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The Princess Story

Modeling the Feminine in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film


Sarah Rothschild

What is a princess story? In this subgenre, newly defined in The Princess Story, the protagonist either is a princess or is attempting to become one: the girl transforms into or identifies herself as a princess through marriage or through discovered identity, or both. Princess lessons often accompany this transformation, lessons that not only educate the fictional girl but also the reader.
Cultural expectations and anxieties about the roles of girls and women are transmitted through princess stories, and the dialogic nature of feminism and patriarchy, forces for progress and forces for tradition, can be explored through their study. In this book, feminism and progress are embodied by the first, second, and third wave of feminist princess stories; patriarchy and tradition are represented by Disney Studios’ princess stories. All of these stories influenced their readers, some of whom grew up to write their own princess stories, stories that reflected and – they hoped – furthered their ideological goals. Princess stories of the early 2000s are compelling in that they tensely balance romance and feminist assumptions.
Anyone interested in folklore studies, feminist studies, children’s literature, Disney studies, film adaptations, psychology, sociology, or theories of child development will find The Princess Story: Modeling the Feminine in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film essential reading. When contemplating the changes made by feminists to American culture, no one figure is as worth examining as the fictional princess, and no book has yet approached the topic as thoroughly as this one.


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Chapter Two: Disney’s First Princess Stories 53


™ CHAPTER TWO ™ Disney’s First Princess Stories THE DISNEY-PRODUCED FILMS of the various princess stories have definitively codified the stories for millions of Americans; the values reflected in and reinforced by the Disney versions both reflect the changing American culture and construct it. When feminists deride princesses as weak and passive, imposing an archaic image of femininity on the girls who love them, they are referring to the Disney princesses discussed in this chapter. The Disney versions of these princess stories not only co-opted their particu- lar stories—Snow White or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty—they have, for many, co-opted the entire idea of princesses. As Jack Zipes writes, Walt Disney cast a spell on the fairy tale, and it has been held captive ever since….His technical skills and ideological proclivities were so consummate that his signature has obfuscated the names of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Collodi. If children or adults think of the great classical fairy tales today, be it Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella, they will think of Walt Disney. (“Fairy Tale” 72) Put another way, “one of the most prolific authors of the princess today is the Disney organization which produces her in animation, theme parks, on the stage and in merchandise. Combined with Disney’s popular and global profile, this makes the Disney princess in effect ‘the princess of all prin- cesses’” (Rozario 1). Despite being created after the first wave of feminism, these Disney princesses present a retrograde image of...

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