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Ann Beattie’s The Cinderella Waltz is a fascinating short story that explores a divorce between a couple in which one partner has gone off with his homosexual lover and Louise, a nine-year old girl who seems to be more adult than most kids her age. By applying psychoanalytic criticism to this story, The Cinderella Waltz becomes an interesting investigative piece of literature that is rich in a variety of possible meanings behind it.
The situation of the characters in The Cinderella Waltz are rather peculiar, mainly because of the relationships between the narrator, her ex-husband Milo; Bradley, her ex-husband’s boyfriend/lover; and Louise, their daughter. Normally, one would find it rather distasteful that their partner has gone off with a different lover, especially if it’s a homosexual lover; however, that is not the case with the narrator. Although she was initially crestfallen by Milo’s choice and understandably behaved irrationally afterwards, she never once took away Milo’s right to be Louise’s father. One could infer she was doing that because of Louise, however, it can also be interpreted that the narrator’s feelings for Milo have not changed, and, despite everything, she’s trying to find the good in the man she used to love. This could also be due to her maternal instincts, and that no matter what, she didn’t want Louise to grow up without her dad.
The narrator seemed to be so blinded by love for Milo that she pretended to be a “happy suburban housewife” and unconscionably let the problem within their marriage drag on, which eventually led to their divorce. Her decision to ignore the problem did more harm than good, as doing so was a form of cognitive and emotional mechanism to shield herself from the painful and unavoidable truth: that her husband loved a different man. Perhaps it was because of her love for him that she ultimately gave him up to Bradley – she could’ve very well disagreed to the divorce and keep Milo around, but it was this form of sacrificial love that lets the readers know how deep and true the narrator’s love for both Milo and Louise are that she gave him up, even if it broke her heart to do so. In this case, we see two types of love from the narrator: motherly love and sacrificial love.
Beattie describes Milo as a “perfectionist” and is implied to be obsessed with propriety multiple times throughout the story. He is constantly concerned with conforming to the social norm, which is quite ironic, as his relationship with Bradley is one that’s considered improper by the society. It can be inferred that Milo is uncomfortable with having an improper lifestyle and doesn’t want to seem “abnormal” due to the nature of his and Bradley’s relationship, which is the reason for his obsession with propriety in every other aspect of his life. Because Milo is a perfectionist, he refuses to find faults within himself and can come off as abrasive. This is evident when Bradley lost his job, and Milo accused him of “doing it deliberately.”
Bradley, however, seems to be the complete opposite of Milo. Whereas Milo acts like he is inconsiderate of others’ feelings and blames others for their mistakes rather than trying to understand them, Bradley seems to be a very considerate man. Despite the fact that the narrator disliked him in the beginning, he still tried his hardest to make amends for what had happened between her and Milo’s marriage by acting like a second father to Louise — this action suggests that Bradley must have felt guilty for “taking her father.” Furthermore, he didn’t brag about “winning” Milo over; in fact he was humble, apologetic and gentle about it — he even gave an opportunity (although wasted) for the narrator and Milo to talk to each other. Furthermore, Bradley is just as selfless as the narrator, in a way that he was ready to give it all up and go to California with Milo (even though he didn’t have to), simply because he loved him.
Louise, the wise child of the marriage, is quite an interesting character, because she’s a nine year old who seems “wise” (“Children seem older now”). She is the tie that binds all of them together and leads to the narrator having a close friendship with her ex-husband’s lover. The narrator is unsure whether Louise understand the nature of her father’s relationship; however, readers can infer that she is more perceptive than she lets on. Louise is also a very responsible child since she handles a lot of household tasks and does a lot of projects. Beattie mentions that Louise can “sound exactly like Milo sometimes,” insinuating the idea that children are more observant than they seem to be and, when exposed to certain situations, can adapt their parents’ behaviors and mannerisms. However, as “adult-like” as Louise tends to be, she is still a child, and there are situations that she may not fully understand yet, like Milo’s decision to go to California, which explains the reason for her bursting into tears, thinking that he had lied to her.
Ann Beattie manages to produce four people who have real problems that are resolved, or left unresolved, in an entirely real way. She was able to capture real-life problems that trouble many married couples, particularly divorce, in a realistic and captivating way. It’s slightly ironic that The Cinderella Waltz ends with the narrator wondering “if Milo and Bradley and I haven’t been playing house, too — pretending to be adults.” That line is surely applicable to many of its readers, who wish to go back to their fondest memories of their childhood, when life was less complicated and more exciting, but in their inability to do so, continue to act childish and ignore the matter at hand, just like the adults in the story. And in this story, we see two forms of love: familial love and sacrificial love.
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