An evil stepmother, two wicked stepsisters… a kind girl whisked away by the handsome prince. Once upon a time and happily ever after. Can't be wrapped up neatly into 4 pages. More complex plots, still lead to that same happy ending. Higgins, Mama Elena, and the stepmother all serve as obstacles between their respective lead heroines and happiness. Transform to overcome Each lead heroine battles her tyrant in a different way, but ultimately all three women overcome the obstacle and secure their happiness. Cinderella, Eliza, and Tita all face different dilemmas. Cinderella's problem is her unhappiness under the rule of her strict and demanding stepmother.
After reading Shaw's ambiguous ending to Pygmalion, most readers fantasize about the union of Professor Higgins and Eliza. But far from being Eliza's "Prince Charming," Higgins embodies all the characteristics of the evil mother figure in older versions of the Cinderella story and in the more recent novel, Like Water for Chocolate. The way he underestimates Eliza, the way he prevents her from finding happiness, and the way he takes advantage of her status makes him much more comparable to Tita's oppressive Mama Elena and Cinderella's evil stepmother than to Cinderella's charming prince. Higgins' treatment of Eliza keeps her mentally oppressed in a nearly insurmountable inferior status. Eliza will always just "be a flower girl to Professor Higgins. (Shaw, Act V)" He underestimates her strength, and is convinced that, alone, she would "relapse into the gutter.(Shaw, Act V) " He takes Eliza for granted, expecting her to fulfill his goals for her yet never acknowledging her achievements; never stopping "to thank her, or pet her, or admire her, or tell her how splendid she'd been, (Act V)." . What makes Eliza's struggle particularly convoluted is the fact that Higgins also serves as a romantic figure for her. Eliza could potentially live happy with Higgins if he were willing to change, but the obstinate Higgins makes it impossible for Eliza to continue loving him. He refuses to abandon his ways and make Eliza happy, yet tries to stop her from finding happiness elsewhere with Freddy, a suitor who actually loves and adores her.
Similarly, Mama Elena refuses to abandon her ways and traditions. After suffering through her own "frustrated love (Esquivel, p.138)" the spiteful Mama Elena will not allow Tita to find happiness with Pedro. Like the prototypical fairy tale evil stepmother, Mama Elena demands complete obedience from Tita and will not excuse "questioning [of] parental authority. (p. 125)" Mama prevents Tita from expressing many of her feelings, and this forbidden expression accumulates until Tita is "literally 'like water for chocolate'- she [is] on the verge of boiling over. (p. 151)" Tita battles with a multitude of both internal and external conflicts; her situation involves many more people and obstacles and much more passion and turmoil than in Pygmalion or Cinderella. Society's norms and traditions, not just Mama Elena, thwart her attempts at happiness with Pedro. Tita is torn between indulging in her feelings for Pedro and behaving "like a good woman, or a decent one at least. (Esquivel, p. 199)" The threat of "society's disapproval (p.198)" keeps her from breaking all traditions and running off with Pedro. Eventually Tita must decide whether or not to desert all hope of being with her true love - the unavailable Pedro - and follow the socially acceptable route by marrying Dr. Brown, "who [is] always at her side supporting her without reservation. (p. 138)" While choosing between these lines of passion and reason, Tita has to consider the feelings of others - she is reluctant to hurt John, Pedro, or Rosaura, yet she also yearns for her own happiness.
Both Eliza and Tita will only be happy after gaining self-respect and control over their situations. To do this, the two women must undergo major transformations. The catalyst for change is the same in both stories; a fear of
freedom is what finally forces both Eliza and Tita to reevaluate themselves and their lives and gives them the courage to forge a route to happiness. Eliza's freedom comes once she is about to be released from Higgins' experiment. When first confronted by this sudden liberation, Eliza is frightened by her uncertain future. She soon comes to realize that she can no longer put up with Higgins' abusive nature because "every girl has a right to be loved. (Shaw, Act V)" She confronts Higgins by calmly and resolutely announcing that she will no longer "be passed over (Act V)" by Higgins… she will marry Freddy instead. This decision solidifies Eliza's independence; she shows she can now "do without [Higgins]. (Act V)" Even Higgins himself is taken aback by this newfound courage, admitting that Eliza has become, "a tower of strength: a consort battleship. (Act V)." For Eliza, showing restraint over her emotions allows her to assert control over Higgins. On the contrary, Tita finds that her route to self-respect and control lies in releasing her pent-up emotions, especially her feelings toward Mama Elena. By confronting her mother with shouts of "I won't put up with you" and "I've always hated you! (p.199)" Tita finally rids herself of her mother's tight control and finds relief. At first, Tita is overwhelmed by her sudden autonomy. Gradually, she gains confidence and learns that she is a "person who has a perfect right to live her life as she pleases, (Esquivel, p. 199)" and recognizing this is Tita's first step to independence and happiness. Both Eliza and Tita proactively face their demons by standing up to the ones who once oppressed them - unlike most Cinderella tales in which the heroine only passively and indirectly defeats her stepmother by winning a suitor over her stepsisters. Their courageous acts allow them to regain their dignity and achieve their happiness.
The conclusions in all three stories are well suited to the emotional context of the conflicts they resolve. Cinderella often has a vague "happily-ever-after" ending that fits in with Cinderella's own passive nature. Pygmalion, a story that advocates the stable temperament, appropriately ends (in the author's afterword) with Eliza choosing the more comforting, stable route. Like Water for Chocolate, a novel emphasizing the merits of emotions, ends very passionately with Pedro and Tita being consumed with the flames of their passion for each other. The heroines' approach to achieving happiness correlates with the stories' outcomes.
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