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Anne Sexton Essay

1728 words - 7 pages

Most of us accept the stories we were told as children were false, or at least romanticized. At some point, the illusion was shattered, and Santa, the Easter Bunny and Cinderella were characters we fondly remembered. But although we recognized these figures and legends as illusions, we held on to many of the sentiments the stories, without questioning their application to adult life. Anne Sexton often uses these innocent, childlike images juxtaposed with cynical but more realistic situations in order show that the lessons society teaches children, ones that children retain as adults, are illusions that do not properly illustrate the corrupt, violent world we actually live in.
Sexton’s poem Cinderella, about rags to riches stories, clearly follows this pattern. First, the speaker tells four stories: one of a plumber who wins the lottery, one of a nursemaid who marries her boss’s son, a milkman who makes a fortune in real estate, and a charwoman who becomes rich after a bus she was on crashes, and she collects on insurance. The progression of these stories themselves lay cynicism into the form of the poem. The speaker starts with a story about a lottery winner, which is something lucky and could be taken as the universe helping a man struggling to take care of “the twelve children.” Next comes the nursemaid, who does have a romantic journey too, though not quite as incidental as this lucky plumber, because she “captures the oldest son’s heart.” The choice of the word “capture” could be viewed as merely an idiomatic happenstance, or more possibly an implication that the speaker feels the nursemaid had some ulterior motive to love in her interactions with the son. After the nursemaid is the milkman. The milkman still has a romantic storyline, but the hard working nature to his story, while possibly endearing him to the reader, also paints a less benevolent picture of the universe. Nothing happens to the milkman-he has to go into real estate. He may have gotten some lucky breaks, but he did not win the lottery. Finally, the charwoman is certainly the least romantic story of the four; the universe may have given here money, but only after she suffered a bus crash. Insurance has none of the glamour of winning the lottery or falling in love.
Next, the Cinderella story starts. The speaker does not tell the Disney version of Cinderella, but rather the Brothers Grimm story of Aschenputtel. This version involves much more blood and gore than the version many American children now know, and this choice is significant; Sexton will not sugar coat reality, and forces us to see the original story, uncut, for what it really is. Continuing with this pattern, the speaker tells the story with a blunt tone and not remotely romantic analogies. She describes Cinderella, for example, as “looking like Al Jolson.” Al Jolson was an actor who famously wore black-face makeup, and although Jolson was a civil rights activist, the use of black-face is generally...

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