Finding Sackcloth in “Speak Bird, Speak Again” was somewhat of an adventure. Discovering a tale of the same tale-type as many of the old Indo-European Folk tales, Cinderella from Germany, Katie Woodencloak from Norway, The Broken Pitcher from England, Ashley Pelt from Ireland, The Sharp Grey Sheep from Scotland, The Hearth-Cat from Portugal, Little Saddleslut (love the name), The Baba Yaga from Russia, and many more. A version appearing from the folk history of Palestinian Arabs was somewhat of a surprise, as were many of the tales presented here. Sackcloth is the one which sparks my own interest most keenly. In my world, anything coming from Palestinian Arab origin, is somewhat like originating in Hell. Prejudicial?Indeed, but there ya go.
There are many tales of the same type, for reference here, I am using the brothers Grimm version of Cinderella as translated by Margaret Taylor in 1884. That the two tales spring from the same root is quite apparent. The stories share more than just a tale-type. Various motif similarities fall one after another throughout both versions of the tale, beginning with the title itself “Cinderella,” pointing to the girl in cinders, as it were, and “Sackcloth” her very name referring to coarsely woven fabric. Both, daughters of successful men, have lost their mother. Living lives of trouble, both end up at parties of royalty with their true beauty, previously covered by sack cloth and cinders, now exposed. Both end up charming a prince with their inherent beauty and to the prince, end up married. The two, in many ways, the same story.
The interest I have is spawned in the differences which can be traced to the cultural roots of either version of the tale. The antagonist in Cinderella is the wicked stepmother which is relatively typical of this type of tale from the Indo-European perspective, however in Sackcloth’s case the antagonist is her step-father who rather than servitude from the stepdaughter, is seeking something dangerously close to incest, marriage to the stepdaughter. A conflict of a type much more typical of the cultural environment in the palestinian Arab environment. An environment in which there is apparent conflict between religious allowance and societal beliefs. The folk tales reveal the peoples truer and more personal feelings towards technically acceptable behaviors. The sexual/incestual aspect is absent in the Indo-European version where the type of domineering environment is more likely to be found at the hands of a “wicked stepmother” than a sexually interested stepfather treading dangerously close to incest.
Absent from the Indo-European version is the disguise of dressing as another sex. Dressing as a male to avoid the sexual advances of a stepfather. The prince dressing as a woman to gain access to the hidden identity of the maiden who held his interest. This aspect of the tale would not fit in so nicely in an Indo-European community, particularly the cross-dressing aspect, but in the Palestinian Arabic realm it fits quite nicely and the lesson of the tale is enhanced. The incestuous aspect of the Sackcloth version carries an important cultural vibe which would be absent in the Indo-European surrounding of Cinderella. The domineering behavior of the stepMOTHER and stepSISTERS are not necessary in the Palestinian version. Such is not a typical moral situation found, at the time, in Palestine.
We find motif similarities such as L131, Hearth abode of unpromising heroin, N711.6 prince sees maiden at ball and is enamored, R213 escape from home, and others.
The overall lesson of the abstractly abandoned child, missing the mother, finding and putting to use her own innate beauty and coming out on top in the end, is driven home in both tales and is done so in a fashion relative to the cultural environments in which the differing tales were told.
These two tales are a nice example of the type of tales which spawned the modern usage of the terms “folk psychology,” “Cinderella philosophy,” “Cinderella complex” and the value of folklore is amplified… again.