An Analysis of Cinderella by Anne Sexton

Categories: Cinderella

Sexton's "Cinderella"

"Cinderella" by Anne Sexton is a different variation of the classic tale. Sexton alters the "Recurring, happily ever after" in every tale, to a more modernize version. Four anecdotes sharing how others can go from poor to riches or abrasive existence to fantasy. Sexton changes the expected happy ending by satirizing the message this story gives. The poem with little anecdotes of unexpected reality, Sexton's sarcastic tone foreshadows the outcome. She implies for the reader to know the difference between a fairy tale and reality.

Sexton deconstructs the ending of her retold fairy tale by using sarcasm to change the reader's expectations of the farfetched fairy tale.

There is little emotional attachment seen by either Wilhelm Grimm's "Ashputtle", and Anne Sexton. The serious interest in folklore was spurred in the stories collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Ashputtle begins by introducing the reader to a young girl at the bedside of her dying mother imposing a different sense of appeal.

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Although it appears to be a tale targeted for the common class, there is still a division of classes in the society, as the story begins with, "A rich man's wife..."

Tales change and form similar interpretation, style, presentation, appearance, and meaning. Raising the concept of a wicked stepmother who treated the first daughter of her husband harshly with extreme dislike.

Myself, residing in a close knit family I have to admit that I am entertained by the sarcastic alterations provided by Sexton. Grimm's Ashputtle forthcoming emotions would stress that I do prefer the "Happily ever after," tale of love.

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It seems no surprise that contemporary author, Anne Sexton, created her own version of the classic Cinderella story. Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm are credited with collecting over two hundred folk tales from oral sources. They were written down to compile a classic set of fairytales enjoyed by readers in many cultures across many generations (Behrens 552). Ironically, while the brothers argued that the stories should be preserved just as they were told, they did just the opposite. They "improved" them by writing them in their own words so they could be easily read by the common man (553). Anne Sexton followed their tradition.

Like the Brothers Grimm, she is attempting to create a version of a story that appeals to people of her day. At the same time she adds a twist, provoking the reader to examine the idea that this fairytale is not a new story. Its moral lesson is repeated time and again. Line one of the selection opens with the statement, "You always read about it", then several rags-to-riches headlines are presented, from a plumber to a nursemaid to a milkman to a charwoman. These are all hardworking

Joe's whose luck changes unexpectedly. Whether due to a winning lottery ticket, marrying into wealth, good investments, or insurance pay-offs, all of her characters, like Cinderella, have a happy ending (578-9).

This might be what the reader is thinking as they jolt from Sexton's headline examples into an abrupt retelling of the classic Cinderella, reworked into a modern poem. It is easy to slip beneath the surface of the author's compelling descriptions, prepared to enjoy a good story... a childhood favorite retold with charming and vivid descriptions. The reader is most likely looking forward to the traditional happy ending. The reader may smile at a reference to a sooty Cinderella who ends up looking like Al Jolson (line 32). However, true to her belief that poetry should shock the senses, the author attempts another twist of the knife as the story ends (Behrens 578). Instead of ending with the traditional line, "and they lived happily ever after", Sexton sarcastically refers to the prince and new princess as "dolls in a museum case" (line 102), and calls them "Regular Bobbsey Twins" (108). She seals her case by repeating the phrase "That story" (109). This is the same phrase she used to end each Cinderella sound-alike headline in the introduction of her poem. In this way the author brings the reader full circle. Cinderella, like Ashputtle, like the plumber, and the charwoman, has no more assurance of a happy ending than any other person. The rich and the poor, the young and the old alike must face life's changes and challenges. Today's smile will likely give way to tomorrow's frown. Anne Sexton accomplishes her goal of teaching a lesson by making the point that the happy ending is never the end of the story.

The author is advocating a new criteria for judging weight. Your height is not affected by your weight, but your health certainly is. He advocates inductive logic. He urges readers to study the mounting medical evidence about the increased risks associated with obesity. He wants them to reach the conclusion that good health requires a "healthy" weight. That number will fluctuate, depending on a number of variables. Therefore there is no "one" perfect weight. A good weight would be defined as a body weight that reduces the risk of medical problems associated with obesity. It's not what looks good, but what is good for one's health in the long run.

"Too Much of a Good Thing": Crister asserts that children should be taught that "Eating too much is a bad thing."(487 par.11). He cites research findings and counters conventional 'wisdom'. He points out that what adults have been taught, and what they in turn teach their children, is often misguided misinformation. He ends with a somewhat irritated comment about the belief that teaching children not to overeat can damage their self-esteem. It would be interesting to read a follow-up study of children who are taught that overeating is bad. I would imagine that Crister would expect them to have higher self-esteem than their peers who are not taught not to overeat.

"Too Much of a Good Thing": I agree that parents should limit the amount of food their children eat and they should limit the kinds of food they eat at meals and snacks. Adults have knowledge and the ability to judge between good and bad choices. Children do not. They are molded by their parents decisions. If a child has an eating problem it is because their parents have a parenting problem (barring medical disorders). It is irresponsible to allow children to be victims of their own ignorance and fleshly desires. Education needs to be aimed at adults first.

"NAAFA Policy"

  1. Would you consider the "NAAFA Policy" explanatory or argument synthesis? Where is the thesis or assertion of this piece? Explanatory synthesis aims to inform. Argument synthesis aims to persuade the reader to adopt one side of a debatable position, namely the author's position. The NAAFA Policy is an argument synthesis. The thesis is contained in the section "NAAFA's Official Position: Since reducing diets rarely achieve permanent weight loss and can result in negative health consequences, since laws and regulations protecting the consumer are nonexistent or remain unenforced, and since people undergoing diets are rarely given sufficient information to allow them to give true informed consent, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance strongly discourages participation in weight-reduction dieting." (W&R 489) This statement meets the five requirements in the Handbook (45): it states the subject, it conveys the essay's persuasive purpose, it presents the focus/point of view, it uses specific language, and it briefly states the main subdivisions of the essay.
  2. Review the positions that NAAFA advocates. Which strike you as most workable? Why? I believe the most helpful suggestion is "That regulations be adopted that require the diet industry to publish five-year (minimum) follow-up studies and "success" rates. All such statistics must be verifiable by objective outside researchers and clearly displayed on all diet products and advertising." (W&R 490) The whole debate of weight in America is emotionally charged. People feel strongly about their opinions, on both sides of the issue. Impartial, empirical data is needed to provide an unbiased basis for claims( pro or con). NAAFA criticizes what it perceives as public opinion and claims that there is little or no basis for the assertions made by diet groups and the medical community. However, readers cannot help but notice the lack of empirical data to support their assertions. It may be true. It may be false. Without proof there is little to talk about.

Least workable? Why? The least workable positions are those that call for "dieters refuse to feel guilty", "no one allow themselves to be coerced..." and "no one make assumptions or judge another person..." Legislating people's thoughts and opinions is ludicrous. Can anyone "refuse" a feeling? Having felt something, one can decide to make a change, but the initial feeling was real. Do we "allow" ourselves to be coerced? The word implies that someone is doing something against our will. We cannot control others, only our own response. Is it possible to never make an assumption or judgment? Again, thought enter our minds. It's what we do with the thought that matters. What if the assumption or judgment is deemed good? Should we try to eradicate all judgments? If we did, we would no longer exercise independent thought or will.

In the teacher's manual for the Handbook, Troyka states, "An analogy compares two dissimilar objects, ideas, or experiences by focusing in what they have in common [...] However, despite points of similarity, two dissimilar items remain dissimilar"(129). What does Seid call our "new religion" and what is its creed? What is the analogy between dieting and religion? At what point does the analogy between dieting and religion break down?

Seid states "We have elevated the pursuit of a lean, fat-free body into a new religion." Eating right, watching one's weight, and exercising are the three mandates of its creed. The analogy between the pursuit of a fat-free body and religion draws on several parallels:

  1. Reward/salvation (Religious followers work for a spiritual goal of salvation and often hope for earthly rewards for their faithfulness. Seid compares this kind of thinking to people who practice the fitness "religion". Following the fitness creed promises beauty, energy, health, long successful life, and selftransformation)
  2. Threat of damnation (Religious people fear the consequences of failure. Seid sees fat/flabbiness as evidence of one's failure and says flabbiness creates "a hell on earth".
  3. Virtues are often associated with religious values. Seid states that virtues in the fitness creed are measurable. Body weight as measured on a scale, body fat ratio, clothing sizes, and physical measurement with a tape measure indicate one's virtue. Another religious parallel is made with less being better than more. For example, many religious orders value poverty and simplicity. They believe less is better. The same holds true for body size in her discussion. She also cites hunger as a primary virtue of the fitness religion.
  4. Another parallel is made in her discussion of fasting. She makes it clear that religions do not call fasting a virtue. She points out that many religions actually condemn fasting. However, fasting is associated with religion, and food deprivation is a parallel to the fitness religion.

At what point does the analogy break down? Seid points out that religious followers follow rules as acts of worship to God or in accordance with God's laws. She also notes that they have a hope of heaven, a more perfect world. Their actions are part of a "larger system of morals". She encourages her readers to "abandon our new religion because it trivializes human life itself. It is clear that Seid recognizes that the analogy breaks down because there is no God, no eternal hope, no point in following the creed of being fat-free. In fact, she makes a strong argument that it is not a religion. The analogy may be effective because it provides several points of comparison to consider. However, the reality that religion and obsession with being fat-free are dissimilar is easy enough to understand. The danger exists when people do not make the distinction. Making food a god and limiting oneself to the physical dimension of our humanity is a sad waste of human potential.

In paragraph 19, Gawande writes, "It is hard to contemplate the human appetite without wondering if we have any say over our lives at all." What does he mean by this? What is your reaction to the statement?

Gawande seems to be asking whether we control our will or whether our will controls us. He cites examples of people who go to radical extremes to reduce their body fat without lasting success. They may have fat surgically removed, they may have their jaws wired shut, and they may even have a portion of their brain removed to shut down the hunger triggers in their brain (524; par.19). It would seem logical that they are exerting their will to bring about change. Why then, do they regain the weight? The author questions who or what is ultimately in control.

My reaction is to follow the chain of reasoning. We must question human appetite. Not everyone battles his or her weight. What controls appetite? Gawande makes the point that children who receive behavioral training continue better eating habits into adulthood (525;par. 20). Vincent Caselli's comments also provide interesting insight into the question of appetite. He admitted that he was actually afraid, knowing that he would eat more if he could (528 par. 38). He was afraid that at some point he might find a way to repeat the action(s) that made him miserable in the past. Consider Caselli's comment, "I'm finding that I'm getting back into that pattern where I've always got to eat" (529;par. 42). What part does habit, patterns, and conditioning play in the development of appetite?

After reading the selection I would compare eating problems with running down a hill. It only takes one time running down a hill at top speed to realize that you made a mistake. It might take several trials and errors to find a way to control your speed. Others may take a nasty fall. Runners who are given some practical advice might never have to experience a fall or the fear that they're out of control. Gawandels article certainly made it clear that this issue is very complex. Traditional pat answers have not explained the growing problem of obesity. No (lasting) effective solution was discussed. It seems that at this point we have more questions than answers.

An officer who uses more force than policy allows is said to have used excessive force and may be guilty of police brutality, the excessive and lawless use of police force. Police officers are often seen as a thin blue line of protection between criminals and law-abiding citizens, but when they use excessive force, they cross the line and become criminals. Police brutality damages the image of law enforcement as well as the justice system. It leads to loss of trust in the policemen, which then creates a gap between them and people in the community. The widespread of police brutality has widened all over the world. The nation must join together to eliminate repression, unjust and abusive treatment by the police in order to have a more peaceful and harmonious nation."There is a problem, effective policing does not mean abusive policing," Attorney General Janet Reno acknowledged, (

police.htm).Our world would be a better place to live in because it lessens violence, death rate, and increases the confidence and harmony between the police and the community. Moreover, the absence of such brutality will terminate arrest and harassment based on racial origin.

"So how is this digital revolution affecting education? A binary answer: Not enough. According to a federal study, most schools are essentially unchanged today despite reforms and increased investment in computers."

My Response 

  • This article caused me to modify my question. I originally looked for information on American schools. This article provided excellent information with research findings gathered in 31 countries. I recognized that my research question applies to computers in classrooms everywhere. Rather than throw out a valuable resource, I changed my focus to include any all schools.
  • This is the article that got me started. I enjoy reading my magazines at home and I'm always interested in the way technology influences education. I started talking to friends that are teachers and did some more reading. It soon became clear that there are big problems with computers in schools. The question became "Whose fault is it?"
  • Not-so-helpful resources: After writing my SSP search question, I went to the LCCC library and started looking for articles on the databases. I found some interesting titles and printed them out. Once I took time to read the articles and highlight important points, I realized a few of the articles were not focused on my research question. I had too many sources, so I had to eliminate those that strayed from my topic. I have good journal articles and two magazines from home. My next search will be for a good book at my neighborhood library in the next few days.

Why does Morrison include the excerpt from an old-fashioned school book?

The excerpt reminds me of the traditional "Dick and Jane" books that many people read as their first book. The characters are supposed to be a simple familiar association for small children. Those characters and the life they represent are nothing like the main characters experiences.

What is the effect of juxtaposing such a bland text with the events of The Bluest Eye?

The tone of the two texts are polar opposites. This subtle element effectively provides a point of contrast.

What is the significance of the words running together?

Not only do the words run together; capitalization is abandoned and punctuation and spacing between the words is eliminated. The words that are intended to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort are suddenly in chaos. There is a sense of panic. Life has sped up. Events are colliding. The simple world is no longer stable. Nothing makes sense.

Is the story told from the point of view of a young girl or from the point of view of a mature woman?

Events are primarily described from the perspective of a young girl, but revelations in understanding that accompanied her maturing mind are occasionally provided. For example, the description of baby dolls as gifts clearly demonstrates a child's thinking: "The big, the special, the loving gift was always a big, blue-eyed Baby Doll. From the clucking sounds of adults I knew that the dolls represented what they thought was my fondest wish.... What was I supposed to do with it? ...I was interested only in humans my own age and size, and could not generate any enthusiasm at the prospect of being a mother" (p.20, par. 1). Further evidence of a child's thinking is clear in the statement "I was physically revolted by and secretly frightened of those round moronic eyes, the pancake face, and the orangeworms hair" (p.20, par 1). The sentence "I learned much later to worship her, just as I learned to delight in cleanliness, knowing, even as I learned, that the change was adjustment without improvement" (p.23, par 1) is the commentary of mature woman.

What can you tell about the narrator of the story?

The narrator is careful to describe people and events as a child perceives them. The occasional mature comments seem more like reflections or commentaries. The story unfolds and connections between the characters become clearer as the young girl's thinking develops. Events that seem unrelated begin to weave into a story that has layers of meaning.

  1. Claudia and Frieda learn of Pecola's rape and pregnancy while they are selling seeds. They overhear snatches of adult conversations and piece the story together. One adult said Pecola should be taken out of school because "She carry some of the blame" (p.189). Adults wondered aloud if Pecola fought her father, insinuating that she might have enticed him or been a willing participant. Claudia and Frieda felt sorry for Pecola and for the unborn, unwanted baby. The line, "So it was with confidence, strengthened by pity and pride, that we decided to change the course of events and alter a human life" (p.191), describes their resolve to help the baby. The girls felt empathy for Pecola and the baby. They had been the focus of accusing stares and ugly words too many times in the past. They felt strong and confident when compared to a small, helpless baby. They felt pity for the baby who was an innocent victim, like them. They felt pride in their blackness, believing that they were beautiful and the baby was beautiful, regardless of what adults said. They hoped that sacrificing their desires (money for the bike), praying, and being good would get God's attention and mercy for the baby.
  2. Claudia is the narrator in the novel, however, near the end she says, "So we avoided Pecola Breedlove --- forever" (p.205). A careful reading of the closing dialogue gives clues that Pecola may be talking to an imaginary friend or a voice in her head. Pecola said, "Why didn't I know you before?" (p.196) and the voice answers, "You didn't need me were so unhappy...I guess you didn't notice me." Pecola agreed, "And you were right here. Right before my eyes." The voices responds, "No, honey. Right after your eyes" (p.196). This is a clue that this character did not appear in the story (or in Pecola's head) until after she believed that her eyes had turned blue. The reader also learns that neither Pecola nor her friend goes to school. Pecola gives another clue when she says, "When you're in the house with me, even Mrs. Breedlove doesn't say anything to you. Ever. Sometimes I wonder if she even sees you" (p.198).
  3. Claudia and Frieda learn of Pecola's rape and pregnancy while trying to sell seeds in order to purchase new bicycles. They overhear the adults talking about the story, and figure out who and what they are talking about. The adults didn't show any sympathy for Pecola, or her unborn child. They were"disgusted, amused, shocked, outraged or even excited by the story"(190). The adults also state that the baby would"be better off in the ground"(190). Claudia and Frieda feel sorry for Pecola , and they want to help Pecola's baby live. They pray, sing and plant their seeds with the hope of the baby surviving.
  4. Pecola is speaking to her imaginary friend. Her friend is imaginary because she is only noticed by Pecola. Pecola thinks people are jealous of her blue eyes because nobody will look her in the face.
  5. Young Morrison was appalled at the fact that her elementary school friend isn't happy with the person that she is. Her friend wanted to change her appearance in order to conform to the standards of other people. It's okay to want to change your appearance, but wanting blue eyes is a drastic measure.
  6. Morrison does succeed in creating real character in the story. People, in the real world, can be very unkind and uncaring about the feelings of other people. People gossip and show excitement when bad things happen to other people. In every way this novel possessed the qualities of real life situations.

Frieda and Claudia are selling seeds and pick up little bits and pieces of conversations. "Did you hear about that girl?" "What? Pregnant?" (188). They get more little snippets of information to find out Pecola is pregnant from her own father. They also learn that it will take a miracle for the baby to live. Frieda and Claudia are concerned because none of the adults seem to really care about what happened to Pecola or the fact that it was her father. They even go so far as to decide to suggest taking Pecola out of school. "Ought to. She carry some of the blame" (189). The only thing they didn't hear was "Poor little girl," or, "Poor baby" (190). In classic hero style, Claudia and Frieda decide to change the world, or at least a tiny piece of it. "So it was with confidence, strengthened by pity and pride, that we decided to change the course of events and alter a human life" (191). Every great hero knows there must be a personal sacrifice to make things work. Frieda and Claudia make a huge sacrifice by giving up not only the money they had made, but also the seeds. They plant their seeds and their money and await God's answer. They get the answer. Not the answer they wanted, but one received too often. The answer was no. Of course it wasn't God's fault. The heroes had failed, had not offered their sacrifice in the proper way. They had failed and Pecola became a symbol of that failure, so they avoided her.

It's what's inside that counts. As true as that may be; few people take the time to find out. Some of the stories and essays in Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum help expose what society wants and expects. Physical beauty is the epitome of achievement in society. Thin, beautiful, and smart all go hand in hand. At least, that is the perception. "Fat people are portrayed as unhealthy, unattractive, asexual, weak-willed, lazy, and gluttonous. Weight loss or a thin figure are equated with virtue, health and success" (489). Even the way one presents themselves is scrutinized by society. "She was so beautiful in her golden dress that they thought she must be the daughter of some foreign king. They never dreamed it could be Ashputtle, for they thought she was sitting at home in her filthy rags) (555). It's all on the surface. Society believes only in physical beauty and appearance. One might say that there is not enough time in the hustle and bustle of everyday life to take the time to explore a person and find true beauty, regardless of what they seem on the outside. But, it has always been this way, even in times when life was slower and more relaxed; it was what's on the surface that mattered.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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An Analysis of Cinderella by Anne Sexton essay
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