Leir of
Another version of the story, Ye Xian, appeared in Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang by Duan Chengshi around 860. Here, the hardworking and lovely girl befriends a fish, the reincarnation of her mother, who was killed by her stepmother and sister. Ye Xian saves the bones, which are magic, and they help her dress appropriately for a festival. When she loses her slipper after being recognized by her stepfamily, the king finds her slipper and makes her his first wife (eventually rescuing her from her cruel stepmother).
The Indonesian and Malaysian story Bawang Merah Bawang Putih, are about two girls named Bawang Putih (literally "White Onion", meaning "garlic") and Bawang Merah ("Red Onion"). While the two country's respective versions differ in the exact relationship of the girls and the identity of the protagonist, they have highly similar plot elements. Both have a magical fish as the "fairy godmother" to her daughter, which the antagonist cooks. The heroine then finds the bones and buries them, and over the grave a magical swing appears. The protagonist sits on the swing and sings to make it sway, her song reaching the ears of a passing Prince. The swing is akin to the slipper test, which distinguishes the heroine from her evil sister, and the Prince weds her in the end.
In the Vietnamese version Tam Cam, Tam is mistreated by both her father's co-wife and half-sister, who stole her birthright by winning a wager of fishing unjustly proposed by the stepmother. The only fish that was left to her was killed and eaten by her step-family, but its bones served as her protector and guardian, eventually leading her to be the king's bride during a festival. The protagonist however, turns into the antagonist in part two of the story, by boiling her stepsister alive and then fooling her stepmother into cannibalism by feeding her her own daughter's flesh.
There is a Korean version named Kongji and Patzzi. It tells a story about a kind girl Kongji who was constantly abused by her stepmother and stepsister Patzzi. The step-family forces Kongji to stay at home while they attend the king's ball, but a fairy appears and gives her an attire more beautiful than everyone else. The motif is the same as in Perrault, concerning a king falling in love with her. However, the story goes on with Patzzi drowning Kongji in a river and disguising herself as Kongji to live with the King. After the king finds out he puts Patzzi to death and feeds her to the unknowing stepmother.
Several variants of the story appear in the medieval One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights, including "The Second Shaykh's Story", "The Eldest Lady's Tale" and "Abdallah ibn Fadil and His Brothers", all dealing with the theme of a younger sibling harassed by two jealous elders. In some of these, the siblings are female, while in others, they are male. One of the tales, "Judar and His Brethren", departs from the happy endings of previous variants and reworks the plot to give it a tragic ending instead, with the younger brother being poisoned by his elder brothers.
The Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield also shares similarities with Cinderella but is gender reversed (David has a passive mother who remarries with a cruel man after her husband passes).