Study Guide

Cinderella

by Anne Gray Harvey

Cinderella Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although the poems in Transformations are a departure from the confessional mode for which Sexton is so well known, many of the poems in this collection, including “Cinderella,” are, like the confessional poems, concerned with issues of family and relationships between the sexes. The dark humor 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,” in particular, pokes fun at the willingness to believe in the lucky break that will transform ordinary life as well as the willingness to idealize love and marriage. The fairy tale’s happy ending is depicted as trivial and stultifying, a kind of emotional and psychological death. However, by implication, actual married life fares no better. It is characterized by petty annoyances and quarrels 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 persona of the experienced and cynical middle-aged witch, Sexton enters the debate on marriage and the relationship between men and women, encouraging readers to view the marriage plot with a mixture of skepticism and humor.