Toni Morrison

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What is Toni Morrison’s overall purpose in her speech “Cinderella’s Stepsisters”? How does she use specific language and/or examples to advance and develop this purpose in addressing her audience? In your opinion, does she do this effectively? Why or why not? Cite specific language and/or details from the text as evidence to support your reasoning.

Toni Morrison’s overall purpose in her speech “Cinderella’s Stepsisters” is to convey a sense of urgency for women to acknowledge their privilege in society and help others. She uses Cinderella as an example, explaining how alarmed she feels by the stepsisters who participated in their mother’s cruel enslavement of another woman. Morrison explains that women who have power in society should take action for the greater good, because “the function of freedom is to free somebody else.”

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In her 1979 commencement address, “Cinderella’s Stepsisters,” given at Barnard College, Toni Morrison urges women to support each other and use their power to help other women advance in society, rather than contribute to oppression. She exemplifies this by recounting the classic fairytale of Cinderella, drawing her audience’s attention to the uncomfortable fact that the stepsisters in this story were participants in their mother’s cruelty to Cinderella.

Morrison points out that in the original story, Cinderella’s stepsisters were described as beautiful and desirable. She wonders “how crippling it must have been” for these privileged sisters to have grown up watching their mother enslave another woman not unlike themselves, and how this might affect their future behavior in relation to other people. In doing so, she purposefully creates a parallel to the group she is addressing.

Regardless of their background, the women of Barnard have earned a certain level of prestige by the mere fact that they are college graduates, which grants them power in society. They will at some point in their career “decide who shall flourish and who shall wither,” and Morrison insists that they actively choose to care for others by helping other women flourish.

She explains that when one woman harms another, there is yet another woman who must help the victim. This effectively demonstrates the notion that all women, all people, are interconnected. Therefore, our personal safety and liberty should not be valued above anyone else’s. Morrison demands that women nurture the success of others alongside their own ambition.

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