The fairy tale components we see in Francis Hodgson Burnette’s A Little Princess come from Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth, or hero journey. Sara Crewe goes through all three stages of the hero journey: the initiation, the separation, and the return. Of the fairy tales, A Little Princess also most resembles the Cinderella stories.
In the initiation section of the story, Sara is left by her father at a boarding school in London, as he goes back to India to attend to his affairs. While the boarding school itself is a new world for Sara, it serves the function of the “Old World” or natural world. Sara becomes accustomed to living with these girls, some of whom adore her, others of who abhor her. She is the princess of the school—one who is in the favor of the headmistress who doesn’t actually like the girl.
This corresponds to the Cinderella portion of the story where she is still in her father’s favor, not having been made into a servant. Even though the stepmother character dislikes the protagonist, she treats her as she would someone she wants something from.
The separation occurs when Miss Minchin and co. find out that Sara’s father has died. At this point, Sara sets sail from the old world of being in the favor of Miss Minchin to the new world (or supernatural world) of a scullery maid. The fact that the old and new worlds are in the same physical location is possible because there is a change in circumstance. Sara is made to run errands in the worst weather, and treated badly by all of the other workers in the seminary. In the new world, the hero often meets people who will be both friends and enemies. Sara and Becky draw themselves even closer together in Sara’s adversity. Additionally, Sara finds out that there are some people who like her regardless of her status; those people who Sara believed turned to enemies actually remained friends.
Sara’s move to the New World is similar to the part of the Cinderella story we are most familiar with—the ill treatment of a young girl who has done nothing to deserve such abuse. Like Cinderella, because of her change in status, Sara becomes a slave to people of a higher social class.
The discovery of Sara’s identity by her father’s business partner marks the beginning of Sara’s return to the Old World. The prize that the returns from the New World with is a renewed sense of compassion for people less fortunate than she and a desire to do something about it more than giving a hungry girl five muffins.
Burnett, F. (2008). A Little Princess. New York: Puffin Classics.
Dean, C. (2008). The secret language of stories: beyond story grammar. Retrieved on June 23, 2009 from http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:-u7lNmUBThIJ:nmla.org/docs/conference/secret_language.pdf+carolee+dean+secret+language+of+stories&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a.
Smith, C. (2009). What is a fairytale/folktale. Retrieved on June 23, 2009 from https://salsa.nmsu.edu/SCRIPT/carmens01_SU/scripts/serve_home