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Satire in Anne Sexton’s Cinderella

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In Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” one may ponder what the purpose and tone is. Anne Sexton uses a strong satiric and humorous undertone when poking fun at marriage. The use of dark humor adds life and body to the poem. Anne Sexton’s placement of witty understatements is impeccable and allows the reader to imagine Anne Sexton’s dark humorous laugh as they read the poem.

“You always read about…/…the nursemaid some luscious sweet from Denmark / who captures the oldest son’s heart. / from Diapers to Dior. / That story.” Satiric poetry like “Cinderella” often blends criticism with humor to convey a message that the author is trying to convey. Satire can be seen in “Cinderella” without even finishing the first stanza. In Anne Sexton’s case she is using satire to describe marriage. Sexton has prime examples of her satiric undertone in the first four stanzas. She shows how trite these traditional stories about marriage are. When reading this section, one may imagine a slight cackle of chuckle in the voice of the reader.

“Next came the ball, as you all know. / It was a marriage market.” In a line like this Sexton is able to use her poetic power to bring across her personal thoughts on arranged marriage as well as superficiality and “love at first sight”. Sexton conveys that the fairy tale like meeting and love in a Cinderella or Romeo and Juliet setting is very cliché. After enticing the reader with her transformation of the evil stepmother, she ends the stanza with, “That’s the way with stepmothers”. Her sort of casual tone and understatements shows just how twisted of a mind she has and how she feels about similar situations.

In the eighth stanza Sexton uses yet another satiric comment on the irony of a story, she brings across the feeling that some things are too good to be true, when she uses the line, “back to cinders.” Sexton also has uses of sarcasm and irony in the eight stanza in “Cinderella” she states “However on the third day, the prince / covered the palace steps with cobbler’s wax / and Cinderella’s gold shoe stuck upon it.” Sexton took the traditional element of Cinderella’s shoe falling off when leaving the palace and morphed it into a more ironic setting to fit her satiric tone.

Anne Sexton’s use of satire and her satiric undertone can be seen between lines 80 and 85. Again Sexton casually slips in dark humor with no for-warning, “The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on / but her big toe got in the way / so she simply sliced it off and put on the slipper. / …the blood pouring fourth. / that’s the way with amputations.” This dark humor mocks the stepsister’s actions toward the prince and gives the reader a taste of Sexton’s own insights on the matter about their greed and superficiality.

Sexton also uses gruesome acts of satire to illustrate poetic justice. Her use of this is shown in the lines 95 through 99, when describing the events of Cinderella’s wedding. Yet again, Anne Sexton shows her cruel and morbid humor by casually adding, “At the wedding ceremony / the two sisters came to curry favor / and the white dove pecked their eyes out. / Two hollow spots were left / like soup spoons.”

The final stanza conveys the whole meaning of the poem and the reason for her satiric undertone. It has a satirical approach towards the cliché of a picturesque (picture perfect) marriage. I believe this was the case because Sexton herself was faced with a troubled marriage and saw its effects. Her satiric analogies of their marriage to “two dolls in a museum case” and “Bobbsey Twins” show her thoughts and the message she is striving to convey that marriage is not perfect, unless you are perfect plastic models of a fairy tale. Sexton ends the poem with a single – dignified line – That story. This perfect line summarizes her goal of the poem to demonstrate satire on the institution of marriage and if everything had a fairy tale ending everything would be plain and dull.

Anne Sexton’s use of satire in “Cinderella” really underlines the whole idea she is trying to convey. She is able to do this so well because of her dark, satiric and sarcastic humor, “Cinderella” is a poem that truly can make one think twice about marriage and imagining fairy tale endings are always perfect and that is what’s always meant to be.

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