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Fairy Tale Stereotypes in Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella”

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Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” illuminates the unrealistic and prejudiced stereotypes in age-old fairy tales, stereotypes inadvertently etched on the minds of millions of children. Sexton uses a conversational tone that remains oblivious to the initial hardships of the “rags to riches” maiden to highlight the insignificance and passiveness of women and the influential and dominant character of men. She conveys to the world’s audience of fairy tale lovers the blatant inequality in “Cinderella,” showing that this model fairy tale simply does not add up to be “happily ever after.

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The intrinsic plot to “Cinderella,” may it be the Grimm Brothers or the Disney version, lies on Cinderella being a tragic character oppressed by her society and unable to change. Female stereotypes of passivity and inactivity complement male stereotypes of strength and achievement. Cinderella adheres to her mother’s advice to “be devout” and to “be good” (Sexton 1), submissively enduring such condemnatory insults as being the perpetual maid for the household and accepting a mere twig of a tree from her father rather than receiving the jewels and gowns bestowed to her stepsisters.

Instead of attempting to change her wretched condition, she internalizes her feelings, a stereotypical characteristic that commonly plagues the female character in fairy tales. In stark contrast, the prince is willing to alter his status from bachelor to married by holding the ball, magnifying the male dominant character of fairy tales. Cinderella’s change of luck depends completely on the prince’s ball, without which she would have remained the same cinder-covered maiden.

In addition, the prince embodies a redeeming character who chases after shy Cinderella and uplifts her from her tragic condition, almost as if he was a replacement for the dove in satisfying Cinderella’s desires. These stereotypes, together with the “happily ever after” ending showing triumphant Cinderella and her prince in a beautiful castle, become inculcated on the minds of fairy-tale loving children. Sexton strongly attacks these stereotypes within the generic fairy tale. In the prologue of “Cinderella,” Sexton derisively conveys formulaic examples of “once upon a time” fairy-tale success stories.

For example, Sexton tells of such improbable transformations as “From toilets to riches,” “From diapers to Dior,” “From homogenized to martinis,” and “From mops to Bonwit Teller” (Sexton 1). The outrageous disparity between the before and after in each case mocks the perception that to be successful, a person must begin as dirt poor and by incredible luck, shake the hand of Midas. Because Cinderella matches this model perfectly, it exemplifies how fairy tales simply do not portray society realistically or objectively.

Sexton’s retelling of the Grimm fairy tale simultaneously attacks the fundamental fairy tale inequality that women are weak and men are strong. Sarcastic remarks such as “looking like Al Jolson,” “[birds] picked up lentils in a jiffy,” and “[rather] a large package for a simple bird,” effectively removes much of the solemnity associated with her desperate condition. In addition, Sexton ridicules Cinderella’s incompetence and apathy by illustrating that she ludicrously “cried forth like a gospel singer” (2) in her supposedly heartbreaking requests to the dove.

The prince’s becomes more apparent when an imperious prince chases after her and takes an axe to break open her pigeon house door and who uses cobbler’s wax to acquire her golden slipper. In striking contrast, Cinderella, besides attending the dance, does not take a single step towards uniting with the prince, almost as if male-female relationships should be like cat and mouse play. Sexton’s parody ends with a jeering interpretation of the “happily ever after” cliché universally applied to fairy tales.

Rather than the imagined exultant couple venturing into the serene horizon of affluent zero-worry eternity, the image is of two dolls in a museum case, untouched by diapers (representing babies) or dust (representing troubles), never arguing over when to conceive, always telling different stories, and never getting old, assumptions that are clearly unrealistic and unreasonable (Sexton 3). These unattainable attributes further strengthen Sexton’s claim that “Cinderella” does not impart truthful ideals to children.

Cinderella’s change of luck depends completely on the prince’s initiation of the ball, without which she would have remained the same maiden covered in cinders. In addition, besides attending the dance, she does not attempt to stay with the prince. Rather, the prince embodies a redeeming character who chases after Cinderella and uplifts her from her tragic condition. As a result, the prince acts as a replacement for the dove in satisfying Cinderella’s desires. Sexton ridicules Cinderella’s incompetence and apathy by illustrating that she ludicrously “cried forth like a gospel singer” (2) in her supposedly heartbreaking requests to the dove.

The emphasis on male dominance in the story becomes more apparent when an imperious prince chases after her and takes an axe to break open her pigeon house door and who uses cobbler’s wax to acquire her golden slipper. In striking contrast, Cinderella, besides attending the dance, does not take a single step towards uniting with the prince, almost as if male-female relationships should be like cat and mouse play These fairy tales distort the way in which young children view the world, encouraging them to fit their lives into these storybook candy coatings.

Young girls sculpt themselves to match the dutiful maid or the prince-yearning princess because their revered fictional heroines took such roles prior to reaching eternal happiness. On the other hand, young boys aspire to fit stereotypes of kingdom-saving, quest-loving “knights in shiny armor,” or of noble, heroic gentlemen destined to rule and conquer massive and wealthy realms. Sexton scorns such stereotypes and uses the classic Grimm brothers’ “Cinderella” as a model fairy tale to show that it simply does not convey realism or objectivity to children.

Sexton sarcastically denounces the fairy tale sexism in “Cinderella” with a conversational tone that remains oblivious to the initial hardships of the “rags to riches” maiden. Although Cinderella must face the chores of cleaning such things as the sooty hearth, she is able to obtain whatever she wanted, no matter how large, from the dove. Cinderella may feel profound sadness, but Sexton’s maudlin description that she “cried forth like a gospel singer” (2) expresses the ludicrousness of her appearance and desires.

In addition, Sexton’s downplaying and elimination of the descriptive detail within the Grimm version diminishes the impact of Cinderella’s pain and suffering. Female stereotypes in “Cinderella” highlight the insignificance and passiveness of women and the influential and dominant character of men. Cinderella’s change of luck depends completely on the prince’s initiation of the ball, without which she would have remained the same maiden covered in cinders. In addition, besides attending the dance, she does not attempt to stay with the prince. Rather, he prince exemplifies the redeeming character who chases after Cinderella and uplifts her from her tragic condition.

As a result, the prince acts as a replacement for the dove in satisfying Cinderella’s desires. Sexton ridicules Cinderella’s incompetence and apathy by illustrating that she ludicrously “cried forth like a gospel singer” (2) in her supposedly heartbreaking requests to the dove. The emphasis on male dominance in the story becomes more apparent when an imperious prince chases after her and takes an axe to break open her pigeon house door and who uses cobbler’s wax to acquire her golden slipper.

In striking contrast, Cinderella, besides attending the dance, does not take a single step towards uniting with the prince, almost as if male-female relationships should be like cat and mouse play These fairy tales distort the way in which young children view the world, encouraging them to fit their lives into these storybook candy coatings. In the introductory section of “Cinderella,” Sexton derisively conveys formulaic examples of “once upon a time” fairy-tale success stories.

She generates humor by creating an outrageous disparity between the before and after in each case. For example, Sexton tells of such improbable transformations as “From toilets to riches,” “From diapers to Dior,” “From homogenized to martinis,” and “From mops to Bonwit Teller” (Sexton 1). Nevertheless, this humor mocks the perception that to be successful, a person must start out as dirt poor and by a stroke of luck, shakes the hand of Midas. Because Cinderella matches this model perfectly, it is, therefore, used as a stereotypical standard.

Anne Sexton sarcastically denounces the fairy tale sexism in “Cinderella” with a lighthearted style that remains oblivious to the initial hardships of the makeover maiden. She shows that although Cinderella must face the chores of cleaning such things as the sooty hearth, she is able to obtain whatever she wanted, no matter how large, from the dove. Cinderella may feel profound sadness, but Sexton’s maudlin description that she “cried forth like a gospel singer” (2) expresses the ludicrousness of her appearance and desires.

In addition, Sexton’s downplaying and elimination of the descriptive detail within the Grimm version diminishes the impact of Cinderella’s pain and suffering. Comparisons such as Cinderella to Al Jolson, the dove’s gifts to eggs (“dropping like an egg”), the ball to a marriage market, the prince to a shoe salesman, and Cinderella and the prince to “two dolls in a museum case” effectively produce a new facetious viewpoint to the tale (Sexton 1-3). Without the reader identifying with the tragic heroine, Sexton subtly surfaces the blatant male-female stereotypes.

For example, Cinderella’s change of luck is completely dependent on the prince’s commencement of the ball, without which she would have remained the same maiden covered in cinders. The emphasis on male dominance in the story becomes more apparent when an imperious prince chases after her and takes an axe to break open her pigeon house door and who uses cobbler’s wax to acquire her golden slipper. In striking contrast, Cinderella, besides attending the dance, does not take a single step towards uniting with the prince, almost as if male-female relationships should be like cat and mouse play.

Sexton’s parody ends with a jeering interpretation of the “happily ever after” cliché universally applied to fairy tales. Rather than the imagined exultant couple venturing into the serene horizon of affluent zero-worry eternity, the image is of two dolls in a museum case, untouched by diapers (representing babies) or dust (representing troubles), never arguing over when to conceive, always telling different stories, and never getting old, assumptions that are clearly unrealistic and unreasonable (Sexton 3).

These unattainable attributes further strengthen Sexton’s claim that “Cinderella” does not impart truthful ideals to children. Young boys and girls frequently embrace fairy tale characters and events as prototypes in molding their own fanciful lives. Cinderella adheres to her mother’s advice to “be devout” and to “be good” (Sexton 1), submissively enduring such condemnatory insults as being the perpetual maid for the household and accepting a mere twig of a tree from her father rather than receiving the jewels and gowns bestowed to her stepsisters.

Instead of attempting to change her wretched condition, she internalizes her feelings, a stereotypical characteristic that commonly plagues the female character in fairy tales. In addition, whereas the male character (the prince) takes action to alter his status from bachelor to married, the female character (Cinderella) gambles upon deferentially attracting him at the dance. In the eyes of young children worldwide, the fairy tale becomes a moral example of how women are dependent on men to take action or to initiate a relationship.

Furthermore, the sexist characterization of prettiness as a purely feminine quality marks a tremendous fallacy in early childhood learned thought, resulting in girls dressing up as princesses during Halloween, in the enormous profits of the women’s cosmetics industry and in men choosing girlfriends and wives largely on the basis of attractiveness. Literary critic Carol Carpenter raises the question, “[What if] Cinderella [is] unattractive and attends the ball in her rags? ” Undoubtedly, she would be marketing the Sisyphean housemaid ideal rather than the blissful Disney princess icon.

Cite this Fairy Tale Stereotypes in Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella”

Fairy Tale Stereotypes in Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella”. (2016, Oct 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/fairy-tale-stereotypes-in-anne-sextons-cinderella/

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