When characters in rich — or at least comfortable — situations suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the pile, often forced to become servants in their own homes. Since this is usually because of family circumstances, the death of the main breadwinner may be involved, especially if Mom or Dad remarried before passing, because the step-parent isn't likely to give the "old children" any share in the estate, especially if they have children of their own.
As in the tale of Cinderella, then, the newly-impoverished children have to find a way to success and happiness without the guaranteed support of their parents: sometimes through hard work, sometimes through outside intervention. In most cases it's implied — if not outright stated — that everyone can see the inner superiority that they possess as members of a better class, despite their current humility.
Rags to Royalty may ensue.
If the stepparent has their own children, it can overlap with Rich Sibling, Poor Sibling, with the impoverished childrens situation making them the Poor Sibling, while their sibling or step-sibling is spoiled and pampered by the cruel parent. Can overlap with this trope, but the poor children dont need to have spoiled siblings or sibling-figures to be in Cinderella Circumstances.
Changeling Fantasy is a more upbeat variation of the concept in which the child imagines themselves to be a Foundling of Royal Blood instead of an unappreciated stepchild. Not to be confused with Changeling Tale, in which the child is abused and discarded because he's actually one of The Fair Folk (the original baby was stolen long ago). See also Evil Uncle. Not quite the same thing as Rags to Riches. Sister Trope to Kids Hate Chores.
Compare Scullery Maid, Guess Who I'm Marrying?. Contrast The Frog Prince and related stories where the heroine must learn to live with an animal (often as a metaphor for making the best of an Arranged Marriage).
- Grey from Black Clover was mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, who made her do all the housework which left her covered in ash. After she used her magic to look like her stepsisters, they attacked her and she was forced to leave her home. The chapter on her backstory is even called "Cinderella Grey".
- Candy Candy: At age 12, Candy is "adopted" by the Leagan family to be a companion to eldest daughter Eliza and later ends up as a maid. The children, Eliza and Neal, tease her and order her about, and their mother isn't any nicer.
- It later crosses into Rags to Royalty. When Candy gets adopted for real, it's by the Andrees... a clan that's far richer and more uptown than the Legans. In fact, the Legan family is a branch clan to the Andrees and they owe respect to their leaders, Aunt Elroy and Grandfather William, and since William is the one who gave the order to adopt Candy they can't question it. (But they can be still assholes to Candy behind William's back.)
- In The Familiar of Zero, once Saito becomes Louise's familiar his new life consists of waiting on Louise practically both day and night. This includes washing her laundry and helping her get dressed, among other things. Louise eventually mellows out, more or less, later on.
- Victorian Romance Emma: Emma was born in a seaside village where she was given tough jobs and regularly physically and verbally abused. Luckily, she gained a better life after Kelly Stowner took her under her wing and trained her to be a maid.
- In Honey Hunt, if the maid is not at home, Yura is often made to wait on her mother and her clients when she comes home after being away at work for so long. Sometimes her mother is even gone for months at a time.
- In one story in Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo, a young woman who was formerly a hostess from the Philippines ends up Happily Married to a much older man and has a child with him. For some time, she and her son enjoy a life of blissful luxury, until her husband has a stroke and is unable to remember any of his family or care for himself. His other children (who are all as old as the woman is) nearly turn her and her son out, but ultimately keep her as a servant, while considering her child to be inferior because of his mixed nationality. Even when offered a chance to leave though, the woman refuses to abandon her husband. In the end, her husband dies and leaves a note in his will that his dementia was faked and, impressed by the woman's devotion to him, he leaves her one half of his vast estate, with the other half to be divided amongst his other squabbling children.
- Hetalia: Axis Powers: Chibitalia is made to be a servant while living at Austria's house.
- Ranma ½: Konsatu's story is how things would be if Cinderella and her step-family were kunoichi and Cinderella was actually a man.
- In Tokyo Ghoul:re, Battle Butler Sobriquet Sex Switch Kanae von Rosewald (Karren) went from the youngest child of an extremely wealthy German family... to a servant in the household of her own uncle. Unlike most examples of the trope, she's treated well by everyone there... but there's still something troubling about making your orphaned ten year old niece a servant to her only surviving relatives.
- One Piece showed that Nico Robin's childhood was dominated by being forced to work by her Aunt, cleaning the house for reward of little food and even less warmth. Then things got worse.
- This is Hana Morenos' situation at the start of Michiko & Hatchin, a.k.a. Finding Paradiso. She lives with a foster family who are nothing but assholes to her, and not only has to endure bullying from both her foster brother and her foster sister but is also made to do all the chores by the parents, including one asshole moment where the foster mother dumps the omelette that Hana cooked for her on the floor with the rest of her plate because she'd burned the underside of it and orders her not only to cook another one but also to clean up the mess the mother just made! And when Michiko, who becomes one half of the Badass and Child Duo of the series, kidnaps Hana, the father decides to try to out and out murder her for the insurance money.
- Billy Batson (and his sister, Mary), who would grow up to become Captain Marvel, belonged to a wealthy family but lost his fortune after his parents died and he was sent to an orphanage by his evil Uncle Ebenezer, who actually made a Deal with the Devil to keep his fortune. Despite this, Billy still saves his soul from Satan.
- Usagi Yojimbo: Kitsune's backstory. After her mom who really ran the family business died, her "jellyfish" of a father married a mean and shrewish woman (note: not an actual shrew) who spent all their money and eventually convinced him to sell their daughter to an inn.
- This was a common theme in girl's comics, although Tammy used it more than others.
- Cinderella, of course. Including such variants as Yeh-Shen,The Story of Tam and Cam, The Sharp Grey Sheep, and Rushen Coatie.
- In The Three Little Men in the Wood, the Wicked Stepmother oppresses her stepdaughter until she sends her into the woods on an Impossible Task to kill her.
- In The Well of the World's End, heavy housework again culminated in an Impossible Task.
- In Vasilissa the Beautiful, the heroine has to do all the housework, managing only with her magical doll, until her stepsisters send her to get fire from Baba Yaga.
- In The Green Knight, Cenerentola, and The Hearth Cat, the stepmother had actually persuaded the stepdaughter to ask her father to marry her, but proceeded to oppress her as soon as she was married.
- In Katie Woodencloak, the stepmother turned Katie out to tend the cows. When she finds that a dun cow is magically helping her, she set out to have the cow killed. Katie ran away and found a job working in the kitchen.
- In The Story of the Black Cow, the stepmother starves her stepson.
- The story of Kullervo in The Kalevala.
- Rhodopis, the heroine of The Egyptian Cinderella, is a Greek girl captured by pirates and sold to Egypt where she is not only forced to work as a slave, but also mocked by her fellow slaves for her foreign looks.
- In "Mother Holle", the main character is left to her stepmother's mercy after her father's death. She is mistreated and forced to work as a slave on a daily basis while her stepsister is favored and pampered. She is compared to Cinderella in-story.
A widow had two daughters, the one was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. She greatly favored the ugly, lazy girl, because she was her own daughter. And the other one had to do all the work, and be the Cinderella of the house.
- The Indonesian folklore Bawang Merah Bawang Putih had this circumstance, being a local 'variant' of Cinderella. Unlike what the title said (about who's mentioned first), the Cinderella here is Bawang Putih, enslaved by her Wicked Stepmother and Bawang Merah is her evil stepsister.
- A sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines relating reveals that Team Galactic's Mars had this as a child. After her parents died, she was taken in by his uncle and aunt, who were not happy, and treated her like a servant, often throwing her out of the house and beating her up for things such as forgetting to take out the trash.
- whose woods these are (I think I know.) is a "Cinderella" AU, so of course, this trope applies. Adrien's mother died, but his father is still alive during the story. In fact, he's even worse than Adrien's Wicked Stepmother, in a sense. Shortly after remarrying to Audrey, Gabriel disowned Adrien and promised his inheritance to his stepsister instead, and actually watches and allows Audrey to abuse Adrien and treat him like a servant. It's a rare example where the biological parent is the one directly responsible for the child's misery instead of the Wicked Stepmother figure.
- Barbie as Rapunzel: Rapunzel is raised as Gothel's servant. Gothel is borderline abusive towards her, reminding her daily that nobody loved or wanted her. It is later revealed that she is actually a princess, and Gothel kidnapped her so as to get revenge on her father for rejecting her.
- At the start of Barbie: Mariposa, Mariposa is forced to wait on Rayla and Rayna, two initially selfish sisters who demand she pick out their fanciest clothes and hair, with little time for her own interests.
- The lace shop girls in the film Madeline: Lost in Paris fall into this.
- Angelica, in Titanic: The Legend Goes On, is basically a Cinderella expy, complete with the evil stepfamily. It's not made entirely clear how they became her stepfamily since her father is never seen and her mother is still alive, but they definitely treat her like Cinderella; in one scene, one stepsister even deliberately smashes a teacup just to make her clean up the mess.
- In Tom and Jerry: The Movie, Robin is being raised by her Evil Aunt while her father's away in Tibet. Said aunt verbally abuses her (she refuses to call her by name, simply calling her "Orphan," and yes, to her face), throws her mother's locket out the window, and is generally only looking after her so she can have access to the fortune Robin is entitled to. It's also implied she locks Robin in her room, and despite the huge amounts of food shown in the kitchen at one point, Robin is never given any.
- Cinderella Four By Four starring Darya Melnikova.
- The movie A Cinderella Story starring Hillary Duff.
- And the spiritual sequel, Another Cinderella Story starring Selena Gomez.
- The Mexican movie El ceniciento, (male "Cinderella") has this as its central theme. When a peasant comes to the big city to stay with some wealthy relatives, he mentions that he has a parcel of land and livestock, and he is treated like a close member of the family. After he reveals that the parcel of land is just a shack, and the livestock included some chickens and a goat, he is forced to do menial labor around the house to pay off what he consumed.
- Ever After starring Drew Barrymore, situates the story of Cinderella in medieval France and gives her Leonardo da Vinci instead of a Fairy Godmother.
- Not Cinderellas Type: A modern and semi-realistic update to the formulae.
- In Rags, Charlie is placed in a literal Cinderella situation, being forced by his Wicked Stepfather to work for the family like a slave.
- James and the Giant Peach: After an escaped rhino eats James' parents, James goes to live with his two cruel aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, who play this trope to its hilt.
- In The Claidi Journals by Tanith Lee, this is pretty much Claidi's life before she meets Nemain and escapes with him.
- The Baudelaire siblings in A Series of Unfortunate Events are sent from one Illegal Guardian and useless caretaker to the next after their parents die in a fire, and their first guardian, Count Olaf, was pretty much the worst of them. It's revealed that he didn't care about them at all and merely wanted their fortune and was trying to kill them to get it. As such, he makes his hatred and hostility towards them quite clear during their time with him. He makes them sleep in one sparsely decorated bedroom together, with an uncomfortable bed, and no crib for Sunny. Also, he usually leaves them a long list of difficult and tedious chores to do, while he's out for the day. He also abuses them.
- In the tenth book, "The Slippery Slope", Sunny resides with Count Olaf and his henchmen on top of a snowy mountain after being captured by them. She ends up becoming a servant for the whole group, including cooking meals in freezing temperatures, getting chips out of the car by blowing them out, doing the washing/cleaning, setting and clearing tables, and sleeping in a casserole dish. Keep in mind that she is, at the absolute oldest, two years old during all of this. Snicket himself actually points out the parallel to Cinderella, but tells the reader that this time, replace the name with "Sunny Baudelaire" and cut out the fairy godmother, handsome prince, and happily ever after.
- The Fairy Godmother, the first of Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, starts out this way. Subverted in that the ambient magic in the land (The Tradition) wants Elena to go to a ball and marry the prince, but the prince is only 11 years old. (Part of the humor and drama of the series is that any number of girls in any given kingdom may be living in Cinderella circumstances, but not all of them can marry a prince.)
- Similarly, Lackey's Phoenix and Ashes has protagonist Eleanor magically bound to the house so her stepmother can treat her as a slave and use her family fortune.
- Chiyo from Memoirs of a Geisha is sold into a life of servitude at a young age and works for the proprietress of geisha house before she is trained to become a Geisha under Mameha.
- Harry Potter, before he gets sent off to Hogwarts, and even afterward his Uncle Vernon never does stop treating him like crap.
- Lampshaded in Half-Blood Prince, though, when Dumbledore visits Privet Drive and spells out to them what terrible guardians they have been.
- Then his cousin Dudley reveals he doesn't think Harry is "worthless" at all! The events of the fifth book helped.
- Ella Enchanted: It's basically a retelling of "Cinderella" in which Ella's stepmother becomes angry at her for living in her house like a lady when she is actually poor, so when Ella's father Sir Peter is away on business, she turns Ella into a servant.
- In A Little Princess, Sara is packed off to a boarding school for formal education. However, after a few years, word comes that her beloved father is dead and that his fortune is spent. Since Sara can no longer pay for her education, Miss Minchin, the cruel owner of the boarding school, dismisses Sara's maid, confiscates her possessions (except for her doll Emily), moves her into a drafty attic room, and forces Sara to work as a servant. In addition to that, former fellow students like Lavinia start to treat her like she's less than trash.
- In Anne of Green Gables, Anne lived with a few stern, bossy foster parents — who were alcoholics, and made her care for six children before she even turned twelve — and this is Anne's account downplaying how bad they were before she moved in with the kinder Marilla and Matthew, who are conservative and stern but also care for her well-being. In Avonlea, her talents and traits are allowed to blossom, which bring her rewards in addition to Matthew and (eventually) Marilla's love.
- The Bride in The Song of Songs justifies her dark complexion with this:
Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,
because the sun has burned me.
My brothers have been angry with me;
they charged me with the care of the vineyards:
my own vineyard I have not cared for.
- Fanny Price of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is, ironically, sent to live with her rich uncle and aunts because they could logically offer her a better life than her parents could. Her aunt, Mrs. Norris, turns out to be a Wicked Stepmother in all but name, and even though her uncle and other aunt show her kindness, Mrs. Norris never allows Fanny to forget that she is a charity case.
- Elizabeth in the opening of Sharon Shinn's Angel-Seeker.
- In Lord Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow, the charwoman of the title.
- The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson, where the heroine writes her school project as the fictional diary of "Lottie", a Victorian girl forced to become a nursemaid in a manor house in order to support her family.
- Hetty of the Hetty Feather series is forced into domestic servitude during the book Sapphire Battersea.
- The titular heroine of Opal Plumstead has to leave school and work in a sweet factory to support her family after her father is sent to prison.
- Clover in Clover Moon is pretty much treated as a household servant by her stepmother. When she manages to find employment as a nursery maid, this is treated as a huge improvement in her circumstances even though it's an exhausting, stressful job and she's still only 11-12 years old.
- Coral in This Girl is around 16 and has to work full time as a nanny because her parents can't (or in her mother's case, won't) get jobs. She's subsequently exploited by the wealthy couple that employs her, and even after getting away from them, she ends up working long hours in a marketplace to support her new girlfriend and stepson.
- In Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery, Jane's only friend at her grandmother's was the girl worked to the bone next door.
- In Gene Stratton-Porter's A Daughter of the Land, Kate's help with the housework is extensive.
She had worked ever since she could remember. Never in her life had she gotten to school before noon on Monday, because of the large washings. After the other work was finished she had spent nights and mornings ironing, when she longed to study, seldom finishing before Saturday. Summer brought an endless round of harvesting, canning, drying; winter brought butchering, heaps of sewing, and postponed summer work
- Sweet Valley High had a spin-off called Elizabeth in which Elizabeth Wakefield, who has run away to London, has to work as a servant in a manor house because she didn't get the student grant she was expecting and is now stranded with no money. Although there's no stepparent, she is bullied by the young earl's snobby aristocratic fiancée.
- In Nowhere To Run, Emily Mayer's Wicked Stepmother treats her like a live-in nanny for her baby half-sister.
- In M. M. Kaye's The Ordinary Princess, Princess Amethyst runs away from her home kingdom in order to keep her parents from hiring a dragon as a last-ditch effort to get her married off. She takes a job as a scullery maid in the castle of a neighboring kingdom, and unlike most examples of the trope, she's much more satisfied with the job than she ever was as a princess.
- Linh Cinder in The Lunar Chronicles is a cyborg, meaning she is considered a second-class citizen. After her adoptive father died, his wife, Linh Adri, blamed Cinder for it and forced her to act as the breadwinner of the family by working as a mechanic, as well as doing all the work around the house.
- Emily Vole in the Wings & Co series is adopted by a wealthy couple who are disappointed when she doesn't turn out to be the little blonde princess they were hoping for. When her adoptive mother gives birth to triplets, Emily becomes reduced to the role of live-in housekeeper, doing all the work and sleeping in the laundry room.
- After being cursed and forcibly transformed, Sabrina Bunahr of Birthright (2017) is pressed into servitude in order to keep her hidden. Rather than the traditional housekeeping, however, Sabrina is instead forced to do manual labour, carrying building materials around a construction site.
- The Danielle Steel novel Fairytale is a Whole Plot Reference to Cinderella, with the Gender Flip of two wicked stepbrothers. While she never has to become a servant to them and her Wicked Stepmother, the woman does banish her to the servants quarters of her house after her father's death during the ensuing legal battle of who gets the property.
- In Eight Cousins and its sequel Rose in Bloom, Phebe starts out as an orphan from the workhouse who first becomes Rose's personal maid, before being launched into a successful singing career. Unlike many other examples, however, Phebe is always treated with kindness by the Campbell family, with Uncle Alec paying for her education.
- Marian's situation in Black Jewels before meeting the other main characters. She was the least favored daughter of her family and had to do all the housework.
- The Tales from the Crypt episode "Fitting Punishment" is based around a homeless, orphaned teenager being sent to live with his Evil Uncle. The uncle uses the boy as slave labour in his mortuary, verbally and physically abuses him, cripples him during a beating, and then murders him because the boy is costing too much money to keep. Eventually the boy returns as a zombie and kills his uncle.
- The Korean Series Shining Inheritance has the female lead kicked out of her home along with her autistic brother by her stepmother after her father apparently dies in a gas explosion.
- In another Korean drama series, High Kick Through The Roof, two young girls (one of whom is only 10-11 years old) are forced to go out to work as housemaids after their father runs away and leaves them with no means of financial support.
- The Storyteller's "Sapsorrow," based on the fairy tale "Allerleirauh," has its princess run away from her home to become a kitchen servant in the castle of a different kingdom.
- In the Eerie, Indiana episode Who's Who", Sarah Bob was a virtual slave who had to cook and clean and mend the clothes of her brothers and father despite being about 12-years-old.
- In the fifth installment of the Dark Parables series, the character Katherine has this as her backstory. A small side story within the game explains that after their parents' deaths, she and her stepsister Cyrilla were left in the care of an Evil Uncle who forced them to basically work as unpaid domestic servants. This is particularly fitting since Katherine is the title character of the game - The Final Cinderella.
- In Punishing: Gray Raven, Liv's father remarried, and her new step-family promptly began neglecting her and treating like a servant, until her fortunes turned around. Though in this case, Liv didn't meet a prince and marry into royalty: she enlisted in the army as a medic in lieu of her step-siblings, nearly died saving soldiers on the frontline, and was transformed into a combat cyborg lauded as a war hero, who is still fighting when the game begins.
- The 1980s version of Pound Puppies has Holly, an orphan who is constantly abused/exploited by her aunt and cousin. By the end of the first season, it was implied she inherited their house and lived happily ever after. Then came the second season, where her aunt took over the pound and forced the pippies underground.
- In Over the Garden Wall, Lorna is being raised by Auntie Whispers, who uses a magic bell to force her to work constantly. Auntie Whispers insists that she has no choice, as otherwise Lorna would "fall into wickedness." It turns out to be Brainwashing for the Greater Good—Lorna suffers from Demonic Possession, and the evil spirit has to be constantly occupied or it goes on a killing spree.