The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Cinderella” by Anne Sexton retells the traditional version of this fairy tale but gives it a sardonic twist. The poem appears in Transformations, 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 befits oral storytelling, the speaker opens the poem with a direct address to the reader and undercuts Cinderella’s rags-to-riches story in four short stanzas that give examples of contemporary success stories: the plumber “who wins the Irish Sweepstakes,” the nursemaid who marries her employer’s son, the milkman who makes his fortune in real estate, and the charwoman who collects insurance from an accident. Three of these examples are followed by the sarcastic refrain “That story,” which mocks the happy ending of this fairy tale and perhaps its hopeful readers as well.

The following six stanzas retell the Grimm’s tale keeping faithful to its details for the most part but with occasional observations by the narrator telling readers to pay attention to an important part of the story or commenting on characters or plot. In the fifth and sixth stanzas of the poem, Cinderella becomes maid to her stepmother and stepsisters and plants a twig, given to her by her father, on her mother’s grave. On the tree that grows from the twig perches a dove who grants all her wishes. The sixth and seventh...

(The entire section is 441 words.)