In “Briar Rose,” Anne Sexton utilizes a classic fairy tale to inform the reader of her own childhood experiences with sexual abuse. Instead of simply retelling the story, she puts a new twist on it and transforms it into an elaborate metaphor: Sexton is the Briar Rose from her own story. Not so much a cry for help as a plea for awareness, Sexton uses carefully crafted words to depict Briar Rose’s and her own struggle to expose the perpetrator of sexual abuse. She also uses her adaptation of the story to address how cultures view claims of sexual violence (particularly incest), marriage, and the relationship between genders.
Sexton’s “Briar Rose” begins by the King hosting a christening for his new daughter, Briar Rose. He invites all but the thirteenth fairy to the event, and in her bitterness, she prophesizes that Briar Rose will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die at the young age of fifteen. The twelfth fairy alters the spell so that Briar Rose will only sleep for a hundred years rather than perish. The king rids the kingdom of every spinning wheel and forces every male in the kingdom to “scour his tongue with Bab-o” (Sexton 109). Despite her father’s precautions, on her fifteenth birthday Briar Rose does prick her finger on a spinning wheel and falls into a hundred-year sleep. Finally, at the end of these hundred years one prince makes the voyage into her kingdom and kisses her, to which she awakens, crying “Daddy! Daddy!” This exclamation implies that Briar Rose is expecting her father to be the one waking her. She is so accustomed to being awoken by his advances that she automatically assumes it is he rousing her from her slumber.
Preceding the actual retelling of “Briar Rose,” Sexton penned an introduction, per say, that starts to explore the personal implications of the obvious sexual abuse that takes place in the story.
“She is stuck in the time machine,
suddenly two years old sucking her thumb,
as inward as a snail,
learning to talk again.”
(Sexton 107). This stanza clarifies how deeply the trauma the narrator suffered affected her. “Stuck in the time machine” implies that the adult narrator is having flashbacks to the abuse of her childhood. The second line, “suddenly two years old sucking her thumb,” also holds implications of psychological regression, a common problem in people traumatized as children. “Learning to talk again” can be interpreted as saying the narrator is regaining her voice after years of being silenced. She has to speak out in order to expose sexual abuse as not only a personal problem, but a cultural problem as well. Through this, Sexton is crying out for someone to be aware of the atrocities that have happened to her, not just the character ‘Briar Rose’.
As a global collective culture, marriage is widely viewed...