The Rough-Face Girl

10May10

By Rafe Martin
Illustrated by David Shannon

The Rough-Face Girl is an Algonquin Indian Cinderella story told by Rafe Martin. In the story, we learn of a girl who’s appearance has been maimed the ashes and embers from forcibly tending the fire.  In this Cinderella version, instead of a Prince Charming all of the girls of the village want to marry the one called the Invisible Being. According to the Invisible Being’s sister and keeper, “Only the one who can see him can marry him.” As predictable, the Rough Face girl’s ill-hearted sisters attempt to win over the Invisible Being through their false outer beauty, and are one-upped by their kind-hearted, less well-clad slave of a sister.

Martin’s use of figurative language brings his descriptions to life: “At last she came to the lakeshore just as the sun was sinking behind the hills and the many stars came glittering out like a fiery veil in the darkening sky overhead.” I like this use of figurative language to personify the environment, particularly in telling a Native American tale with themes related to seeking such beauty in nature.

Shannon’s illustrations do much to capture the mysticism of a traditional tale. The depictions are realistic, yet removed from reality as the people appear almost as if they are sculpted out of earthy clay. The realism is achieved through the expert use of texture to add visual interest and depth. Shannon maintains an Earthy palette, reinforcing the theme of a connectedness to the environment. On the cover, see are first presented with a striking young Native American girl adorned in tattered clothing, whose bandaged hands are covering her eyes lest one peeping out between her fingers.

This critical review http://www.kstrom.net/isk/books/children/ch57.html of The Rough Face girl challenges some of the authenticity of the story and the cultural framework. The reviewer mentions that the in the original tale, the girl is experiencing more overt child abuse with no one to advocate on her behalf. To Martin’s defense, in the author’s note he admits that the actual tale is “part of a longer and more complex traditional tale.” In addition, Martin’s interpretation of the tale may be intentionally watered down from some of the darker details and theme in spirit of age appropriateness for a children’s book.   For example, many interpretations of the original tale imply that the “victimized little girl may be escaping her miserable life into death” via the Invisible Being. This type of watered down, Disney-tastic happily-ever-after ending presented by Martin is a common occurrence in the modern retelling of traditional tales, and begs the questions of censorship and of attempts to shield children today from many of the realities of life.
The version of Cinderella as presented really provoked me to think critically about the underlying suggestion of the Cinderella tales as indoctrinating young women to believe that their lives are only complete when a man makes you his wife and you magically get your own happily-ever-after. The turning point for all Cinderellas in their rags-to-riches tales occurs when the man takes them in and makes them a princess or a well-to-do lady. This suggests that women are only validated through their relationships with men.  I would love to see a version of a Miss Independent Cinderella who overcomes the adversity of her difficult situation and finds her own path to success.  I might just have to make one of those!

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