It is not possible to define strength in a universal way. In its purest form, strength is an individual characteristic. Others may define strength as staying true and not bending to another’s will. While others see it as doing what is right and moving forward with dignity and grace, some people view it as being strong. Although the struggle to see women as independent, strong beings has been ongoing since time began, it has only recently begun to change. Vivian and Danielle both bring a modernist twist to the Cinderella story. Vivian from Pretty Woman portrays a younger Cinderella by her self-confidence and independence.
Ever After features Danielle de Barbarac as Cinderella. Danielle’s mom dies as a young child. Her stepfather died soon after she introduced her stepmother to her stepsisters. This leaves her orphaned, with her “wicked”, stepmother. As she gets older, she accepts her position as lower than her stepsisters Jacqueline and Marguerite. She loses her title and is now a scullery girl. She has been beaten by Prince Henry, the French heir to France’s throne, on more than one occasion. She panics when he asks her her identity and tells him the name her mother, a noble woman. She hides her average social status throughout their romance journey. Danielle’s stepmother forces her to reveal her true identity at a lavish ball held in Prince Henry’s royal gardens. She is humiliated when Prince Henry rejects her before the whole kingdom. Prince Henry eventually finds his strength and runs to save the maiden. They make a heartfelt apology and find their “happy ever after”. Vivian is a prostitute who meets Edward Lewis. They spend a week in Lewis’ hotel suite, and it is a twist of destiny. Vivian is a tour guide and explores Edward’s luxurious life. While she may not be as well dressed or polished as Edward, there are some things to admire about her willingness to learn from Edward. She learns how to be sophisticated and modern while remaining true to her own self. Vivian leaves Hollywood and returns to Hollywood, where Edward watches. Edward sees her leave and is not able to bear the thought of her leaving. Vivian and Edward find their “happy ever after” in their own ways, each accepting the other as they are. True acceptance lies at the end each story. However, the paths they choose are quite different. Madonna Kolbenschlag writes that Cinderella wants to be “chosen” for her natural state rather than due to magic. (Kolbenschlag 537). This was not the case with Disney’s character. Prince Charming did eventually discover who she was. But she didn’t directly tell him. This implied some shame. Vivian is not afraid to be herself. She is who she really is when she meets Edward for the first time. Vivian is steadfast in her character while trying Edward’s lifestyle. She becomes used to Edward’s lifestyle, but she can always return to her own way.
Prince Henry recognizes Danielle, her mother, as Danielle. They are noble heirs. Danielle is revealed to her true self only at the very end. She finds her way to the Prince’s feet feeling like she belongs at its bottom. Both Disney’s Cinderella and Danielle feel the same guilt about their pasts, while Vivian is open to accepting herself as she is. This is where the differences in strength lie between the women. Vivian is honest about her identity and Danielle deceives Prince Henry by making it seem like she’s hiding something. Independence has been a key factor in how women have perceived strength throughout history. Vivian portrays independence more strongly than Danielle, who shows an independent spirit by saving her trouble. Pretty Woman is Edward and Vivian’s argument. Vivian said that she had “never felt more comfortable” (Pretty Woman). Vivian packed all her belongings and ran to the door. Edward was not pleased. She realized that her worth was greater than her salary. Edward also saw that Edward didn’t need her money to survive. He didn’t care if he treated her poorly. He was degraded by her actions, which she compared to being a prostitute.
Jane Yolen, author children’s book author, describes the distinction between Danielle and Vivian saying that “[Cinderella] was a sorry excuse of a heroine. Pitiable and useless.” (Yolen 544). Danielle could’ve asserted her independence more strongly than the ways she did. Although she made valiant attempts to achieve independence, her upbringing ended up stifling her attempts. Danielle escapes Monsieur Le Pieu’s clutches and storms into his castle triumphantly to find Prince Henry, who has come to her rescue. In mocking tones, she asks “You have come and rescue me?” Danielle feels weak and confused after her sincere apology. She also finds her independence slipping into chaos. Emotions are the greatest weakness in Disney’s “Cinderella.” Her animal friends are her support system. She is optimistic, not realistic. Vivian’s strong character shines through in the scene when Edward kisses her on the lips. Kit, her roommate and spokesman, cautions against touching the lips due to emotional attachment. This is however one of Vivian’s most powerful moments. Vivian makes Edward vulnerable by opening herself up to him, but she also strengthens herself by allowing Edward in. She is effectively taking over, giving Edward power to kill her and receiving power to end Edward’s life. Danielle, unlike Vivian never has this chance. Her emotions are often dependent on her environment. Danielle gets upset with her stepmother in the last scene because she has never loved her child. Danielle breaks down in tears, “You have been the best mother I’ve ever known.” Did you ever love me, even for the smallest of moments? (Ever After). Bruno Bettelheim is an expert on sibling rivalry and writes that “the child fears that…he is thought of very little by his parents or feels rejected” (Bettelheim, 280). Danielle was more affected by her stepmother’s inborn love for her daughters than Danielle. Her strength is her ability to control her emotions. You must be able to control what can be controlled in order to succeed in her vulnerable position.
Strength is not a subject that can be easily defined. It has too many aspects and cannot be discussed in a single sentence. It is complex and independent, so it would be wrong to limit its scope to one description. Vivian and Danielle, both of Pretty Woman, have strong, modern Cinderellas. Vivian, however, is a more modern icon than Danielle because of her intricate character.