Wicked Stepmother. This is what happens when we leave dad without child supervision. "Better a serpent than a stepmother!". 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, and is the villain of many a Fairy Tale.
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 be 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.
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She generally favors her own children — whether from a previous marriage or this one — over her stepchildren. Not that that causes this trope, because it's kind of natural. It's just another symptom. 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. 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. This trope is sometimes the result of writers attempting to Bowdlerise fairy tales by transforming a cruel mother into a wicked stepmother. For instance, Grimms' original tales of "Snow White" and "Hansel and Gretel " both featured a cruel mother. Given her status as a villain, the Wicked Stepmother's 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 jealous Daddy's Girl regarding any stepmother as a Wicked Stepmother. The Red-Headed Stepchild is a particular victim. The Wicked Stepmother is always defined in relation to a surviving father's children.
A man is never the Wicked Stepfather to his second wife's existing children, and stepsibling relationships are never reciprocal, although it is almost impossible for one Step to exist without a counterpart. Wicked Stepsisters are always the Wicked Stepmother's children, as viewed by her husband's children.
No Real Life examples, please! It is sufficient to say they do exist and this trope is all too often Truth in Television.