Skip to main content

Analysis of Anne Sexton's "Cinderella"

Poetry, literature, health, and social issues are just a few of the many topics the author tackles here!

Anne Sexton presents the reader with a twist on the classic fairytale in her poem "Cinderella."

Anne Sexton presents the reader with a twist on the classic fairytale in her poem "Cinderella."

A Twist on a Classic Fairy Tale

Fairy tales have influenced the fantasies of children and adults alike throughout generations. However, a classic fairy tale takes on a whole new perspective in Anne Sexton’s poem "Cinderella." Sexton’s perspective on the acclaimed childhood story is fairly different than what popular culture and the media wishes to present. Ever since the early days of Disney, the media has marketed a happily-ever-after life to feed the fantasies of the average American.

In the Media

The media uses television programs, movies, books, music, and even video games as instruments to bring individuals into a world like that of Walt Disney’s Cinderella. However, Walt Disney is not the only proponent of fairy tales about everlasting happiness. Modern-day Cinderella stories are being fed to viewers through movies like Ella Enchanted and even Shrek.

The music industry also portrays the idea of living a glamorous life without a care in the world. Literature is another powerful means of conveying the Prince Charming and rags-to-romance Cinderella persona. These various media outlets are rather successful at feeding the fantasies of their attentive audience.

Sexton's "Cinderella"

In Sexton’s poem, the Cinderella story is quite different from the fairy tale portrayed by the media. Walt Disney’s version of Cinderella, one of the most popular and renowned fairy tales promulgated by the media and popular culture, has a fantasy world full of whimsical characters enveloped in magic. In contrast to the popular Disney film, Sexton’s version details an unpleasant reality containing superficiality, gruesome violence, and death.

Cinderella’s mother dies in Sexton’s poem, and the girl is neglected by her father and stepmother. Later, Cinderella’s two stepsisters try to steal her future husband away from her. At the end of Sexton’s poem, Cinderella and Prince Charming are presented as “two dolls in a museum case” (Sexton 102), indicating their superficiality as “their darling smiles [are] pasted on for eternity” (Sexton 107). The events in Sexton’s fairy tale appear more a part of reality than those presented in the acclaimed Disney film.


Entertainment is only a form of escapism, and Sexton seemed to be well aware of that fact. Perhaps that is why she chose to mock certain popular interpretations of Cinderella in her poem. Many individuals are being fed a false reality, and Sexton seemingly wanted her readers to see the unrealistic downfall of a happily-ever-after life.

The fantasy of having happiness forever is an alluring premise, which the media recognizes and continues to introduce to the minds of its audience. Fairy tales are a valuable commodity to popular culture and the media. The simple form of escape through fantasy reinforces a dream world, a life lived happily-ever-after that so many individuals desire but will never come to know.

Prince Charming

Sexton’s mockery of the classic or Disney version of Cinderella is closer to the version of the Brother’s Grimm fairy tale. The Grimm Brothers were more apt to include violence in their stories. Sexton wrote in her poem concerning the sister who amputated her heel to be able to fit her foot into Cinderella’s slipper, “that is the way with amputations. They don’t just heal up like a wish” (Sexton 86-87).

Sexton’s humorous quote about amputations is a blow to the whimsical and superficial façade that the media and popular culture displays in entertainment. The two sister’s mutilating their own feet illustrates how some women today are damaging their physical appearances, such as through botched plastic surgeries, etc., to appeal to their prince charming. However, the media and popular culture tend to cover up or ignore the dark side of reality presented in Sexton’s poem.

Living Happily Ever After

Both children and adults desire to live out their fantasy lives, and the media and popular culture continue to feed those fantasies with music, television, books, video games, etc. At the start of Sexton’s poem, the plumber with twelve children, the nursemaid, milkman, and charwoman each gain a glimpse of happiness for a moment of time.

However, their happiness was only short-lived and not everlasting. In line with the happily-ever-after fantasy, popular culture and the media continue to feed individuals' minds with a wish that cannot be filled within this lifetime. A life lived happily ever after is just a fairy tale.


Liberty Haller on May 04, 2019:

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

did Fairy Godmother get her girls off of Google

Julia Drake PR on March 01, 2012:

As you are a supporter of Anne Sexton and her creative legacy, I would like to share a new book with you that I believe might be of interest to you: An Accident of Hope: The Therapy Tapes of Anne Sexton (Routledge/February 18, 2012). Written by Dawn Skorczewski, Ph.D, a professor at Brandeis University and an expert on the relationship between psychology and creative expression, An Accident of Hope connects excerpts from Sexton's therapy tapes with excerpts from her poetry to offer a unique and never-before-seen perspective on the artist's experience and creative process.

We can see Sexton attempting to make sense of her life and therapy and get an intimate glimpse into a psychologically tortured yet immensely creative woman during a period of emerging feminism and cultural change. By offering a glimpse into the past, the present is open for reappraisal––both of Sexton herself and the legacy of psychoanalytic treatment.

An Accident of Hope is a fascinating and vital read for all fans of Anne Sexton, but above all, for every creative spirit that has struggled with the thin line between creativity and self-destruction. I would love to send you a book for review.

Please find advance praise for the book below. For more information about Dawn Skorczewski, please visit:

Thanks for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you!


Dabei Lu


Julia Drake PR


Anonymous on February 04, 2012:

this was helpful

jodie90 on November 22, 2011:

I have a task to write a book report about Cinderella, this essay is wonderful.

Ally on October 17, 2011:

I have to do an assignment on this poem and after reading this you have helped so very much! Its greatly appreciated:)

Lanise Brown (author) from United States on February 03, 2011:


SaffronBlossom from Dallas, Texas on February 03, 2011:

Great hub! I actually have the Anne Sexton book (can't recall the name) that this poem is collected in, and all of the poems are amazing.

Related Articles