Summary of Toads and Diamonds by Charles Perrault

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Two sisters are tested by a fairy and given gifts that reflect their attitudes in Charles Perrault's ''Toads and Diamonds.'' Find out more about these sisters and the gifts they receive in this summary of Perrault's fairy tale.

Unequal Home Life

Have you ever seen a TV show or movie where the characters made a joke about one of the kids being mom or dad's favorite? A lot of the time, this joke is answered by the parents insisting that they love all of their children equally. But that isn't the case in Charles Perrault's ''Toads and Diamonds.'' You may be wondering why a mother would blatantly prefer one daughter over the other. Well, that's a good question.

The widow in Perrault's tale prefers her eldest daughter because she looks like her mother. In fact, the two look and act so much alike ''that whoever looked upon the daughter saw the mother.'' While sometimes a case of 'like mother like daughter' is a great thing, these two women are ''so disagreeable and so proud'' that nobody can stand to be around them.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the younger daughter who takes after her father: She is sweet, kind, and beautiful. Despite the younger daughter's good qualities, the mother ''doted on her eldest daughter'' while the younger had to eat on her own in the kitchen and slave away doing chores.

A Tasteful Gift

One of the younger daughter's jobs is to draw water twice a day, which involves hiking to the well a mile and a half away. On one of these trips, a woman shows up begging for a drink of water. The girl responds eagerly and quickly; she not only rinses out the pitcher, but also then refills it with the clearest water and holds it while the woman drinks. When the woman is finished, she turns to the girl and compliments both her beauty and her good manners. It turns out this woman is really a fairy in disguise who has been testing ''how far the civility and good manners of this pretty girl would go.'' She's pleased with the results, so she gives the girl a gift: Every word that comes out of her mouth will be accompanied by a flower or a precious stone.

Jewels or flowers will fall out of her mouth when the younger sister speaks.

An Unsavory Gift

The girl has taken so long at the well that her mother is furious with her. You can imagine how surprised the mother is when roses, pearls, and diamonds come out of her daughter's mouth during her apology. After the mother hears what happened at the well, it's pretty clear to her what she needs to do: She must send her other daughter away for the same gift! At first the eldest refuses to do the chore, regardless of the benefit that might come from it, but her mother orders her to go. So she heads out with the best pitcher in the house and strict instructions to be extra kind to the poor woman she'll meet.

The older girl is expecting a beggar woman to show up, but what she finds instead is ''a lady most gloriously dressed.'' Now, as readers, we know this is really the fairy wearing a different disguise to get an accurate reading of the girl's awfulness. The eldest daughter has no idea, though, and speaks rudely to her well-dressed visitor. The fairy remains calm and simply bestows the kind of gift such bad manners deserve: Every word the eldest daughter says will be punctuated by a snake or toad falling out of her mouth.

Snakes or toads will accompany every word the elder sister speaks.

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