The Wicked Stepmother, the woman hostile to her stepchildren, is a perennial trope. Older Than Feudalism, she appears constantly in legends and folklore around the world. She seldom appears played straight in modern works, except when they are retelling Fairy Tales, but the number of retold fairy tales (especially "Cinderella", "Snow White", and "Hansel and Gretel") gives her a number of straight appearances. Many psychologists hypothesize that she is an Archetypal Character, devised by children to contain all they hate in their mothers so they can continue to regard Mother as perfect. Sadly enough, Truth in Television; children are vastly more likely to abused by stepparents (and people cohabiting with the parent are even worse). For any or all of these reasons, even decades (centuries?) of subversion have not transformed her even into a Discredited Trope; she can still be played straight or subverted. Shout Outs are commonplace whenever dealing with a stepfamily.
She generally favors her own children — whether from a previous marriage or this one — over her stepchildren. Sometimes her economic motives are made clear: there is only so much to go around, and she wants it for herself or her own children. An equivalent male figure is the Evil Uncle — because inheritance is generally through the male line, the uncle can inherit his brother's children's estate. Envy is another common cause; the Wicked Stepmother either wants to be Fairest of Them All or to have her daughters be so. A special subtrope deals with those with grown stepsons; she may wish to marry him off to her own daughter, and thus make a victim of her step-daughter-in-law, or she may attempt to seduce him and then accuse him of rape when she fails.
On the other hand, the stepsiblings or halfsiblings can but need not be hostile to the hero(ine). If they are hostile, Youngest Child Wins is trumped by the older child's stepchild status.
The father is seldom a factor. If not dead (which is common), he will nevertheless never intervene on his child's behalf.
Her tactics vary widely. She may simply oppress the heroine, keeping her in rags and slaving at household work — sometimes going as far as assigning the Impossible Task. As a Wicked Witch, she may transform the child(ren) into animals. She may drive or send them off. She may act violently toward them and even kill them (and perhaps cap that by cooking them up and serving them to their father.)
The stepchild(ren) may succeed in defeating her through help from their real though dead mother — the Grimms' version of "Cinderella", "Aschenputtel", has Aschenputtel get her gowns from the tree planted on her mother's grave. Talking Animals may also feature, as can a Fairy Godmother. These figures can do everything from performing the Impossible Task on behalf of the child to ensuring that She Cleans Up Nicely despite the dirt and rags she is reduced to.
On the other hand, writers sometimes Bowdlerise fairy tales by transforming a cruel mother into a wicked stepmother. Grimms' original tales of "Snow White" and "Hansel and Gretel" both featured a cruel mother.
Her chances of surviving the ending are not good. The Happily Ever After ending of most fairy tales often dwells with more detail on how the Wicked Stepmother and/or her children were punished than on the hero and happiness. On the other hand, stepmothers who are not disposed of often return; when she is not executed at the wedding, she may, for instance, try to kill the heroine when she gives birth and replace her with her own daughter; so the Fairy Tale doesn't end (happily or not) until she's dead.
Sometimes preceded by a Guess Who I'm Marrying? scenario. Can involve a Missing Mom; older stories usually do, often caused by Death by Childbirth.
A common subversion is the jealousDaddy's Girl regarding any stepmother as a Wicked Stepmother.
The Red-Headed Stepchild is a particular victim.
Subtrope of Evil Matriarch. Note that the Magical Nanny often becomes a stepmother, but never a wicked one. Department of Child Disservices is a modern organized variation.
No Real Life examples, please! It is sufficient to say they do exist and this trope is all too often Truth in Television.
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Anime and Manga
In Elfen Lied, Mayu is raped by her stepfather until she eventually runs away
Similarly Hinako's rapist in Bitter Virgin is her stepdad. She even was impregnated twice by him, the first being a stillbirth and the second resulting in a baby boy whom she gave up for adoption to Give Him A Normal Life.
In Fruits Basket, when they realize how woefully miscast the characters are in a "Cinderella" play, they rewrite the play, titling it "Sorta Cinderella" . An Elegant Gothic Lolita Cinderella is impervious to her Wicked Stepmother's demands; but she loves her sweet and innocent stepsister, who suffers at the mother's hands because she wishes to marry her off.
The entire play runs along the same lines; flat and emotionless Cinderella calmly asks pretty-boy Fairy Godparent to burn down the palace, ignores the Prince while obsessing over the meat dishes at the ball, plays matchmaker to the Prince and stepsister... Curiously enough, the cruel and domineering wicked stepmother is the only cast member who takes naturally to her role.
In Ghost Hunt, a little girl's possessed doll told her that her stepmother was evil and trying to poison her.
Prétear, being a mixture of "Snow-White" and "Cinderella" turned into a Magical Girl anime, does provide the main character with a stepmother, clearly aiming to invoke this trope, but then subverts it — sure, Natsue is strict, but not evil, and she is so much in love with Himeno's father Kaoru she'd rather spend her time with him instead of lecturing Himeno. In the original manga, Natsue is more cruel, but still obsessed with Kaoru, to the point of not caring not only for Himeno, but also for her own daughters. And in this continuity she was possessed by the Big Bad, so it's not entirely her fault...
In Petshop Of Horrors Tokyo there is an inversion in one story in which the stepmother is the protagonist and the stepdaughter is wicked and is tying to make sure that she is left penniless by tricking her ill father into divorcing the woman. Little does she know is that her father is not as ill as he seems.
In Ranma ½, the secondary character Konatsu has a Wicked Stepmother (who bears a remarkable resemblance to late actor Edward G Robinson) and two Wicked and UGLY Stepsisters. Konatsu's entire life story is a direct and unabashed ripoff of the Cinderella tale's backstory (except for the cross-dressing ninja part).
Kallen Stadfeldt's stepmother from Code Geass hates Kallen because she is the child of her husband's former mistress, who is also Japanese.
In one story of The Tarot Cafe, a young girl named Fey is implied to be the child of a prostitute and a wealthy man who had some brief relationship with her mother. When the mother dies, Fey is sent to live with her father, and his wife and son. The father is cold and dismissive of her, but dies pretty soon in and doesn't have much of a presence. The son eventually befriends Fey and enjoys her company. The stepmother, however, hates Fey and believes that the girl is cursing the family to die. The stepmother has various people come in to beat and abuse Fey, and eventually dies while trying to whip Fey herself. It's also revealed that the stepmother threw Fey's music box (the last thing she had of her mother) down the well.
In Anatolia Story, Kail's stepmother Queen Nakia is very wicked, to the point of being the Big Bad of the series. Notably, Nakia has pretty much no love for any of her family, biological or otherwise. It's revealed from the start that she wants to use black magic to kill off her stepchildren so that her own son Juda can take the throne, but it's also hinted that her love for Juda is centered around her desire to have her bloodline rule Hattusa in revenge for her having to be forced as the king's new bride. She shows no affection for her husband and, when her brother is horrified to learn the various things she's done, she coolly threatens to kill him if he reveals her plans. She also kills her own niece, just to try to frame Yuri.
This trope is averted by Kail's mother Queen Henti, who besides loving her own sons was also a good stepmother to the son of the king's previous wife) as well as Kail's other stepbrothers (one is the son of a concubine, another was the child of a royal maid).note Likely because in real history, said sons were actually hers instead of other women's, but this was changed for plot reasons.
In the Child ballad "Rose the Red and White Lily", the heroines' stepmother hates them so much that when her own sons fall in love with them, she sends them away. Her stepdaughters decide to flee and rejoin their lovers.
Invoked by Layla Miller of X Factor Investigations. She asked a client why did she think her stepmother could have done something terrible, aside for the "stepmothers are evil trope".
In Nightmares and Fairy Tales, one story flips this on its head with a sweet nurse marrying the husband of the woman she looks after, after said wife dies. The man's daughter with the first wife hates the nurse and then seemingly is drowned in the ocean by the first wife. The husband is sure the nurse did it, and she ends up in a mental hospital. It's left uncertain whether or not the ghost of the first wife really was framing her, or if she seriously was that unhinged.
In "The Three Little Men In The Wood", the stepmother sends her stepdaughter into the woods on an impossible task to kill her. When she returns, having won magical rewards with her good manners, she sends her daughter after and is furious when her ill-tempered daughter is justly punished. When the stepdaughter marries the king, she tries to murder her and replace her with her own daughter.
In "The White Bride and The Black One", after a similar distribution of curses, the stepmother tries to murder the stepdaughter en route to her wedding and replace her with her own daughter.
In "Brother and Sister" the stepmother drives off the title characters with her cruelty, tries to enchant them into animal forms (and, in the case of the Brother, succeeds), and tries to murder Sister after her marriage and replace her with her own daughter.
In "The Wonderful Birch", a Wicked Witch turns the heroine's mother into a sheep and by shapeshifting takes her place; she has the sheep killed and feeds it to the woman's husband, although the daughter does not eat and manages to bury the bones. Then she does everything described in "Cinderella" and then enchants her stepdaughter after the wedding and puts her own daughter in her place.
In The Black Thief And The Knight Of The Glen, the stepmother plays a game of cards with her stepsons so she can force them go to on an impossible quest. The youngest wins against her but decides to go with his brothers.
In "The Ridere of Riddles", the stepmother tries to poison her stepson. Her son, however, loves his brother, warns him, and then flees with him.
In "Kate Crackernuts", the envious stepmother has her stepdaughter Anne's head turned into a sheep's head. Subverted in that the Katie of the title is her own daughter, who sees what she's done and sets out with her stepsister Anne to escape and solve the problem; normally the stepdaughter is the heroine.
Depending on the telling of the story, the stepmother isn't as wicked as some examples. While she's jealous of Anne's beauty and asks the local witch woman to do something about it, she honestly hadn't expected or wanted anything as drastic as the sheep's head spell to be used.
Story 25 of "Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio", seen here; as a summation doesn't do this story justice, just read the whole thing. However, the Stepmother is the only one denied a Happily Ever After.
"Rapunzel" had a Wicked Witch for an adoptive mother, but when you consider that her real mother was basically a drug-addict who sold her own daughter to get her next fix, she was probably better off that way.
In the original Grimm version, the witch was actually Rapunzel's godmother.
In The Princess And The Pea, the peasants that raised Daria are this. They stay in bed all day, make Daria do everything for them including the work around the farm, make her sleep in the chicken coop and verbally abuse her. This is a particularly odd example because both of them are the step parents.
Subverted in Labyrinth, where the stepmother complains that Sarah treats her like this figure. Sarah's Character Development in the movie reveals the real problem is Sarah's jealousy toward her stepmother and new half-brother.
Her stepmother isn't exactly a saint, either; she spends her one scene being snappish and insensitive, implying it's acceptable to take Sarah for granted because, being a loner and a bit of a geek, she doesn't date.
Moreover, the manga sequel "Return to the labyrinth" shows that Irene (that's her name) behaves like that even with her own biological child, Toby. She even goes as far as not even showing to his play and go out to his father instead, and Sarah even has to make him dinner!
Something similar happens in Juno, in which the title character's relationship with her stepmother improves greatly throughout the film.
Enchanted has a scene where Giselle happily explains that Prince Edward's stepmother, Queen Narissa, probably is an exception to this, although she hasn't met her. Narissa is a Wicked Stepmother, but Giselle was too just too optimistic to suspect this.
Giselle ends up becoming a stepmother by the end of the movie, so this trope is averted as well.
There's also a Shout Out where Morgan is worried that Nancy will be a wicked stepmother. The fact Nancy's surname is "Tremaine" probably doesn't help.
At which point Giselle says that most are aversions. "I've met many stepmothers, and most of them are very nice."
Judge Claude Frollo from the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame qualifies as a Wicked Stepfather to Quasimodo.
Mother Gothel from Tangled qualifies as this to Rapunzel, but more of a Wicked Mother-Figure.
In The Sound of Music, Maria's rival Baroness Ilse is clearly aiming to be a Wicked Stepmother; she's already planning to pack the children Off To Boarding School. But it's subverted near the end, when the Baroness pulls a I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, willingly ending her engagement with Captain von Trapp after he had realized that he loved Maria.
And also subverted by Maria, when she marries Captain von Trapp, as the children loved her before the marriage and only loved her more after the marriage. There's a very sweet scene with Maria and Liesl, the eldest child, after Maria and the Captain return from their honeymoon; Liesl calls Maria "Mother" and they both agree they like that a lot.
Played with in The Uninvited, where Elizabeth Banks's character is the father's new girlfriend, after his wife died in a fire. Throughout the movie, Anna keeps seeing ghostly images of her dead mother seemingly accusing the girlfriend (who was her nurse) of setting the fire. In fact, Anna was the one who accidentally set the fire, killing her mother and sister, and blocked it out with the memories manifesting as ghostly images. The girlfriend was simply trying to be nice to her.
A Tale of Two Sisters, the Korean movie on which The Uninvited is based, plays the scenario very similarly although it seems a lot more likely that the stepmother did in fact have a hand in the mother's death. Given the Mind Screw that is this movie, it's hard to be sure.
Played with in Nanny McPhee. Lily says that she does not want a stepmother because of all the wicked stepmothers she has read about in books. Averted by Evangeline having a good stepmother. Played straight by Selma Quickly, who would have become a very nasty stepmother to the kids...had she married Mr. Brown. Subverted by Evangeline - whom the kids adored - becoming the kids' stepmother in the end!
Sucker Punch has Baby Doll's stepfather, who in the first scene flies into a drunken rage after learning that Baby Doll and her sister are their mother's beneficiaries rather than him. He then proceeds to try and rape the girls, then commits Baby Doll to a Bedlam House after she fights back (accidentally killing her sister), bribing the corrupt head orderly into giving Baby Doll a lobotomy.
Sleepy Hollow has Lady Von Tassell, who offs her husband and tries to off her stepdaughter, the local Strange Girl Katrina, in order to inherit the family fortune. She's also implied to have killed the first wife while posing as her nurse.
It Takes Two has Clarice Kensington, who almost became one except that Alyssa's father called off the engagement.
In The Parent Trap (both the original and the remake), the twins almost end up with an Evil Stepmother. The one in the remake is especially egregious, since the girls' father is a millionaire and the stepmother-to-be is a bona fide Gold Digger.
In Double Indemnity, Phyllis Dietrichson is generally a wicked person, having arranged the murder of her husband and (probably) having murdered his first wife to take her place, and so can't be expected to be anything like congenial to her stepdaughter Lola, especially since she's the only one who sees through Phyllis.
Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles features "The Right Honorable Wicked Stepmothers' Traveling, Drinking, and Debating Society," including the "Men's Auxiliary" which has a few Wicked Stepfathers, but is mainly for Wicked Uncles. In one book, when the Genre Savvy hero runs across a princess lamenting her exile in the forest, he concluded that she and her stepmother had cooked it up between them.
Subverted in Tanith Lee's Red as Blood, retelling "Snow White" the stepdaughter is evil and the stepmother is trying to protect the kingdom.
Similarly in Neil Gaiman's Snow.Glass.Apples, Snow White is a vampire whom the good stepmother tries and fails to defeat while protecting the kingdom.
Also, Shasta, the boy of the title, runs away from an abusive caretaker who was going to sell him into slaver. Not technically a stepparent, but very similar.
Subverted in The Princess Bride: Prince Humperdinck calls his stepmother "ES", short for Evil Stepmother, because when he was a child he used to think that all stepmothers are evil. She's actually stated to be the most beloved person in the kingdom, and she and Humperdinck have a very good relationship — the name is more of an endearment than anything.
But Humperdinck is the Big Bad, shouldn't that make her evil as well?
Humperdinck's actually presented as a reasonably decent person until he hatches his plan to make war against Guilder.
This trope is so old that the Tale of Genji, the world's oldest surviving novel, uses it and then lampshades it. Genji is the son of the Emperor but can't be named a successor because of his low-ranked mother and his evil stepmother, Kokiden. Later in the novel, Genji is talking about stories with his son and notes how tiring it is to see all the wicked stepmothers in the local stories.
A rare Evil Stepfather example occurs in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Speckled Band", which has Dr. Grimesby Roylott trying to eliminate his stepdaughters Julia and Helen before they have a chance to marry and inherit their share of their mother's fortune. Julia dies, but Helen manages to reach for Holmes before she perishes as well, and Roylott ends up having a Karmic Death, while Helen survives to inherit and marry.
Also from the Holmes canon is A Case of Identity, in which the heroine's stepfather is so eager to prevent her from marrying and collecting the money which is rightfully hers from her father, he masquerades as a different man, persuades his stepdaughter to marry him, and then leaves her at the altar — after extracting a promise from her that she will wait for him no matter how long it takes. Made even worse by the fact that her mother is in on the scheme, and doesn't seem to have a problem with it from what the reader is shown.
The heroine also makes a fairly decent living as a typist. If she married and moved out, her mother and stepfather would lose that income as well.
Subverted in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. The stepmother isn't exactly a saint, being complicit in the crime being committed in the story but the heroine's father is the true villain.
The Betsy The Vampire Queen books by Mary Janice Davidson have Antonia Taylor, Betsy's stepmother. She pursued a married man, destroying his marriage, and tried to turn him against his then-teenaged daughter. She wanted him to surrender full custody to his ex-wife, and when that failed, to send Betsy to military school. Her efforts continued into Betsy's thirties, when after Betsy's funeral, she eats a celebratory lobster dinner and books a cruise. She is even, at one point in the backstory, possessed by Lucifer for a year, and no one notices because she's so nasty by nature. Undead and Unworthy spoilers: After her death, The Ant comes back to haunt Betsy as a ghost because during life, her sole purpose was to torment Betsy. Part of this new torment includes walking in on Betsy and her husband during lovemaking, and making no apology or attempt to leave.
Another male example is Emily's stepfather in Cloud Of Sparrows, who beats and whips Emily's brothers and rapes Emily and her mother. He also murdered Emily's biological father, who was an altogether nicer chap.
One could argue that Mrs. Reed from Jane Eyre, while technically an aunt, still qualifies as an evil stepmother. Not only does she play the part, she is Jane's aunt by marriage, and thus not a blood relative, so she is a Wicked Stepmother.
Juliet Marillier's first book in The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Daughter Of The Forest, is a retelling of the fairy tale "The Six Swans" and deals with a very evil enchantress stepmother, Lady Oonagh, who turns her six step sons into swans and only their younger sister can reverse the spell.
Male example: Ganelon is Roland's stepfather in The Song of Roland and other material related to the Matter of France. He betrayed Charlemagne's rearguard during the retreat from Spain, leading to Roland's death at Roncesvalles.
Subverted in the children's book My Wicked Stepmother; having grown up on these stories, the young protagonist is determined to consider his new stepmother a wicked stepmother, but she's actually a genuinely nice person who tries her hardest to win him over.
Averted in The Silmarillion: Fëanor's stepmother Indis is very decent and his father still seems to favour him over his younger children. Fëanor is still insanely jealous, though.
His feelings were arguably justified, if not when they were directed towards Indis: Fëanor's mother suffered Death by Childbirth, but elves can come back to life after spending a certain amount of time in the afterlife. Notably, Fëanor's father is the only elf we ever hear of remarrying.
Fëanor's feelings aren't really justified ... Fëanor's mother is explicitly stated to be beyond bringing back - her body didn't even die, actually, it went to sleep and is still breathing but the soul left it. I'm not certain how soon Finwë remarried, but it was after he had tried to bring back and grieved for his first wife. Fëanor is simply shown throughout the story to be irrational and hateful at times, particularly when things dear to him are involved. It kind of kick-starts the plot.
Fëanor's mother Míriel refused Finwë's repeated requests to come back to her perfectly usable body, and later admitted that she had abandoned Finwë and didn't blame him for marrying Indis. However, Finwë's second marriage made Míriel's death irrevocable.
Though Tolkien toyed with the notion that, after Finwë's death, he chose to stay dead and allowed Míriel to come back as a kind of Elven nun in the gardens of the gods; the only really unbreakable rule was that the "pure" Elves couldn't have two living spouses. (Two widows might possibly be fair game, though.)
An interesting spin happens in The Golden Bowl by Henry James (and the film it inspired of the same name). Maggie, the daughter of wealthy Adam, marries an impoverished prince, Amerigo. Maggie meanwhile thinks it would be a great idea to hook her widowed father up with her best friend Charlotte, thus making her best friend her stepmother. Neither Maggie nor Adam realizes, for a long time, that Amerigo and Charlotte are having an affair.
In L. M. Montgomery's Rainbow Valley, the minister's motherless children are told by another child that all stepmothers are wicked, it comes with the role. Nevertheless the youngest goes to persuade a woman to marry her father because her father is so miserable since she rejected him. And in Rilla of Ingliside it is clear that she is a perfectly lovely stepmother.
While they're technically foster mothers, Anne herself was raised by two different women after her parents died, and neither were described as particularly pleasant. Both kept her around as a servant, even though she herself was a child, and it was heavily implied that they treated her even worse than she let on. Anne did say that they did the best they could and that life was tough on them, but Marilla was able to read between the lines enough to pity Anne and keep her.
Max in Codex Alera is a Heroic Bastard, the illegitimate older son of the High Lord on Antillus. Trouble is, Antillus married after he was born for political reasons, and he has a legitimate son, Crassus. Maximus has no intention of challenging Crassus's position as heir- however, Lady Antillus would prefer that the threat be eliminated so there's no way her son's inheritance can be threatened. As such, Max's mother died in an "accident", and he's been dodging similar attempts on his life since he was 14.
Sadly, when your normally loving and faithful husband comes home with an infant he claims as his bastard son, insists on openly raising said bastard at home in defiance of all custom, and not only refuses to discuss the matter but actually frightens you when you try to ask who the mother is, it's gonna be pretty hard to bear in mind that it's really not the kid's fault. Nice going, Ned.
Hinted also with Theon Greyjoy. In a Catelyn chapter in the second book it is mentioned that she never liked him.
In the Chinese Cinderella story Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, Xing Xing's stepmother rarely calls her by name, referring to her as the Lazy One, despite Xing Xing doing most of the work in the house. She constantly puts down Xing Xing, no matter how hard she worked to make her stepmother happy.
Male version: Percy Jackson had a Jerk Ass stepdad named "Smelly Gabe". Subverted with Paul Blofis, his next stepdad.
Also subverted with Annabeth's stepmom, who is WAAAAAAY better than Annabeth describes. Same with her dad.
With Annabeth, it seems like mostly a case of fear on her step-mom's part (which she eventually tried to get over), utter lack of parenting ability on her father's part, and a little kid's perspective plus several years of built-up bitterness on Annabeth's part. Once all parties were actually willing to work at being a stable family, they started getting along.
Enforced in the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms; because the world runs on narrative causality, even stepmothers who don't start out evil become evil, unless Genre Savvy people can subvert it. Played with in The Sleeping Beauty, where no less than three evil sorceresses try to enchant the king while he is still mourning his beloved wife; the local Fairy Godmother beats them to it and marries the king herself in disguise as the Obviously Evil Wicked Stepmother.
Averted in Bonjou tristesse, where Anne is a good person if quite severe sometimes, and tries to put some order in the very hedonistic lives of Cécile and Raymond. Cécile likes her at first, but soon is so scared about the changes that she'll bring into her life (specially when Anne attempts playing Team Mom), that she manipulates the people around her (Raymond, his old mistress Elsa, and her own Dogged Nice Guy Cyril) into making Anne's life hard so she'll leave. Little does Cécile know that Anne will end up so broken that she'll be Spurned into Suicide instead.
In C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, the nurse Batta tells the princesses that their new stepmother will be evil, just like in the stories she's told them. It turns out to be a subversion, as their stepmother is a frail, gentle young woman who is relatively kind to the girls until she dies in childbirth.
Averted in Doris Gates' Blue Willow, in which the stepmother is a good woman with an excellent relationship with the protagonist, Janey.
Averted in Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks on Gardam Street with Iantha.
In Aimee, Aimee's stepmother is this. Not only is she a Bible-thumping hypocrite, she actually rapes Aimee often.
In Agatha Christie's Appointment with Death, the victim is an old woman so tyrannical and flat-out evil that her death is seen as just as regrettable as the victim in Murder on the Orient Express, who was a kidnapper and murderer of children. She has three stepchildren and one daughter of her own. She mentally abuses them all out of a sadistic desire to see them suffer. This includes driving her own daughter to being a schizophrenic, her older stepson into divorce, and driving the younger two to desiring her death. Obviously, one of the family did her in. Except none of them did.
In his essay collection "Happy To Be Here", Garrison Keillor wrote "My Stepmother, Myself", a Deconstruction of fairy-tale stepmothers, suggesting what happened to three famous fairy-tale heroines after Happily Ever After. Snow White and Gretel regret that their relationships with their stepmothers were so sour (and Snow has to deal with the fact that Prince Charming could only get it up if she pretended to be dead), while Cinderella now regards her stepmom as her new best friend; living in a palace where a phalanx of servants do everything for her, she finds that she misses doing chores for her stepmom.
A variation in Matilda with Miss Honey's backstory where after her mother dies she is taken care of by her Maiden Aunt The Trunchbull, who is also implied to have murdered Miss Honey's father. Inverted with Matilda herself as her biological mother is the wicked one while Miss Honey, her adoptive mother in the end is kind and loving.
Averted in Dirge for Prester John. When Anglitora comes to meet John, Hagia practically adopts the girl as her own.
Princess Ben has a subversion. Sophia does not treat Ben kindly (starving her, locking her in a tower, etc.). However, this is because Ben is immature and a bit spoiled. Once she matures, Sophia treats her more respectfully.
In George MacDonald's "Port In A Storm", the narrator's uncle, with the very best of intentions, comes very close to this: he doesn't want people to think he's after his stepdaughter's fortune, and warns off his nephew. Fortunately, the nephew gets a promise out of him, and he agrees to let him woo her.
In Tom Kratman's Caliphate, Al Khalifa is a revolting bitch who's jealous that a girl (Besma) birthed by a slave was in line to inherit Abdul Mohsem's wealth over al Khalifa's own son. She agreed to allow her husband to purchase Petra because while al Khalifa couldn't harm Besma, as Abdul's cherished child, she could harm a slave without consequences.
Fitting if not the letter of the trope then definitely the spirit is the mother's boyfriend in You Don't Know Me. In addition to the regular beatings, he heaps on the psychological abuse in droves. If the boyfriend hadn't put John in the hospital, the mother would have married him, making him a full fledged example.
Conversed in British statesman Lord Chesterfield's Letters To His Son, as a metaphor for the dawning American Revolution. "For my part, I never saw a froward child mended by whipping; and I would not have the mother country become a stepmother." (letter 283)
In E. D. Baker's The Wide Awake Princess, Tomas and Clara were abandoned in the woods by their stepmother because they would eat food she wanted to keep for her pet dogs.
Song at Dawn: The reason Estela is hiding in a ditch and calling herself 'Estela' is because her stepmother turned her father against her and planned to have her killed.
In Dorothy Gilman's The Clairvoyant Countess, the first client we see consult Madame Karitska is furious when Madame Karitska warns her not to trust the person who sent her a letter; she thinks he's the only person she can trust. It's her stepfather, and it turns out that he murders her, after having murdered her mother.
Stepfather variety - in Half-Magic, the children are very nervous about their mother dating a man who keeps running into them on their magical adventures, mainly because they're worried he'll be like David Copperfield's Mr. Murdstone. They are finally convinced otherwise when he helps them sort out the next magical mess they get into, and even play Shipper on Deck for himself and their mother. The sequel shows that he is, in fact, a very good father to them.
Played straight and inverted in "The Poison Apples".
Live Action TV
The Brady Bunch: Averted; both Mike and Carol are good stepparents, to the point where the boys call Carol "Mom" and the girls call Mike "Dad."
In the season 1 episode "Every Boy Does it Once," Bobby's insecurity over his relationship with Carol is explored after he watches a children's TV presentation of "Cinderella'' and somehow comes to the conclusion that all stepmothers and stepsisters are wicked and evil. This is reinforced when Marcia and Jan make fun of Bobby getting his older brother's hand-me-downs, then Carol – unaware that something was bothering Bobby – asks if he'd like to help sweep out the chimney flue. (Carol makes the girls apologize, and Carol eventually gets Bobby to admit he is apprehensive about his place in the family.)
Step by Step: Somewhat averted, to where there are no major issues between the stepparents and their stepkids, even if the transition is not as smooth as The Brady Bunch. However, there are some major points of contention that are dealt with:
Al's relationship with stepmother Carol, when Al objects to Carol's obsessive orderliness ... to the point where (in an early episode) she threatens to move in with her grandmother or find her biological mother; Al relents by episode's end, and realizes Carol will do fine filling the void left behind when her biological mother chose to leave.
Dana, with both stepbrother, J.T., and stepfather, Frank. Dana and J.T. rarely got along, especially in the early years, and freely traded insults ... but later gained a grudging respect and would help each other out when one truly ran into trouble. As for Frank, Dana thought he was an oaf, but grew to appreciate his help when it was needed.
ABC Afterschool Special: "Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale," from 1985, averts the wicked stepmother trope in this tale of a teenaged girl, the title character whose widowed father had gotten re-married, dealing with deep insecurities. Cindy fears that her stepmother, Janet, is putting on an act, but Janet is eventually able to prove that she loves and accepts Cindy as her own daughter ... unlike Janet's own spoiled daughters (Lizzie and Laura), who fit the "wicked stepsisters" trope perfectly. Helping Cindy accept Janet as her new stepmother: A homeless lady armed with a shopping cart ... that turns out to be her fairy godmother. (The fairy godmother was played by Pearl Bailey in one of her last roles, prior to her illness and death.) In the end, the fairy godmother deals quite severely with Cindy's evil stepsisters – literally blowing them away(!) while Cindy gets the handsome prince, snaring him at an elegant party held by her father and stepmother.
The '80s SitcomThe Charmings, which was about Snow White, her husband, their two kids, and her stepmother in a modern setting.
In Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hera, Queen of the Gods, acts as this towards her husband's bastard son Hercules. This is in keeping with original myths of their relationship, as Hera was responsible for the majority of hardships the hero faced in his life.
In the Lost episode "Abandoned," we learn Shannon is how she is partly due to her stepmother, who cuts her off after Shannon's father's death. Like many tellings of "Cinderella", this is stated to be due to her jealousy of Shannon's relationship with her father.
The MST3K episode Jack Frost is based on a Russian legend of a Cinderella-esque girl who must endure abuse from her standard issue Fairy Tale Wicked Stepmother and stepsister. The girl's father is alive, but is so browbeaten that he doesn't object even when told to dump his daughter in the forest in the middle of winter.
On Port Charles, Caleb Morley was tricked and turned into a vampire by his stepmother (whom he had actually trusted, which is why his father used her).
Supernatural did an episode called Bedtime Stories that involved the Winchester brothers investigating a series of murders that resembled fairy tales. Fittingly, the spirit causing the murders was that of a comatose girl who'd been poisoned by her stepmother.
In one episode of Seinfeld, Jerry had a girlfriend whose stepmother was obsessed over her stepdaughter's speed dial, and she did not want to lose her spot to Jerry. Jerry's girlfriend finds out about her stepmother's plans, and throughout the rest of the episode, the two women take the speed dial more and more seriously.
In Carrusel, Mario's stepmother Natalia starts out like this. She does become nicer, though.
The stepmother in the Korean SeriesShining Inheritance performed insurance fraud, kicked her stepchildren out into the cold, abandoned her stepson out in the sticks, and lied to her friends and employees about her personal circumstances.
In one episode of Bones, the Villain of the Week was the victim's stepmother, who killed him so her own son would get the whole inheritance. Since she sacrificed her medication to be able to poison him, she died in no more than five days after being discovered. (she didn't care about dying as long as her son got the money) Because her son wasn't guilty of any crime regarding the inheritance, he ''did'' get it all but wasn't comfortable with the means. The bad guy being the stepmother, who got what she wanted (her son getting her stepson's inheritance even if it costed her own life) and her victory being pyrrhic because he didn't approve her means.
The Adventures Of Shirley Holmes episode "The Case of the Rising Moon" featured a princess from an eastern land being targeted for murder. The princess, whose name means "Rising Moon", believed her stepmother was behind this because, with the princess dead, the stepmother's son would be the next in line for the throne. It was later revealed the stepmother was innocent and the conspiracy had been engineered by sexists who didn't want a woman as a ruler.
In Once Upon a Time, it turns out that the Evil Queen who poisoned Snow White was actually Snow's stepmother.
Siobhan Martin in Ringer, while not cruel to her stepdaughter, is definitely a wicked stepmother.
Married... with Children subverted the trope in the story arc where Al left Peggy and she dated a rich man. The reason Bud and Kelly considered him wicked? He wanted them to get jobs and be independent.
Played with in Flashpoint where a corporate robber was so desperate for an emotional connection that he falls in love with a teenaged girl claiming that her stepfather was abusing her. What the robber didn't know was that the "girl" was actually a teenaged boy altering his voice and wanted his stepfather dead. But from what was seen, the stepfather at worst was neglectful due to his work.
Mythology and Religion
Averted with Jesus, who had a kind, pious, and all-round good stepfather in Joseph the carpenter. Joseph is deserving of extra praise since he was Mary's first husband, and Jesus was conceived (virginally by God) while Joseph and Mary were engaged. (Even worse: in that time and culture, "engaged" was "married but not living together yet.")
In Jewish custom of the time, marriages were consummated a year later. So, when Mary turned up pregnant, Joseph had every right to consider divorcing her. Fortunately, they both got the news of Who had fathered the child.
Emphasizing Joseph's kindly character, before Gabriel told him how Mary got pregnant, he was planning to hush everything up, and not, for example, to denounce her publicly.
In Ramayana, Rama is exiled from the kingdom as a result of plotting by Kaikeyi, who's not his mother but another one of his father's wives.
Sort of subverted, though. Kaikeyi was under a spell, and after Rama is exiled she spends the next five years fasting, praying and repenting for her actions, so when Rama returns, she is nearly unrecognizable.
Medea, when she goes to live with Aegeus, tries to have him kill his son Theseus (before Aegeus realized that Theseus was his son). He fared better than her own children with Jason, though.
Svipdag, in Norse mythology, was sent on a quest by his wicked stepmother.
Hera sort of personified this trope. Hercules/Heracles is already mentioned, but Zeus' other demi-god offspring, who were quite numerous, tended to face similar treatment. Her actions ranged from simple murder to transforming the children into mindless beasts. The fact that Zeus is Hera's brother also makes her an Evil Aunt to all these children.
A notable example was Hera's harassment of Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis. While Leto was still pregnant with Zeus' progeny, Hera cursed Leto so that no land would accept her and set a serpent to stalk her in the oceans. Zeus had to set an island adrift so the serpent would finally stop chasing her.
It should be noted however that Hera usually did not actually fulfil the part of step-mother since the mothers of the children in question in most cases stayed alive long enough to raise their children or they were given away to other people to raise. Only in two or three cases did Hera actually act as a step-mother proper: When Alcmene abandoned the infant Heracles to placate Hera's wrath, Hera ended up nursing the baby (it's usually described as by deceit and trickery). And before that she had also nursed the infant Hermes, with whom she got along fairly well afterwards. Hermes' birth-mother, the minor goddess Maia, was also one of the few of her husband's paramours whom Hera did not give trouble and who even was able to protect Arkas, Zeus' son by Callisto, from Hera's wrath. Finally, Hera also raised Thetis as a kind of adoptive daughter.
In Rudyard Kipling's The Love Song of Har Dyal, one of the narrator's pleas is that she is suffering from this.
Gioacchino Rossini subverts it in La Cenerentola, a retelling of "Cinderella" casting a stepfather as the villain. His motives are economic as so many fairy tale stepmothers; if the heroine does not marry, he can afford larger dowries for his own daughters
Engelbert Humperdinck subverts it in Hänsel und Gretel; the stepmother sends the children out into the forest to gather strawberries, unaware of the dangers there.
In Euripides's Alcestis, Alcestis references this when pleading with her husband not to remarry after her death; he must spare her children any possible stepmother.
In "The Black Crook," believed to be the first musical, the heroine Amina is abused by her foster mother.
Originally, Odette in Swan Lake was enchanted by her stepmother, with the help of the demon, Rothbart. Later productions avert this and make Rothbart the lone villain.
Inverted in Bio Shock 2: Eleanor Lamb much more favors her monstrous, but kind to her, adopted father over her own uncaring, emotionally detached mother and resurrects him to save her from her mother's imprisonment and becoming a tool in her mother's mad plan.
Otacon's stepmother in Metal Gear Solid 2 was revealed to have seduced him, causing his birth father to commit suicide and mentally scaring his step-sister who nearly drowned that day, when he was suppose to be watching her. If the stepmother regerts these actions or anything is unknown but she sure didn't mind seducing him. Not to mention that Hal was 14 at the time, and it's strongly suggested she did it to get back at her husband for neglecting her.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni plays with this. Battler gets along with his stepmother, Kyrie and his half-sister Ange despite leaving home for six years due to his father remarrying Too Soon after his mother's death. Then later arcs reveal that Kyrie hated his mother, Asumu. A lot. To the point where she flat out states that if Asumu hadn't died on her own, she would have killed her. Then the penultimate arc reveals that she doesn't even care for her own daughter. Oh, and it turns out that Kyrie is actually Battler's real mother. How much of this is true is... Debatable.
In Rise of the Snow Queen, the third installment of the Dark Parables games, an in-game storytelling device talks about how Snow White's father was riddled with guilt over having been unable to protect her from her evil stepmother. Said stepmother is a Posthumous Character during the game itself.
YU+ME: dream : Fiona has one, whom we realize is rather wicked once we learn that her affair with her now-husband is what caused Fiona's real mother to be Driven to Suicide.
However It is subverted as in the real world Elizabeth is extremely kind and Fiona is the evil stepdaughter. Seriously.
Subverted with Kevin and Kell. Lindesfarne considers her stepmother Kell to be her mother, and Kell considers Lindesfarne her daughter, rather than a stepdaughter. Lindesfarne's original adoptive mother, however, is a Jerk Ass who largely ignored her during her childhood, and desperately tries to win her over, at one point making Lindesfarne allergic to Kell, partly motivated by wanting to get back at Kevin. At Lindesfarne's graduation, she gives her a hug- albeit with a blood transfer bag on hand- and a document saying that she waives all claims to custody of Lindesfarne as she has now come of age.
In Alice!, Alice hates her father's new girlfriend, who ends up in this role in Alice's Calvin And Hobbes-esque fantasy sequences. In actuality the girlfriend is a fine woman (if soppy), while the normally amiable Alice is being a complete dick.
Homestuck: With the death of Colonel Sassacre, his adoptive children Nanna and Grandpa were left in the care of Betty Crocker. Initially it just seems to be the typical negative opinion one would expect children to have in such a situation, but it turns out that Crocker was/is an inhuman Chessmaster who had a hand in Gamzee's swandive off the deep end, and is later revealed to be Her Imperious Condescension herself, the tyranical troll Empress. And now she's gone and taken over the Alpha Derse on the orders of Lord English.
Off-White: Jera and her love for singling out Iki call to mind this trope, though she is not evil.
But almost played straight with Coco LaBouche. Fortunately, Chuckie's dad noticed how "wicked" she was just in time to dump her at the altar.
Noticed? It took the babies escaping from being locked up in a storage room, piloting a Mecha-Reptar Stu had built, and Angelica spilling the beans as payback for a The Cake Is a Lie incident that pressured Coco into confessing that she's only doing it to keep being a Reptar franchisee. It gets worse for her naturally; the creator of Reptar was discreetly attending the wedding.
Used in Winx Club 's season 3 arc about Stella's dad planning to marry an evil countess, who was evil even before she made the deal with Valtor. Quite a few fans complained about the show resorting to such an old chestnut, and the fact that the plot unfolded in an almost completely predictable (and uninteresting) manner didn't help matters either.
Completely averted on Phineas and Ferb, to the extent you have to pay close attention to notice that Linda and Lawrence qualify as "stepparents" to any of their children. All three of them call both parents "Mom" and "Dad."
Subverted on Wheel Squad, where Mr. Rotter, the only character who qualifies as somebody's stepparent, treats his stepdaughter Emilie like a real daughter. Even on the Cinderella parody he was just strict and punishing her for a prank that could have gotten herself and her victim seriously hurt (and for not keeping satisfactory grades).
Bart's teacher, Edna Krabappell, was dating Ned Flanders in one episode of The Simpsons. Not liking the idea of having her as a neighbor, Bart tried to make Ned's sons, Rodd and Todd, afraid she'd be a Wicked Stepmother who'd force them to do all the household chores. It backfired because Rodd and Todd enjoy doing them.