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Dr. Joyce Kinkead on Ma Cinderella
Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

<<<Continued from previous page.    

She has forced people to leave the region and has her people elected to office, but she has also helped neighbors in hard times and broken up the Swamp Valley night riders, a disreputable group.[1]

            The story begins when a group of wealthy, city tourists arrive at a lodge in the Ozarks.  One of the tourists is Diane Carrol, a rich painter who is nevertheless serious about her work and does not join the wild parties of her friends from the city.  Diane is not the focal point of the novel; Wright relies this time on the older Ann Haskel to serve that purpose.  Switching from a young female to a mature female as a central character is the reason for the novel's success.  Ann expects Diane to be just like the remainder of the tourists but gradually believes that she may be different.  Ann has a mean stepson, Jeff Todd, and a son, John Herbert Haskel, whom she sent away to school at an early age and has not seen since.  John, after finishing his education, decides to return to the Ozarks to visit the beautiful mother who has been described to him by his guardian, Judge Shannon, an old family friend.  However, the young man's expectations are dashed when he arrives on a surprise visit and discovers his mother to be crude and uneducated.  After he rejects a law career, the idealistic young man wants to be a poet, but his mother fail to understand and wants him to be more manly.

            Diane discovers that Ann financed John's education by selling moonshine whiskey, but she does not reveal that fact to the moralistic John because she respects Ann's sacrifices for her son.  Diane and John fall in love, but his mother warns Diane to leave the country.  At that time the news of Ann's inheritance of two million dollars arrives, and Ann takes John to live in the city where he will be more comfortable.  When they arrive in the city, Ann is astonished by its size, noise, and conveniences.  In the meantime, Diane, unknown to Ann and her family, has arranged for the Haskels to lease her mansion, when Ann can gradually become accustomed to her wealth.  The summer tourists made Ann the butt of a joke by nicknaming her "Ma Cinderella."  Ann remains in the "dirt" of the Ozarks in order to send her son to school.  The tourists think that John should be ashamed of his uncultured mother (Cinderella, p. 127).  In retaliation for the cruel joke which the summer tourists play on her, she invites them to her home for a party.  The innate nobility in Ann, which Diane believes has always been present, comes out at the party, and Ann outshines her guests.

            After the party, Ann, upon the arrival of a telegram, hurriedly returns to the Ozarks.  Diane, thinking that Ann has found out about her owning the mansion, follows them.  Diane explains her role in the acculturation of the mountain women, who is touched by Diane's concern.  But the woman left the city because she believes she is about to be arrested for falsely accepting the inheritance money.  She is actually John's aunt.  John's mother had died during childbirth.  When John arrives, he clarifies the situation by announcing the money will go directly to him as the sole heir.  Diane's wealth is also disclosed, and the young people marry.

            Under publication, the book was met with good reviews, and many of the critics noted that it was more sophisticated than previous Wright novels:

            In "Ma Cinderella" the author returns to the rugged native health from which sprang those earlier favorites, "The Shepherd of the Hills" and "The Calling of Dan Matthews" [,] and evokes a serene, unhurried, backwoodsy, shrewdly sentimental story.  Mr. Wright has his own way of telling it, and while there are, without doubt, more subtle methods than his, his way is far too adroit to be a happy accident.[2] 

Another review follows in the same vein:

            The admirers of Mr. Wright's novels, while they will find less of a religious twinge in this story than in "The Calling of Dan Matthews," or "The Shepherd of the Hills," will find the glamour and mystery of the mountains, the drama of human nature in the people of the little settlement, and perhaps unintentional cruelty of the "city folks" in ridiculing the mountaineers, the innate nobility of character of Ann Haskel, the love of John Herbert and Diane, and the brutality of Jeff Todd, quite as interesting and perhaps more convincing than the rather sentimental piety of some of Mr. Wright's earlier characters.[3] 

The characters in Ma Cinderella do not tend to be extremes as is often the case in Wright's novels.  The three central characters, Ann, John, and Diane, all have faults and fail to understand differing points of view.  Ann is the strongest character in the novel.  As rules of the Wilderness Point area, she shed much of her femininity in exchange for authority; she even dresses in men's clothes so that she will receive more respect from the men who cater to her.  Tired of relying on a husband to provide for her, she becomes the most successful of the farmers in the community.  She works hard to save her son from the hardships of the backwoods, and she also sacrifices her love for Judge Shannon because of the boy.  When she sees that her son is disappointed in her, she becomes bitter and demands that he change his idealistic ideas and act like a man, or his weakness will damage her image which she has so carefully built.

            When she gains access to the inheritance, she sees her chance to escape from the backwoods and perhaps capture again the affections of the Judge.  Diane describes her as being

            like a rare old painting which has been covered over with dirt and varnish and repainted until its original beauty is almost lost.  Then some one accidentally discovers the real picture beneath all the accumulation of mistreatment, and the original masterpiece is restored. (Cinderella, p. 214) 

The Cinderella motif is carried through to the party which Ann gives at the mansion, her "castle."  As the guests confirm, she looks like a queen (Cinderella, p. 237).  However, Ann later discovers that the backwoods is her "castle."  She cannot stand the confines of the city.

            In contrast to his uneducated but noble mother, John is cultured and educated, but he lacks character.  He is basically good, but he is so overwhelmed with his poetry writing and his idealism that he does not see that he also has to act like a man.  He unintentionally criticizes his mother for her lack of education and manners, but he later sees that she is a good woman, and though she is not his real mother, he accepts her as such and tells her so.  He eventually does have to use physical strength to fight his step-brother, and he wins due to his college football training and boxing experience.  He retains his philosophy of the writer as intellectual and spiritual provider for the reader, but he realizes that education is not a requirement for a fine mind and character.

            Diane is the mediator between mother and son and attempts to make each understand the other's philosophy so that they can enjoy their relationship without criticism of each other.  She accomplishes her goal, also matures, and develops a better understanding of people.  When she first arrives in the Ozarks, she thinks the natives are ignorant and uncultured.  She discovers that while they do not have formal schooling, the people often possess a fine sense of intelligence, humor, wit, and wisdom.  They are a cautious people, wary of outsiders, as Uncle Jimmie Cartwright demonstrates when Diane first meets him (Cinderella, p. 10).  However, once the natives are assured of Diane's good character, they accept her as a friend.

            Diane view many of the natives, especially Ann Haskel, as a variation of the noble savage.  Their innate nobility makes them aristocratic in spite of their lack of education.  The girl realizes that her friends, who have the advantages of wealth and education, are thoughtless and cruel, and they are of lesser quality than the honest natives.  Diane, John, and Ann each gain insight into the multiplicity of human nature and thus become better people because of their intercultural exchange.  Diane comes to see that people fall into the same classes not matter what their background.  John combines the best of two worlds--the sincerity of the backwoods and the intellectual culture of the urban society.


Back to Ma Cinderella


    [1]Harold Bell Wright, Ma Cinderella (New York:  Harper, 1932), pp. 26-27.  Subsequent references to this book will be incorporated into the body of the text as Cinderella and pagination.

    [2]Rev. of Ma Cinderella, by Harold Bell Wright, Books, 11 Sept. 1932, p. 8.

    [3]Rev. of Ma Cinderella, by Harold Bell Wright, Boston Transcript, 15 Oct. 1932, p. 1.

         Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission.  

 

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