Here’s a brief review of Bruno Bettelheim’s interpretation of “Cinderella” from his book “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales”

The late Bettelheim was born in Vienna in 1930. As a psychologist, he wrote many books one of which is the uses of enchantment written in 1975. It is from this book that, Cinderella, a story about sibling rivalry and oedipal conflicts is extracted. The story is about Cinderella, a girl who was brought up in a life full of mistreatment from her step mother and step sisters. Irrespective of being undermined and badly mistreated, she endured and finally rose to become victorious and successful in life against the wishes of her foes.

Bruno Bettelheim, a renowned child psychologist, explores the psychological significance of fairy tales in his book. His analysis of “Cinderella” delves into the deeper meanings behind the story, particularly focusing on themes of sibling rivalry and the Oedipal complex.


  • Sibling Rivalry: Bettelheim interprets “Cinderella” as a tale that addresses intense sibling rivalry. The cruel treatment by her stepsisters symbolizes the jealousy and competition that can exist among siblings.
  • Oedipal Conflicts: He also discusses the Oedipal aspects of the story, where Cinderella’s relationship with her father and the stepmother’s jealousy play significant roles.
  • Psychological Growth: Bettelheim argues that fairy tales like “Cinderella” help children navigate their own emotions and conflicts. The story’s resolution, where Cinderella triumphs and finds happiness, provides a sense of hope and justice1.

Overall Impression

Bettelheim’s interpretation offers a profound psychological perspective on a classic fairy tale. His insights help readers understand the underlying emotional and developmental themes that make “Cinderella” a timeless and impactful story.

This story revolves around a household where Cinderella was subjected to perform all odd and dirty jobs. She tried to perform all duties assigned to her, but her efforts were never recognized. These mistreatments finally matured and brought enmity amongst the siblings in the whole house where Cinderella was at the centre stage. It is evident that this was facilitated by her step mother (Bettelheim, 1975, p.652).

The Main Theme and Purpose of the Story

Sibling enmity is the main theme of this story. In normal situations, parents are expected to treat their siblings equally without favor. When the parents violet this statement, enmity among the siblings starts to develop. Mistreatment will automatically start to trigger emotions and feelings in the victim, hence development of hater ate.

The story is intended to teach the young generations a lesson that, regardless of the problems they may be encountering at any developmental stage, they will overcome them and shine at the end. From another view, the story can reflect a very important point that children may encounter problems at an early age. As they grow, the problems will be fading out, and by maturity, they will be free from such problems and success comes their way. If this story is viewed from that perspective, then young children who are exposed to problems will have hope for the future. From the way Cinderella behaves under tough conditions, her emotions have a great impact on many young people (Bettelheim, 1975, p.654).

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Bruno Bettelheim’s analysis of “Cinderella” in his book “The Uses of Enchantment” continues to be influential in understanding the psychological impact of fairy tales on children.

Here are some important points about its relevance today:

  • Psychological Insights: Bettelheim’s interpretation provides deep psychological insights into the themes of sibling rivalry, parental relationships, and personal growth. These themes remain relevant as they address universal human experiences and emotions.
  • Educational Value: Educators and psychologists still reference Bettelheim’s work to highlight the importance of fairy tales in child development. His analysis helps explain how stories like “Cinderella” can aid in emotional and moral development.
  • Cultural Impact: Bettelheim’s work has contributed to the enduring popularity of fairy tales. By emphasizing their therapeutic value, he has helped ensure that these stories continue to be told and adapted for new generations.
  • Modern Adaptations: Contemporary retellings of “Cinderella” often incorporate Bettelheim’s insights, exploring deeper psychological and emotional layers of the characters. This has led to more nuanced and relatable versions of the story.

Bettelheim’s work underscores the timeless nature of fairy tales and their ability to resonate with audiences across different eras. His analysis of “Cinderella” remains a valuable resource for understanding the enduring power of these stories.

This story is very relevant today and has many lessons that can be learned. In agreement, most families depict signs of favor towards some children at the expense of others. For example, those who perform well in school or those who have special talents are favored most. This brings about emotional reaction from those undermined resulting to acute enmity between children of the same family. It is ironical that those who are undermined emerge to be successful at the end. There is a similar incident in the holy books like the Bible where there is a story of Joseph (Bettelheim, 1975, p.653).

To some extent, this essay disagrees with the author in his perception that children should believe that the problems they encounter as they grow up will not follow them to maturity, instead they will be successful. This is because, in any household, there are children with problems and some without. Then a question arises, “What perception do those children without problems have?”  This assumption will not be true to those who fail in life at maturity, but it will remain to be a dream.

In conclusion, the story has got important lesson to be learnt by both children and parents. Parents should learn to treat their children equally, and the suffering siblings should have hope for the bright future. This story is relevant in today’s life as enmity among siblings is at the top gear in most families.

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