Analysis of “Cinderella” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by Anne Sexton

Analysis of “Cinderella” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” by Anne Sexton

Every person has at least read fairy tales once in their lifetime, and they always end with a happy ever after. In “Cinderella,” the poet shakes up the traditional fairy tale by adding up her tale. She presents the differences between the real world and the fairy tale by using sarcasm to finish the tale. In “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Anne Sexton has transformed the well-known fairy tale into a sardonic piece which reflects the way the society perceives women. In both poems, Anne Sexton has used various poetic devices such as sarcasm to bring out their deeper meanings

In Sexton’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” imagery has been used to compare Snow White to objects. She is constantly referred to as a “thing” and described as “cheeks a fragile as a cigarette paper, arms and legs made of Limoges, lips like Vin Du Rhone” (Sexton 3-5). According to Keely (70), the passive Snow White, who has no part in her own story rather than falling asleep, is represented in a doll. She is likened to a doll when the poet describes her as “Rolling her China-blue doll eyes” (Sexton 6). This phrase presents her to be lifeless and without a mind of his own due to the automatic eye movement that opens and shuts like a doll. Snow White’s purity is considered to be a huge deal in the fairytale. She is not just a new person but tends to be sexualised as a thing- a new virgin. This comparison makes women sound desirable and godlier. Allusion has been used to represent the fact that Snow White may not be as pure as people would have assumed. For instance, the poet says that her eyes are “open to say, good day mama, and shut for the thrust, of the unicorn” (Sexton 8-11). This means that if her eyes are shut for the thrust of a unicorn, then the eyes of the societies are shut too; hence they tend to believe that she is a virgin. The poem also illustrates how women are perceived not to be clever. For instance, Snow White is cautioned by the dwarfs not to open the door for her wicked stepmother, but she still does so. Sexton says, “…and once more, Snow White opened the door” (Sexton 91). She is, therefore, compared to a “dumb bunny” (Sexton 7) because she is not intelligent.

According to Sexton, beauty is considered to be an essential value to the feminine antagonists in fairytales. Beauty is what makes Snow White to be valued by the dwarfs and the prince as well. Sexton believes in the fact that with beauty comes with vanity. Vanity and beauty represent a two-sided coin in this poem. Snow White symbolises, and it is evident when she consults the mirror concerning a person who is fairest in the land. She becomes happy when her name is given as a response. Being the best-looking person in the land is what a queen needs. In order to be Snow White whose image is cherished by the mirror, she must be paradoxically deprived of the normal process of growth the poem openly proposes; if she were to become whole and embrace her sexuality, then she would become like her stepmother. To preserve her purity, she becomes a unified person who cannot grow or change (Zheng 6). At the end of stanza seven, she is described to “lay still as a gold piece” (Sexton 7). In this case, she is likened to a valuable object. She is considered to be precious only because of her alleged purity and beauty as well. Her beauty is further demonstrated during her death when the dwarfs make a glass coffin for her so that any person who passed by the mountains, “could peek upon her beauty” (Sexton 8). Her death also illustrates how vanity is heightened by others consuming it. The poet has compared vanity or pride to something toxic which destroys human relationships. Vanity is considered to be the main cause of evil, and her stepmother represents it. This is the main reason why Snow White’s stepmother wanted to kill her. The wicked queen, who is considered to be the fairest in the entire land, is perturbed when the mirror tells her that the younger Snow White has outshined her. The queen is also considered to be controlled with vanity, and that’s why the mirror tells her “queen, you are full fair…but snow white is fairer than you” (Sexton 3). This presents how she was consumed with pride. Snow White is finally liberated by the prince who has fallen in love with “the glass Snow White…its doll’s eyes shut forever” (Sexton  9), and a happy ending with a customary wedding ceremony follows on. According to Sexton’s version, however, Snow White is ordained to repeat the fate of the older woman, for ageing is unavoidable, and then the poem ends, “Meanwhile Snow White held court, rolling her China-blue doll eyes open and shut, and sometimes referring to the mirror as women do” (Sexton 9). Sexton is critiquing the society for converting women into China dolls which makes beauty so fundamental to their individuality in such a way that ageing becomes terrible (Keely 71). The poet uses sarcasm to portray characters in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as unjust and unfair and also provides a lesson that women should be beautiful and submissive, whereas men should be brave, intelligent and strong.

Anne Sexton is also considered to use sarcasm in her poem, “Cinderella.” The sarcastic tone relies on the use of symbolism, hyperbole, and simile to relate the feelings of the narrator through endless interruptions within the poem. About half of the poem, Sexton has talked about how Cinderella has been going to the castle and spends time with the prince for a few days. Due to the reason that the prince wants more of the relationship with Cinderella, he takes a pair of her shoes then goes around the town to find its owner. The poet has used a sarcastic tone which tends to act as a foreshadow of what is to come in the poem. Sexton keeps on saying “That story” (Sexton 5). Repetition of those words in almost every stanza makes readers to flashback on the original fairytale of Cinderella. Sexton has presented Cinderella to be out of touch and a naive person. The poet provides a description that Cinderella sleeps on a “sooty hearth…walked around like Al Jolson” (Sexton 32). The poet is making readers feel sorry for her, but then according to reality, we find out that she makes her bed by choosing to believe in fairytales, rather than doing something which could make her situation better. At the end of the fifth stanza, the poet states, “The bird is important, my dears so heed him” (Sexton 40). The bird is considered to be a white dove which symbolises Cinderella’s dead mother because it keeps on visiting the tree which grew on her grave. Cinderella receives every kind of gifts from the dove whereby it “would drop it like an egg upon the ground” (Sexton 39). This shows how the dove kept on bringing gifts to Cinderella. In the entire poem, the speaker interrupts with commentary. This gives the readers the ability to present individual information, which aids them to see the other side of the story. The second line of the sixth stanza presents the commentary whereby it refers to the ball “it was a marriage market!” (Sexton 42). The phrase is considered to be a metaphor hence takes the readers far from the story, and presents ideas to the narrator regarding the types of occasions symbolise in her mind. These kinds of disruptions tend to compliment the tone of the poem, personalising it, as well as aiding to form a relationship between the speaker in the poem and the reader.

Through sarcasm, Sexton has been able to employ the use of ironic imagery in the poem. For instance, she quotes, “The eldest went into the 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 prince rode away with her until the white dove told him to look at the blood pouring forth. That is the way with amputations; they don’t just heal up like a wish (Sexton 81-86). In this example, the poet is trying to make readers understand the purpose that life never goes like a fairy tale. The fact that the bird tells the prince about the bleeding presents the idea that he is superficial and only worried about the looks. Sexton wants to portray to the readers by the use of sarcasm, how far the stepsister goes to achieve her happily ever after ending. The poet further uses sarcasm when she says “Cinderella and the prince, lived, they say, happily ever after, like two dolls in a museum case, never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg” (Sexton 100-104). Based on these lines, the poet is changing their tale into a myth by making a portrait of Cinderella and the Prince to be hung on the wall. Such a happy ending tends to be accomplished only by keeping both Cinderella and the prince frozen in time (Keely 72). What Sexton is saying here is that the end of the fairy tale is not a reality. It does not mean that because Cinderella and the Prince get married that they will live happily ever.

In conclusion, Sexton has successfully incorporated sarcasm as well as anecdotes to foreshadow the end of both “Cinderella” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”  Besides this, she has also used ironic imagery and changes the way readers perceive the ending of a classic tale. Both poems are similar in such a way that the prince seems only to be concerned with Cinderella’s and Snow White’s beauties and forces themselves on the ladies.  In both stories, Sexton has proved to the readers that fairy tales do not happen in certainty. She also sends out a message that people should have realistic dreams rather than just sitting at home and waiting for prince charming to pull up in the pumping carriage.



Works cited

Friedman, Joe. “Cinderella” by Anne Sexton (A Review). (2016).

Keely, Karen A. “[T] his Book of Odd Tales/Which Transform the Brothers Grimm”: Teaching Anne Sextons Transformations.” English Journal (2008): 69-75.

Sexton, Anne. “Snow White and the seven dwarfs.” her Transformations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971) (1971): 3-9.

Sexton, Anne. “Anne Sexton, Cinderella.” Anne Sexton, Cinderella.

Zheng, Baiqing. “From Courtly Love to Snow White.” Gender and Fairy Tales (2013): 3.