Cinderella Circumstances

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from Cinderella Situation)
Just one event in A Series of Unfortunate Events.

"What is this obsession with telling the Cinderella story over and over and over?"

Similar to Riches to Rags, this trope may come into play when a rich child's single parent marries someone secretly cruel/mean who acts sweet and nice around the father and two-faced/terrible around their new child. If the stepparent has children of their own, expect the children to have a similar personality; the child may lose their parents or be abandoned by them and sent to a Orphanage of Fear. Worst still, the poor child may have been born into such circumstances where she is forced to work for her keep.

In other words, the formerly well-to-do child is reduced to a lower state in life (they may be put into the position of a servant for their new stepmother and stepsisters) though he or she may not have been all that well-to-do to begin with.

See also Guess Who I'm Marrying. Rags to Royalty may ensue.

Changeling Fantasy is a more upbeat variation of the concept in which the child imagines themselves to be a Foundling of Royal Blood instead of an unappreciated stepchild. Not to be confused with Changeling Tale, in which the child is treated differently due to abduction by The Fair Folk. See also Evil Uncle. Not quite the same thing as Rags to Riches.

Contrast "The Frog Prince" and related stories where the heroine must learn to live with an animal.

For other tropes associated with "Cinderella", see When the Clock Strikes Twelve, True Love's Kiss. See also Scullery Maid.

Examples of Cinderella Circumstances include:

Anime and Manga

  • Candy Candy: At age 12, Candy is "adopted" by the Leagan family to be a companion to Eliza and later ends up as a maid. The children, Eliza and Neal, tease her and order her about, and their mother isn't any nicer.
  • In The Familiar of Zero, once Saito becomes Louise's familiar his new life consists of waiting on Louise practically both day and night. This includes washing her laundry and helping her get dressed, among other things. Louise eventually mellows out, more or less, later on.
  • Victorian Romance Emma: Emma was born in a seaside village where she was given tough jobs and regularly physically and verbally abused. Luckily, she gained a better life after Kelly Stowner took her under her wing and trained her to be a maid.
  • In Honey Hunt, if the maid is not at home, Yura is often made to wait on her mother and her clients when she comes home after being away at work for so long. Sometimes her mother is even gone for months at a time.
  • In one story in Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo, a young woman who was formerly a hostess from the Philippines ends up Happily Married to a much older man and has a child with him. For some time, she and her son enjoy a life of blissful luxury, until her husband has a stroke and is unable to remember any of his family or care for himself. His other children (who are all as old as the woman is) nearly turn her and her son out, but ultimately keep her as a servant, while considering her child to be inferior because of his mixed nationality. Even when offered a chance to leave though, the woman refuses to abandon her husband. In the end, her husband dies and leaves a note in his will that his dementia was faked and, impressed by the woman's devotion to him, he leaves her one half of his vast estate, with the other half to be divided amongst his other squabbling children.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia: Chibitalia is made to be a servant while living at Austria's house.

Comic Books

  • Billy Batson (and his sister, Mary) who would grow up to become Captain Marvel, belonged to a wealthy family but lost his fortune after his parents died and he was sent to an orphanage by his evil Uncle Ebenezer, who actually made a Deal with the Devil to keep his fortune. Despite this, Billy still saves his soul from Satan.
  • Usagi Yojimbo: Kitsune's backstory. After her mom who really ran the family business died, her "jellyfish" of a father married a mean and shrewish woman (note: not an actual shrew) who spent all their money and eventually convinced him to sell their daughter to an inn.


  • Jane Eyre's life with her aunt and two snobby cousins wasn't very pleasant but then again, the boarding school she later went to turned out to be no trip to the beach either. But with the fact that she is actually a wealthy heiress and that she gets her happy ending, the trope fits better.
  • James and the Giant Peach: After an escaped rhino eats James parents, James goes to live with his two cruel aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker who play this trope to its hilt.
  • In The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee, this is pretty much Claidi's life before she meets Nemain and escapes with him.
  • The Baudelaire siblings. They are sent from one Illegal Guardian and useless caretaker to the next, after their parents die in a fire, and their first guardian, Count Olaf, was pretty much the worst of them. It's revealed that he didn't care about them at all and merely wanted their fortune and was trying to kill them to get it. As such, he makes his hatred and hostility towards them quite clear during their time with him. He makes them sleep in one sparsely decorated bedroom together, with a uncomfortable bed, and no crib for Sunny. Also, he usually leaves them a long list of difficult and tedious chores to do, while he's out for the day. He also abuses them.
    • In the tenth book, "The Slippery Slope", Sunny resides with Count Olaf and his henchmen on top of a snowy mountain after being captured by them. She ends up becoming a servant for the whole group, including cooking meals in freezing temperatures, doing the washing/cleaning, setting and clearing tables, and sleeping in a casserole dish.
      • Don't forget getting chips out of the car by blowing them out.
  • The Fairy Godmother, the first of Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, starts out this way. Subverted in that the ambient magic in the land (The Tradition) wants Elena to go to a ball and marry the prince, but the prince is only 11 years old. (Part of the humor and drama of the series is that any number of girls in any given kingdom may be living in Cinderella circumstances, but not all of them can marry a prince.)
  • Similarly, Lackey's Phoenix and Ashes from her Elemental Masters series has protagonist Eleanor magically bound her to the house so her stepmother can treat her as a slave and use her family fortune.
  • Chiyo from Memoirs of a Geisha is sold into a life of servitude at a young age and works for the proprietress of geisha house before she is trained to become a Geisha under Mameha.
  • Harry Potter, before he gets sent off to Hogwarts, and even later on his Uncle Dursley never does stop treating him like crap.
    • Lampshaded in Half-Blood Prince, though, when Dumbledore visits Privet Drive and spells out to them what terrible guardians they have been.
    • Then his cousin Dudley reveals he doesn't think Harry is "worthless" at all! The events of the fifth book helped.
  • Ella Enchanted: It's basically a retelling of "Cinderella" in which Ella's stepmother becomes angry at her for living in her house like a lady when she is actually poor, so when Ella's father Sir Peter is away on business, she turns Ella into a servant.
  • In A Little Princess, Sara is packed off to a boarding school for formal education. However, after a few years, word comes that her beloved father is dead, and that his fortune is lost. Since Sara can no longer pay for her education, Miss Minchin, the cruel owner of the boarding school, dismisses Sara's maid, confiscates her possessions (except for her doll Emily), moves her into a drafty attic room, and forces Sara to work as a servant. In addition to that, former fellow students like Lavinia start to treat her like she's less than trash.
  • In Anne of Green Gables, Anne lived with a few stern, bossy foster parents before she moved in with the kinder Marilla and Matthew.
    • Stern, bossy foster parents who also, among other things, were alcoholics and had her care for six children. And Anne does her best to downplay how bad it was.
  • The Bride in The Song of Songs justifies her dark complexion with this:

Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,
because the sun has burned me.
My brothers have been angry with me;
they charged me with the care of the vineyards:
my own vineyard I have not cared for.

She had worked ever since she could remember. Never in her life had she gotten to school before noon on Monday, because of the large washings. After the other work was finished she had spent nights and mornings ironing, when she longed to study, seldom finishing before Saturday. Summer brought an endless round of harvesting, canning, drying; winter brought butchering, heaps of sewing, and postponed summer work


Fairy Tale

Live Action TV

  • The Tales from the Crypt episode "Fitting Punishment" is based around a homeless, orphaned teenager being sent to live with his Evil Uncle. The uncle uses the boy as slave labour in his mortuary, verbally and physically abuses him, cripples him during a beating and then murders him because the boy is costing too much money to keep. Eventually the boy returns as a zombie and kills his uncle.
  • The Korean Series Shining Inheritance has the female lead kicked out of her home along with her autistic brother by her stepmother after her father apparently dies in a gas explosion.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • The Pound Puppies has Holly, an orphan, who is constantly abused/exploited by her stepmother and stepsister. By the end of the first season, it was implied she inherited their house, and lived happily ever after. Then came the second season...
  • In Tom and Jerry The Movie, Robin is being raised by her Evil Aunt while her father's away in Tibet. Said Aunt verbally abuses her (she refuses to call her by name, simply calling her "Orphan," and yes, to her face), threw her mother's locket out the window, and is generally only looking after her so she can have access to the fortune Robin is entitled to. It's also implied she locks Robin in her room, and despite the huge amounts of food shown in the kitchen at one point, Robin is never given any.