Cinderella by Anne Sexton | Summary, Analysis, Stanzas and Meaning

Anne Sexton Cinderella Analysis: The poem “Cinderella”, authored by Anne Sexton, is a retelling of the classic fairy tale. Anne Sexton’s fifth book of poems, Transformations, consists entirely of all repurposed children’s tales.

Mostly known for her first-person confessional style (she’s often compared to Sylvia Plath), Sexton’s “Cinderella” might seem totally different in subject matter from a lot of her other work.

However, it still has a close, talkative style and darkness of theme that is the hallmark of Sexton’s work. “Cinderella” is a retelling of the fairy tale’s Grimms’ version—not Disney’s.

Even though this poem is somewhat different from the work for which the poet is best known, careful readers can still find the dark, emotional, and feminist elements which make Sexton one of the best poets of the 20th century.

Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.

Anne Sexton Cinderella Summary

The poem “Cinderella” begins with a series of small “example” stories about lucky people who go from being in unfortunate circumstances to becoming very wealthy through some instance of luck, by winning the sweepstakes, or collecting on insurance, or becoming the love object of royalty.

From there, the poet moves on to the actual story of Cinderella. The story revolves around the Grimms’ version of the tale. After her mother’s death, Cinderella is relegated to being a housemaid by her evil stepmother and stepsisters.

Her father lavishes his stepdaughters with beautiful gifts, whereas he brings Cinderella only a twig. Cinderella places the twig on her mother’s grave, and it grows into a magical tree on which a magical dove sits. Anytime Cinderella wants something, she only asks for it, and the dove throws it down to her.

In Sexton’s version of the tale, as in the Grimms’, the famous Prince’s ball is a three-day-long event, and Cinderella gets dresses and shoes from the dove for all three event nights.

On the final night of the event, the Prince gets tired of not knowing where his beloved has gone and covers his palace’s steps with wax. As she’s running off the ball on the last night, Cinderella’s shoe gets stuck, leaving the Prince with his important piece of evidence.

In trying to find the woman who will fit into the shoe, the Prince (as portrayed in the Disney version) comes to Cinderella’s house. The stepsisters attempt to get their feet into the shoe. Contrary to the Disney version, in the Grimm or Sexton version, each sister cuts off a part of Cinderella’s foot to fit it into the shoe.

The blood that pours out of the shoe gives her away. Cinderella, in the end, tries on the shoe, it fits without any bloodletting, and she gets married to the Prince. At the wedding ceremony, the dove pecks out the stepsisters’ eyes. The Prince and Cinderella then live happily ever after, as portrayed in the poem.

Anne Sexton Cinderella Analysis Themes

Anne Sexton Cinderella Themes

Women and Femininity 

Anne Sexton Cinderella Feminist, The narrator of the poem “Cinderella” has an extremely dim view of certain tendencies of women. Between the nursemaid who uses her looks to get ahead, Cinderella uses the white dove to marry the prince.

The stepsisters’ gruesome acts of self-mutilation—all done to get a husband—the narrator paints a super-cynical view of femininity and womanhood.

Anne Sexton, like Sylvia Plath, had tortured relationships with gender, gender roles, and the place of women in society, so this theme crops up not only in “Cinderella,” but in a ton of Sexton’s work.

Women are showcased as foolish, superficial, and single-minded in this poem. The way the narrator snidely makes fun of the women in “Cinderella” shows us that she doesn’t think women should be like this.

Wealth 

The entire poem of “Cinderella” pivots on the idea of wealth. Also, women’s pursuit of wealth is the main thematic element of the literary piece. The example “Cinderella stories” all involve cold, hard, and Cinderella get to the ball by way of having beautiful, presumably pricey clothing, even though she manages to get it magically and for free.

When the stepsisters are given riches and jewels, Cinderella gets a twig, signifying that her life is miserable. Getting married to the prince is of utmost importance to everyoneand not, according to the poem, because the prince is handsome.

Being married to a prince has almost always been associated with having all kinds of dollar, dollar bills — not necessarily being married to someone you actually love. So throughout “Cinderella,” the theme of wealth is used to illustrate how incredibly superficial people can be and the crazy things that money propels some people to do.

The Supernatural Power

In the poem “Cinderella,” the magical tree and bird are Cinderella’s magical friends. Supposedly she’s a “good” and “devout” girl, so maybe she deserved this supernatural help.

However, Cinderella would have been nothing in this poem without the constant help of magic. The poem uses the supernatural power as a kind of extended metaphor for how frustrating Cinderella stories are. Practically everything is being handed to the heroine with no work involved on her part.

Good vs Evil 

Almost every fairy tale involves a fight between good and evil, and this one is no exception. The interesting part about how Sexton retells the story is that it’s not quite clear in “Cinderella” that the title character is outstanding.

She’s certainly not bad, but she’s also kind of passive. She doesn’t really do anything throughout the entire story. We get no character development for her. It’s just that her mom passes away, she has a magical tree, and she’s been wronged by her stepfamily.

On the other hand, the prince isn’t portrayed as exactly charming either. So while “good” wins out at the end, one of the important questions in the poem has to do with what “good” and “bad” really are in fairy tales.

The poem might also suggest that it must be re-evaluated what makes a protagonist “the good guy” in many of our favourite childhood stories.

Good Fortune 

The poem “Cinderella” bubbles with sarcastic anger, a bitterness regarding people who get something for nothing. It is what everyone wants — to win the lottery, to marry a rich person, and never to have to worry about money or bills again.

Cinderella has been blessed with one good fortune after another, aided by her magical tree and bird. The most significant examples of the speaker’s annoyance towards Cinderella stories come initially, with a short little example of people who happen to have stumbled into their wealth through certain circumstance just barely under their control.

What the poem wants to tell the readers is that our notions of luck and fortune are misguided. Even having everything we want does not guarantee that we’ll be happy or even really alive.

Anne Sexton Cinderella Analysis

“Cinderella”, authored by Anne Sexton, retells the traditional version of the fairy tale but gives it a sarcastic twist. The poem appears in Transformations, which is a collection of poems in which the speaker, introduced in the first poem, “The Gold Key,” is a “middle-aged witch” and author of “tales/ which transform the Brothers Grimm.”

As fitting with oral storytelling, the speaker opens the poem with a direct address to the reader and undermined Cinderella’s rags-to-riches story in four short stanzas which give examples of modern success stories:

  • The nursemaid marries her employer’s son.
  • The plumber “who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.”
  • The charwoman who collects the insurance from an accident.
  • The milkman is able to make his fortune in real estate.

Three of the examples are followed by the sarcastic abstain “That story,” which mocks the happy ending of this fairy tale and perhaps its hopeful readers as well.

Anne Sexton Cinderella Stanzas

The following six stanzas retell Grimm’s tale keeping faithful with its details for the most part. However, the narrator’s occasional observations tell readers to pay attention to an essential part of the story or comment on the characters or plot.

In the fifth as well as sixth verses of this poem, Cinderella becomes a maid to her stepmother and stepsisters and plants a twig, given to her by her father, on the grave of her mother. On the tree which grows from the twig rests a dove who grants all of Cinderella’s wishes.

The sixth and seventh verses continue with the familiar story. When Cinderella has to pick a bowl of lentils out of the ashes before she can go to the ball, the white dove comes to her rescue. The dove not only picks up the lentils but also provides her with a golden gown and slippers that match.

The prince dances only with her during the event. The poem continues in the next three verses to describe the prince’s escorting Cinderella home, where she disappears into the pigeon-house, until the fateful third day when, by covering the palace steps with wax, the prince successfully captures Cinderella’s slipper.

When the prince comes looking for Cinderella and decides he would marry the girl whose feet fit into the slipper, the eldest stepsister cuts off her toe, and the youngest one her heel so that they can fit into the slipper and thus win the prince.

However, in each case, the dove alerts the prince about the trail of blood which gives away the sisters’ move. At last, the prince puts the shoe on Cinderella, and she fits into it. The stepsisters attend their royal wedding, where the avenging dove pecks out their eyes.

In the concluding verse of the poem, which echoes the tone and structure of the opening stanzas, the narrator reveals that “Cinderella and the prince/ lived, they say, happily ever after,” ending the poem with the sardonic refrain “That story.”

Anne Sexton Cinderella Analysis Meaning

Although the poems included in ‘Transformations’ are a departure from the confessional mode for which Sexton is so well known. Several poems in this collection, including “Cinderella,” are, like the confessional poems, concerned with family and relationships issues between the sexes.

The dark humour and structure of “Cinderella,” as well as its contrast between the magical details of fairy tales and the mundane realities of daily life, are characteristic of the poems in ‘Transformations’, which show the influence of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud as well as feminism.

“Cinderella,” particularly, pokes fun at the willingness of believing in the lucky break, which will transform ordinary life, as well as the willingness to idealising love and marriage. The fairy tale’s happy ending is depicted as insignificant and stultifying, an emotional and psychological death.

However, by inference, actual married life fares no better. Petty annoyances and quarrels characterise it as the once-young married couple becomes overweight and middle-aged.

The poem explores the tension between the ever-popular Cinderella tale and reality. In the experienced and cynical middle-aged witch’s personality, Sexton enters the debate on marriage and the relationship between women and men, encouraging readers to view the marriage plot with a mixture of scepticism and humour.

AnneSexton Cinderella Analysis

Anne Sexton Cinderella Analysis Symbols

Dove 

Traditionally doves are symbols of goodness, peace, and divine blessing. With their white colour and ability to fly, they are the animal kingdom’s angels. The poem is a white dove – white symbolising innocence and purity – which perches on the tree which has grown on Cinderella’s mother’s grave.

The dove magically steps into Cinderella’s life not only to grant her wishes but to make sure that she marries the prince. After all, the white dove points out to the unaware prince that the woman he intends to marry had to cut off part of her foot to make the shoe fit.

The dove is the illustration of Cinderella’s mother’s supernatural intervention in her daughter’s life. However, its presence in the Grimm story and Sexton’s poem calls the traditional symbol of associating a dove into question.

Both mothers in this poem ultimately have the same goal – to make sure their daughters achieve security by getting married to rich men. The dove, therefore, doesn’t fully symbolise peace and blessing for Cinderella in this poem.

An eternally pasted-on smile seems slightly better than abuse and servitude, but the speaker is sceptical about Cinderella’s future happiness in her marriage. The speaker’s doubt clouds the dove’s traditional meanings of peace and blessing. The dove, in the end, violently blinds the stepsisters as if to underscore this point.

A Beautiful Dress

All Cinderella needs to get married to a rich husband, it seems, is a beautiful dress. As the poem portrays, clearly, the prince would not have even considered her a possible match if she had arrived at the event dressed in her everyday clothing. She needed to have certain clothes and a certain look that signalled she was worthy of a prince’s attention.

The dress symbolises the fundamental classism (prejudice against a certain social class) present in the Cinderella story. It also symbolises how women are objectified and not seen as individuals but as frames to put beautiful clothing.

The prince charming fails at recognising the women he allows to try on the shoe. He has to devise the shoe scheme as he doesn’t actually see women as individuals

Readers often wonder if the prince would have paid any mind to Cinderella if not for the dress. The answer to that would be no. As a woman, Cinderella’s fabricated appearance is by far the most important thing about her.

The Golden Shoe 

The golden shoe symbolises the lengths to which women have been expected and pressured to “fit” into some predetermined mould of acceptability and availability. It is the device allowing Cinderella to escape her circumstances and marry the prince.

However, it also provides a gory detail of what a woman will go through to please a man – and is expected to go through to please a man. The eldest stepsister cuts off a toe to fit in the shoe without any second thought.

The other stepsister cuts off her heel, again without any fuss. These are the normal behaviours of a woman who wants to catch a husband, as showcased in the poem.

The shoe is also, however, a symbol of justice.

The poem says the stepsisters were pretty enough and “had lovely feet.” But the shoe doesn’t fit; it is not their fate to marry the prince. Instead, the same magical dove manifesting Cinderella’s wishes doles out punishment to the stepsisters for their wickedness. Their self-mutilation is pointless, and Cinderella gets a little bit of revenge.