Professor Rebekah Starnes
Despondently Ever After…
In the familiar more traditional version, Cinderella is a poor maid girl that, with the help of fairy godmother, gets a chance to meet prince charming. They fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after, and then what? What is a happily ever after? Is this even a realistic thought? In the dark comedic poem Cinderella, Anne Sexton forces the reader to examine this question. Utilizing literary devices such as tone, imagery, and style, Sexton encourages the reader to think about how silly and unlikely a fairy tale ending actually is.
Sexton’s take on the story Cinderella is not based off of the well renowned Disney version, but rather the darker more adult Grimm Brother’s version. In this version, Cinderella is a poor young girl that lives with her father, two wicked stepsisters, and despicable stepmother, after her own mother dies. One day when Cinderella’s father comes home from the town fair he brings his daughters what they requested, for the two stepdaughters, jewels and dresses, and for Cinderella a twig. Cinderella plants the twig on her mother’s grave; it grows into a tree on which a magical dove lives. This dove grants her every wish. On the first day of the three-day ball Cinderella is told that the only way she will be allowed to go to the ball is if she picks up a plate of lentils her stepmother has thrown on the floor. The magical dove, and all of his friends come and help her clean up the lentils. Once every lentil is pick up her stepmother tells her she still can’t go because she has nothing to wear and can not dance. She goes to her mother’s grave and weeps of her misfortune, the magical dove hears her cries and gives her royal attire and everything she needs. For the first two days of the ball, Cinderella and the prince fell in love, each night however Cinderella would run into the pigeon house to escape and hurry home to avoid getting caught by her stepmother. On the third and final night the prince coated the steps with wax to prevent Cinderella from getting away so quickly; to his dismay the wax only caught her slipper, allowing the search for the prince’s bride to commence. The prince has every girl in the kingdom try on the slipper. Once the prince arrived at Cinderella’s house her two stepsisters immediately did whatever they needed to do to get their feet to fit in the slipper. The first one cut off her toe, and the second cut off her heel. When Cinderella came out, because it was her slipper, her foot slipped right in. On the day of the wedding the two stepsisters came and tried to benefit from Cinderella’s good fortune, but pigeons came and pecked their eyes out, punishing them to be blind for the rest of their lives for the malicious way they treated Cinderella. We assume that Cinderella and the prince marry, and of course, lived happily ever after.
From the start of the poem Sexton sets a sardonic or caustic tone saying, “You always read about it,” implying that as an audience we always assume this is how it happens. She then continues by listing off rags to riches stories. She mentions the plumber, nursemaid, milkman, and charwomen, all of whom, in some unlikely circumstance go from poor to wealthy. Though we know the chances that these occurrences will actually happen are one-in-a-million, everyone is still searching for the happy ending. Sexton continues to convey her cynical ideas when she says “Next came the ball, as you all know” and “That’s the way with stepmothers.” In both examples she narrows the gap between the fictional nature of fairy tales and the unfortunate truth of reality. She also utilizes metaphors and hyperboles to show the extremes to which these people traveled when she writes, “From toilets to riches/ From diapers to Dior/ From homogenized to martinis at lunch and From mops to Bonwit Teller.” This forces the reader to begin questioning the reality of a fairy tale...