The Use of Cinderella Archetypes in Falling Leaves, a Book by Adeline Yen Mah

Topics: Cinderella

Though many fairy tales have been created throughout history, Cinderella is saved in our subconscious by stimulating the sympathy felt over her unjust abuse as well as the theme of the down-and-out girl rising up to become prosperous appeals to the hope found in all situations. The word “cinderella” has, by analogy, come to mean one whose attributes were unrecognized, or who unexpectedly achieves recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect (Zipes 444). Adeline Yen Mah’s use of the following archetypal characters supports the novel’s alternate title of Chinese Cinderella manipulating the subconscious connection to the familiar fairy tale: Adeline, Niang, Adeline’s siblings (Franklin, Susan, James, Lydia), and Aunt Baba.

Adeline, the archetypal cinderella, is the youngest child sired from Joseph Yen’s previous marriage and inadvertently caused the death of her mother due to puerperal fever (Yen Mah 24; Yen Mah). Once Adeline’s mother died, Adeline was shrouded in the thoughts of creating bad luck for her family, causing resentment and hostile feelings.

Joseph Yen pursued Jeanna Prosperi shortly after losing his first wife; subsequent the extravagant wedding, Adeline and her siblings referred to her as Niang. Adeline felt increasing levels of discrimination and hostility as her childhood progressed, including Niang exiling Adeline in Sacred Heart Canossian College (Yen Mah 99).

Adeline, being studious as her means of mentally escaping her abusive environment, entered a playwriting competition and became nominated first-prize winner and was awarded with praise from her father and the chance to escape to college in England to study medicine.

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Adeline prospered with her education, leading her into a successful life and career despite her upbringing heavily influenced by Niang. Niang married Joseph Yen at age seventeen, and immediately maltreated her step- children. Niang, the archetypal “evil stepmother”, believed in her superiority over their Chinese family because of her French influence.While Adeline appears to crave the approval of her father, she senses this is not possible with Niang and wishes to disappear in her presence (Yen Mah).

Adeline, deprived of support from her siblings, received the most neglect and abuse under Niang’s regime; Niang emphasizes this cruelty by making an unnecessary remark following Ye Ye’s funeral that Adeline is becoming “uglier and uglier as [she] grew older and taller” (Yen Mah 213). Before Niang sent Adeline to a private boarding school, Ye Ye explained this decision to Aunt Baba: His daughter has done nothing wrong. But every day her presence is like a thorn in their side: she annoys them by simply being around. They’re sending her away because they want to be rid of her (Yen Mah 86). Adeline’s siblings (Franklin, Susan, James, and Lydia) can be categorized as the archetypal “mean stepsisters”.

Franklin and Susan are the children from the marriage of Joseph (Father) and Niang; however, James and Lydia later became associated with Niang’s tirade. Franklin, Susan, and Lydia are gifted with the ability to sleep on the first floor (Yen Mah 57), resulting in ill feelings towards Lydia. Franklin wielded control in the Yen house, with no sense of filial piety or respect; Lydia was even sighted multiple times begging Franklin for his and Susan’s daily sweets and/or sandwiches (Yen Mah 57). Later in life, James started working for Father and Niang, catering to their every whim. Gregory denies seeing Susan when James asks after her, “no doubt fearing that James might report back to Niang” (Yen Mah 190). Though Aunt Baba is there for comfort and support, Aunt Baba is unable to affect what happens in Adeline’s life (Yen Mah).

Aunt Baba supports the archetype of the fairy godmother because while she equips Adeline for success, she does not remake Adeline or influence anyone’s actions or decisions (Konradlew). By Aunt Baba having no influence, Aunt Baba is an interesting but undynamic character. Aunt Baba put forth great faith in Adeline’s intellectual abilities and praises all over her achievements, preparing Adeline for educational success; however Aunt Baba did not try to deter Niang’s wrath, rather, she went with Ye Ye to ask for work at Grand Aunt’s bank (Yen Mah 75).

By Adeline Yen Mah exploiting the use of Cinderella archetypes in her biography Falling Leaves, Adeline’s novel is referred by the alternate title Chinese Cinderella; a reader can relate Adeline to Cinderella, Niang to the evil stepmother, Adeline’s siblings James, Franklin, Lydia, and Susan as the mean stepsisters, and Aunt Baba to the Fairy Godmother. When the reader relates Adeline’s characters to those emphasized in Cinderella, the reader is automatically making a subconscious relation between their childhood story to that of Adeline Yen Mah.

Works Cited

  1. Konradlew. “Cinderella and Her Familiar Archetypes.” Once Upon a Quill. 19 Jan. n.pag. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
  2. Yen Mah, Adeline. “Adeline Yen Mah.” Adeline Yen Mah. 2013. Falling Leaves Foundation. n. pag. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.
  3. Yen Mah, Adeline. Falling Leaves. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997. Print. Zipes, Jack. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm. W. W. Norton & Co. 444. Print.

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The Use of Cinderella Archetypes in Falling Leaves, a Book by Adeline Yen Mah. (2023, Feb 26). Retrieved from

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