Anne Sexton's Cinderella: Subverting Traditional Narratives

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 608 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Mar 8, 2024

Words: 608|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Mar 8, 2024

Table of contents

  1. The Language of Cinderella
  2. Critique of Social Norms and Expectations
  3. Mental Health in Cinderella
  4. Conclusion

The retelling of fairy tales has been a common practice throughout history, but few authors have transformed these stories as Anne Sexton has done with Cinderella. Sexton's use of poetic language, strong themes, and unique perspectives subvert the traditional narrative and sheds light on issues regarding gender roles, societal expectations, and mental health. This essay will analyze Anne Sexton's poem Cinderella and explore how she presents these issues through her writing, using well-researched evidence and reputable sources to support the arguments and key points.

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The Language of Cinderella

The most striking element of Sexton's Cinderella is the language she employs to convey her story. From the beginning, the poem is rife with vivid imagery, metaphors, and personification, which create a somber and provocative tone. For instance, Sexton writes "Cinderella," she said, "you are not an ugly girl", which seems like a predictable opening line, but then she adds "you are a beautiful boy". This line has left an enduring impression on readers because of its starkness and ambiguity. The use of the juxtaposition of "ugly" and "beautiful boy" highlights the complexity of the gender roles and binary norms that exist in society. It is evident that the traditional image of Cinderella is being dismantled, and a profound examination of the character's appearance, motivations, and desires is being carried out.

Critique of Social Norms and Expectations

Sexton's Cinderella is not just a re-imagining of the fairy tale; it is also a significant critique of social norms and expectations. The poem explores the issue of gender roles and how these rigid norms can lead to toxic relationships. For example, the lines "three nights he came to my window / three nights like a consecrated saint" paint the prince as a creepy stalker. The prince's actions serve as a commentary on how romanticized and idealized unhealthy behaviors can be, leading to mistaken notions of love. Sexton is pointing out that women are still portrayed as damsels in distress that must be saved by a prince to maintain traditional gender roles. Additionally, Sexton's Cinderella also criticizes the institution of marriage, which is portrayed as a powerful tool of patriarchal oppression that forces women to have limited choices when it comes to their lives and decisions. Sexton's poem provides a space for critical analysis of gender roles, societal expectations, and the institution of marriage by bringing these issues to the forefront of the reader's mind.

Mental Health in Cinderella

Finally, mental health is another essential topic that is weaved throughout Sexton's Cinderella. Sexton was a poet who struggled with depression and mental illness, and it is not surprising to see her incorporate this theme into her work. The poem has a dark and melancholic undertone that echoes the sadness and despair associated with mental illness. The line "I am yours, she said" expresses the character's sense of hopelessness and despair and can be interpreted as a symptom of depression. Sexton's Cinderella thus serves as a testament to the struggles people face when dealing with mental health issues and highlights the need for sensitivity and understanding when it comes to treating mental illnesses.

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Anne Sexton's Cinderella is a powerful poem that revisits the traditional fairy tale and transforms it into an analysis of gender roles, societal expectations, and mental health. Sexton's use of poetic language, imagery, and metaphors creates a compelling narrative that is both captivating and educational. By exploring the issues surrounding gender roles, the institution of marriage, and mental illness, Sexton has offered us a thought-provoking story that challenges our assumptions and encourages us to think critically about our beliefs. Sexton's Cinderella is not just a fairy tale but a work of art that deserves our attention and admiration.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Anne Sexton’s Cinderella: Subverting Traditional Narratives. (2024, March 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 20, 2024, from
“Anne Sexton’s Cinderella: Subverting Traditional Narratives.” GradesFixer, 07 Mar. 2024,
Anne Sexton’s Cinderella: Subverting Traditional Narratives. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jul. 2024].
Anne Sexton’s Cinderella: Subverting Traditional Narratives [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 07 [cited 2024 Jul 20]. Available from:
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