Fundamental ideals of western civilization

film “Pretty Woman” is, in many ways, a modern day Cinderella story (Kelly 1994). To begin with, the major premise of both stories is that a woman of extremely low social standing succeeds in joining with a man of power and wealth. Additionally, both tales involve an element of deception: the females are forced to pretend to be something they are not. Also, both women are rescued from their poverty and lowly position by something akin to the stereotypical knight on a white horse. Ultimately, upon recognizing the true identities and social standing of their women, both Prince Charming and Richard Lewis embrace their new relationships in the name of love and in the face of tradition. In a number of ways, the values and stereotypes that have helped the story of Cinderella to be so popular among young women for centuries have carried over into the modern age, and continue in “Pretty Woman.”

However, slightly more modern films like “Bridget Jones’ Diary” represent a quasi-anti-Cinderella figure, contrasting the classical ideals that still carry some sway today. Bridget is utterly unsuccessful in incorporating herself into the levels of high society that she desires. Yet, this character cannot be confused with a truly iconoclastic viewpoint of the Cinderella story; Bridget still manages to win her prince in the end, just as Vivian and Cinderella win their men. The underlying message of all these tales remains the same: women can get the man they want if they are willing to embrace who they truly are. It is unclear as to whether this concept is detrimental or beneficial to the mindsets of young women, but one thing is certain — it is undoubtedly unrealistic. All three stories are idealistic and fairytale like; they reflect the moral values from the times in which they were born.

The princess is a fairytale staple and even in the world’s republics, she continues to be re-drawn. She has remained a relevant anachronism over centuries, through revolutions, wars and globalization. Some have sought to reveal her beauty as stereotype, her good-nature as submissiveness, but still she prevails. 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 princesses,” and, although she was born into the paternal world of Walt Disney, she is, especially in the latter decades, putting her own stamp on the kingdom.

Essentially, the stereotype of the princess waiting to be saved has survived though the ages. Although the social values and constructs that made “Cinderella” initially a plausible and remarkable story have long since deteriorated, the core structure has been maintained. Namely, two principles are to be held above all others. First, the final goal of female life should be to find and marry a man who is best positioned to provide for her monetarily and in a social setting (Kolbenschlag 1979). And second, this man should fall in irreversible love with this woman if she remains true to her own identity and morals.

Although the film “Bridget Jones’ Diary” clearly aims to refute a number of the traditional images of the proper bride, just as many of these images are maintained and reinforced. Bridget, doubtlessly, has trouble fitting into the mold of the proper woman that society has established for her. Simply put, she is too fat, she lacks a proper sense of style, and she lacks tact. These stand as major barriers to her hopes for marriage. However, in this more modern interpretation, these no longer preclude her from reaching her dreams. Unlike the “Ugly Stepsisters” of Cinderella, Bridget is not blockaded from love because of her physical appearance: her inner personal charm can make up for any physical deficiencies. This is, surely, a deviation from the original concept of the Cinderella fairytale. Yet, it appears that only the historic valuing of beauty and purity have been replaced by more modern values of inner beauty and humor. Bridget is the most modern form of Cinderella, only her goals are different and her attributes as a marriageable female have been augmented to fit into the politically correct nature of early twenty-first century American society.

Taking a step back one decade we find another extremely popular film among young women: “Pretty Woman.” Vivian, in this film, finds herself in a more modern situation than Cinderella, but her goals remain analogous (Kelly 1994). Vivian is a prostitute. In other words, her hopes of actually meeting and marrying a man in the position of Richard Lewis are approximately zero. She is in the lowliest social position imaginable; yet, the film contrives a situation in which she gradually falls in love with a wealthy businessman, who eventually is able to return this love.

“Pretty Woman,” does deviate from the traditional viewpoint of the fairytale in a number of ways. First, at no point in the relationship between Vivian and Richard is their any deception. Vivian is not forced to pretend to be a wealthy noble as Cinderella is, nor does she utilize any devious methods to obtain her prince. Additionally, Vivian is not merely poor — as Cinderella was — but she is also a prostitute. This stands as the primary update of the ancient Cinderella template that “Pretty Woman” has to offer (Kelly 1994). Doubtlessly, the society that contrived the tale of Cinderella would have abhorred the practice of prostitution and thought such notions scandalous. By making Vivian a prostitute, the writers of “Pretty Woman” are able to update the tale — thus, recognizing the reality of prostitution — and maintain the conventional dogmas regarding the social position of the woman. Specifically, it is the man who must bend himself and his surroundings to accommodate the ill-repute of the woman he has found.

“Cinderella” is, of course, the story of a poor girl whose wish is granted to become a princess for a single night. On this magical night she meets Prince Charming and falls instantly in love (Kolbenschlag 1979). The prince also falls in love but is unsure of his woman’s identity. At the time of its inception, “Cinderella” was very much a significant statement. Prince Charming does, after all, choose love over tradition. Yet, it remains only significant from the male’s standpoint. Naturally, it is expected that Cinderella accept her prince’s hand in marriage. How could she refuse? Prince Charming is the one forced to make a sacrifice; he is the one who slaps traditional, arranged marriages in the face; he is the one who chooses love over social standing (Kolbenschlag 1979).

Unfortunately, these are the same choices that Richard Lewis grapples with years later in “Pretty Woman.” The status of our modern Cinderella has fallen — she is not only poor, she is also a prostitute — but the moral status of the upper classes has also been degenerated by this time. So, it is only appropriate that Vivian be a hooker, because the moral fabric of America demands something more shocking than simply a poor girlfriend. Again, “Pretty Woman” reveals itself to be little more than the tale of Cinderella retold in a more modern age (Kelly 1994).

As aforementioned, the vital goal for Bridget, Vivian, and Cinderella is marriage. But there are many steps to achieve this goal. Cinderella is forced to deceive her would-be husband; Vivian is forced to play the role of the girlfriend; and Bridget attempts to play the role of the hip, stylish, twenty-first century female. All of these activities are utterly appropriate considering the women’s social position and ambitions. To some extent, each woman toys with presenting herself as something she is not. Cinderella lies to her prince; Vivian lies to her man’s acquaintances; and Bridget lies to herself more than anyone else.

Although the objects upon which their farce is played out upon varies, the manner by which they attempt to play the role of a marriageable woman does not. Vivian, Cinderella, and Bridget all alter the ways they dress and the ways they behave in public to make themselves more appropriate suitors for their men. Their successes differ as much by degree as they do by form, but again, the fundamental principles remain the same: the underprivileged princess must undergo a transformation to become worthy of her sought-after prince.

The final theme that plays itself out in all three of these films is the moment of choice for the male. Perhaps this is more a consequence of the formulaic “chick flick” than the fairy tale, but it can be seen in both. Generally, upon discovering the “truth” of either his woman’s identity or her social standing, the male must decide whether to embrace his new relationship or adhere to tradition. Naturally, in keeping with the quality that transcends all time periods in western storytelling, love conquers all. Mainstream ways of behaving are trashed in the name of love. The appeal of this message cannot be denied, but appeal fails to directly imply truth, meaning, or insight.

The fairytale “Cinderella” has managed to carry over from its uncertain origins in the late Middle Ages to the traditional translation seen in the 1950 film, to the ever more modern interpretations seen in “Pretty Woman” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Although each film exhibits unique qualities, the fundamental morals and ideals of western civilization permeate them all.


1. Bridget Jones’ Diary. Feature Film. Miramax, 2001. 98 min

2. Cinderella. Feature Film. Disney, 1950. 90 min.

3. Kelly, Karol. “Pretty Woman: A Modern Cinderella.” Fairytales: A Closer Look at Cinderella, 2004.

4. Kolbenschlag, Madonna. “A Feminist View of Cinderella.” Fairytales: A Closer Look at Cinderella, 1979.

5. Pretty Woman. Feature Film. Touchstone, 1990. 119 min.

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