Date of Award


Degree Type

Honors College Thesis


English; Library and Information Science

First Advisor

Katherine Cochran, Ph.D.

Advisor Department



Fairy tales are often reduced to nothing more than the moral lesson that can be taught to children. However, when we move past the impulse to search for the simplified moral of the story, we can begin to ascertain the impact of fairy tales on different audiences. This thesis uses both impact theory, which yields a close reading of the textual and cinematic evidence, and reception research, which provides an opportunity to discuss the significance of the material by speculating about the message that readers receive. Under consideration are four variants each of the “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid” fairy tales: one of the original fairy tales, the animated Disney film, a non-Disney live-action film, and a twenty-first century young adult novel. I analyze these eight primary sources through a feminist lens, focusing on agency in the “Cinderella” variants and silence in “The Little Mermaid” variants. Among the results of this thesis were the discoveries that “The Little Mermaid” is overall a more complex story than “Cinderella,” there was usually an improvement in the feminist message over time, and even the most progressive “Cinderella” tales presented child audiences with inadequate role models. Through evaluating these timeless fairy tales, I have gained insights into the kinds of ideas and perspectives that have persisted across history.