Analysis of Anne Sexton's 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 story. 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 its attentive audience.
Sexton's Cinderella Story
In Sexton’s poem, the Cinderella story is quite different from the fairy tale portrayed by the media. Walt Disney’s version of the Cinderella story, 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 of the Cinderella story 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 the Cinderella story 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.
Sexton’s mockery of the Cinderella story 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. in an effort 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.
Both children and adults desire to live out their fantasy lives and the media and popular culture continues 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 gained 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 continues to feed the minds of individuals with a wish that cannot be filled within this lifetime. A life lived happily-ever-after is just a fairy tale.