I wasn’t originally planning to watch the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black. Maybe one day in the future I would, but I was in the middle of approximately a gazillion other TV shows when it was released in July, so I didn’t think I had time for it. And them my sister basically begged me to watch it so she could have someone to discuss it with, so I caved and watched the whole first season.
That brings us to a couple of nights ago, when I had a weird dream in which I had to write something about the show for a class. I chose, in my dream, to assign various fairy tale personas to each character. When I woke up, I could still remember a couple of the assignments I had made, and to my delight, they actually made sense. I started pairing up other characters with fairy tale figures, and now I’ve decided to share my findings with you so it doesn’t end up as a complete waste of my time and mental energy. There are a lot of characters on this show, so for the sake of time, I stuck with the most developed ones.
(For a second there, I worried that this was too odd an idea to actually share with people, but then I found articles on the internet assigning OITNB characters to various rappers and betting on their survival rates should they end up on Game of Thrones, and I figured I was just fine.)
Spoilers for the whole first season ahead!
Galina ‘Red’ Reznikov
I first assigned Red as the Witch from Hansel and Gretel, but at some point in my dream, I changed my mind and came up with a much more appropriate choice: Baba Yaga from Russian folklore. Like Baba Yaga, Red is a menacing maternal figure, not always good or bad, but definitely not someone you want to piss off. When you end up in her kitchen, you’d better do what she tells you to do. But what really makes me happy about this one is Baba Yaga’s house, which stands on two chicken legs–obviously she ate the rest of this chicken that was smarter than other chickens and absorbed its power.
In my dream, I decided that Janae was Little Red Riding Hood. When I first woke up, I thought that didn’t make any sense at all, but then I thought about it a little. Like Little Red Riding Hood, Janae strayed from the clear-cut path–in this case, the path to an athletic scholarship–after being tempted by a charming wolf who ultimately betrayed her. (Not to mention they both had to deal with being confined in a cramped and unpleasant space for a while.)
Sophia as Cinderella was the last one I came up with in my dream. Cinderella is a story about transformation and becoming the person you were always meant to be, a fitting parallel to Sophia’s story. But unfortunately for Sophia, her fairy grandmother appeared in the form of stolen credit cards, leading her to a precarious position. Like Cinderella on the brink of midnight, Sophia knows that her physical transformation is reversible and conditional, and that despite her glass slippers–or duct tape flip-flops–she could lose everything she’s fought to be.
My first instinct for Daya was Rapunzel. In earlier versions of the story, Rapunzel’s witch-mother realizes that she’s been visited by a man because her clothes are growing too tight for her, an indication of her pregnancy. It’s easy to link the theme of pregnancy during captivity to Daya, who also found some male companionship during her incarceration. By this logic, her mother, Aleida Diaz, and paramour, John Bennett, would be Gothel and the prince, respectively, but I find that their personalities and roles are more suited to the ever-jealous Wicked Queen and the merciful but naive Huntsman of Snow White.
Oh, Piper. With her blonde hair and wide eyes, she seems suited for a number of Disneyfied princesses, but instead I’m going with the Goose Girl. The Goose Girl begins as a princess with long, golden hair, ready to make a good match with a prince, but because of an ambitious and treacherous handmaid, she’s forced to hand over her identity and become a servant, helping keep the royal geese. Piper has a similar downward trajectory, from college-educated business owner to prison inmate, and because of this, she feels like she doesn’t belong. She gets over this to some extent later, but her initial victimized fish-out-of-water narrative makes her the Goose Girl.
If Piper is the Goose Girl, that would make Alex the aforementioned handmaiden, the one who takes the Goose Girl down from her literal high horse. While Alex being the cause of Piper’s prison stint lines up with this, she also reminds me of the eldest of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. She discovers an underworld full of riches, excels at hiding it, and is willing to resort to underhanded tactics to protect herself and her circle. Preservation first, ethics a distant second.
For Taystee, I’ve chosen Sleeping Beauty. Some of you may recall that Sleeping Beauty is a fairy tale close to my heart and that I tend to view her slumber as a mixed blessing rather than a curse. I think Taystee would agree, seeing as how her own reawakening into a world that has moved on without her proved to be disillusioning. Like Sleeping Beauty, Taystee finds protection and comfort in the center of her thorny prison, even as she realizes that it separates her from the rest of the world.
Tiffany is the elder sister from Toads and Diamonds. When she sees that her younger sister has received a gift from a disguised fairy, she demands the same. But whereas her sister was kind to the fairy, the elder sister is rude and bad-tempered towards her, and as a result, instead of dropping diamonds and flowers from her lips with every word, she ends up spitting up toads and snakes. In the same vein, Tiffany expects to be given a gift or a blessing from a God she doesn’t seem to understand at all, but because of her general nasty attitude and lack of generosity or compassion, all she ever releases into the world is vileness and hatred.
I had a hard time coming up with someone for Nicky, but in the end, I went with Snow White. She may not have the right color hair for it, but Nicky shares many of Snow White’s experiences, though in a different order. They both undergo conflict with a cold maternal figure, succumb to forbidden fruit (so to speak), almost lose their hearts, and ultimately, they both find a second family among misfits.
For Miss Claudette, I chose the Little Mermaid. No, not the Disney one; we’re talking Hans Christian Andersen here. Miss Claudette has a similar journey of hope and despair. Like the mermaid, Miss Claudette becomes a stranger in an unfamiliar place and then watches as the man she loves falls for another. Both are offered one last chance for hope, and though Miss Claudette doesn’t willingly place it aside the way the mermaid does, she still loses that chance and falls to despair. Whether she’ll dissolve into sea foam or become something more is yet to be seen.
Suzanne is Donkeyskin, the princess who runs away while disguised in the hide of a donkey. Others scorn her and find her off-putting at first, even giving her a name based on an unconventional physical trait, but the person beneath the surface is someone more complicated and sympathetic. Like Donkeyskin, Suzanne has to rely on herself alone to know who she really is.
For the more downtrodden inmates, I keep going to Hans Christian Andersen for the appropriate amount of tragedy. Tricia is the Little Match Girl, surviving a life of destitution and homelessness for as long as she can until she’s ultimately left dying as she fantasizes about a better life. This makes me sad just thinking about it.
In the fairy tale Donkeyskin, a king swears to his dying wife that he’ll only marry someone as beautiful as she is. In time, he realizes that his daughter is the only woman as beautiful as his late wife, and so he decides to marry her, giving her gifts as he waits for her to relent. That’s who Healy is, the creepy incest dad from Donkeyskin.
I actually had a few different options for him, all classic fairy tale villains, which is just further proof to me that Mendez is the embodiment of everything horrible. In the end, though, I think Rumpelstiltskin is the best match for him. Taking advantage of women placed in powerless situations? Check. Making deals and escalating the cost until he can demand whatever he wants with no consequence? Check. Ultimately defeated by a wily lady who’s willing to cheat a little in order to bring him down? Double check.
Larry is that guy from The Tinderbox who helps the old lady retrieve her family heirloom, only to chop off her head and keep it for himself when she won’t give him the answers he wants. Larry is Jack the Giant-Killer who stumbles into a home of giants minding their own business, steals their stuff, brings about their deaths, and then calls himself a hero for it. Larry is every generic fairy tale hero I’ve ever not cared about.