"Cinderella" by Anne Sexton (A Review)

Updated on November 8, 2016

Review of "Cinderella" By Anne Sexton

In Cinderella, Anne Sexton, using her sarcastic/ironic tone, exploits the popular Brothers Grimm fairytale to create a more realistically thematic, anti-rags-to-riches story. The first four stanzas of the narrative use repetition as a device to state her thesis that the myths of "That story," are just that, myths, and uses that justification to relate her own version of Cinderella, in a setting the speaker only relates to the reader as, "Once." However, what drives the poem is Sexton's use of irony and sarcasm throughout it, keeping the reader entertained and amused.

Sexton's sarcastic tone relies on the use of simile, symbolism, and hyperbole to relate the anonymous narrator's feelings through constant interjections within the context. The subject, Cinderella, is represented as a, naïve, out of touch; spoiled brat. In the poem, the speaker relates that Cinderella sleeps on a "sooty hearth," and "walked around looking like Al Jolson" (32). At first, the reader might feel sorry for her, but the reality is that she made her bed by choosing to believe in fairytales instead of doing something to make her situation better, like washing her own face!

At the end of the fifth stanza the speaker states, "The bird is important, my dears, so heed him" (40). The bird is a white dove, symbolic of Cinderella's deceased mother because it visits the tree that grew on her grave. The dove brings all kinds of gifts to Cinderella and "would drop it like an egg upon the ground" (39). This is important because of the inlaid connotations; the bird is a "him," and the egg represents fertility... or mother. Therefore, in a sense, is not the speaker telling the reader that in her fantasy world, Cinderella is forgetting where she came from in the first place. The dove came to the tree that grew on the mother's grave; the tree grew from the twig her father gave her. Cinderella only sees the gifts brought for the other women, and feels slighted, when she, in fact, had received the greatest gifts of all, her mother's spirit, and although estranged, her father's love.

Throughout the poem, the speaker interjects with commentary. Through this gives the opportunity to deliver personal opinion, which allows the reader to see another side of the story. So now, the reader has the story, his own interpretation, and the speakers view, leaving room for a variety of pictures. One of the most telling comments is the second line of the sixth stanza referring to the ball "It was a marriage market" (42). This metaphor takes the reader away from the story, and offers the narrators opinion of what these types of occasions represent in her mind. These interruptions compliment the tone of the story, personalizing it and helping to form a relationship between the reader and the speaker (the reference to the narrator as "her," is only due to the obvious feminine persona displayed throughout, as in the previously mentioned "my dears" in line 40).

After the speakers personalized relation of the story, she presents the reader with an unexpected turn in the eighth stanza. Unlike the turn in other types of poems were it will resolve situations that lead up to it, the speaker resorts to a grotesque form of hyperbole in order to relate the expected happy-ending. To wit: the prince comes to find Cinderella, and the sister tries to take her place. The slipper does not fit, so she cuts off her toe. The prince is blind to the obvious spill of blood—or is he—and is ready to take her off to...wherever... until the dove tells him to look at all the blood. In other words, for this story's purpose; the prince wasn't looking at the feet.

With this, the speaker feels compelled to add the curious comment that gives a deeper insight to her own perceptions on life; there is an obvious wound there which she felt the need to reveal at that time; "That's the way it is with amputations./They just don't heal up like you wish (86). Here the speaker creates a disassociation with the character in the story and seems to plead for sympathy herself. Eventually Cinderella gets to try on the shoe, and...

At the wedding ceremony

The two sisters came to curry favor

And the white dove pecked their eyes out.

Two hollow spots were left

Like soup spoons


Cinderella creates a juxtaposition for interpretation, it is either "that story," or... if the shoe fits...wear it!


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