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Stereotyping in “Cinderella” Poem by Anne Sexton Essay

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Updated: Jan 31st, 2022


This literature genre of poetry is remarkable for its elegance and sophistication which very often hide or, on the contrary, emphasize some ideas. The poem “Cinderella” by Anne Sexton is one of the examples of such tendency by the works of this genre. Using a number of allusions and addresses to generally accepted ideas and storylines, the author emphasizes the theme of stereotyping in her great piece of word art. Evaluating the facts, it appears that the address to the theme of stereotyping is seen through all the parts of “Cinderella” as Sexton resorts to the use of a considerable variety of stereotypical ideas and stems beginning from the concepts “from rags to riches” and ending with the concept of “Cinderella and the prince lived, they say, happily ever after”; and such concepts of stereotyping are rigorously criticized by the author in order to help people see that they rob them of their joy and contentment in life.

The subject of stereotyping

The theme of stereotyping is emphasized in every line of the poem “Cinderella” using irony and sarcasm. Sexton, who often meditated on the sad effects stereotyping had on children’s and adults’ minds, shared her disgrace in this poem. After studying Sexton’s biography, it seems that she had a unique and creative way of thinking. In particular, the author was rewarded by the Pulitzer Prize for her unique and inimitable style full of creative and non-stereotypical ideas. In addition, Sexton’s personal life became a strong reason for her to believe that fairytales with their stereotyping are fairytales, and reality is the reality that is cruel and terrible. Her first husband, who seemed to be a wonderful prince initially, very soon turned into her dreadful enemy. For this reason, she was such a zealous opponent of stereotyping and putting labels and tags on various phenomena and objects in human life. She also strived to prove that stereotyping is a poison that destructs people’s minds. Sexton wanted to show how ruining myths and fairytales could be for people’s psychology. Since their very childhood, people are trained to become a Cinderella or a Prince Charming. They think that if they are not able to occupy such positions life will be miserable for them, and it really becomes as free slots for fairytale heroes are few, and life reality features numerous other colors but for a pink one.

Poem analysis

Analyzing the lines of the poem, it is possible to see a complex of varied stereotypes that the author did not welcome so passionately. As the reader begins to ponder into the reasoning of the poem, one notices an introduction enumerating different groups of people who appear to be among the categories of those subjected to stereotypical concepts. Among these people are plumbers, nursemaids, milkmen, and charwomen (Sexton 255). These people are known to occupy the most insignificant social positions and have the most undesirable lot in life of being poor and miserable. When Sexton (255) states that there occur such stories when these people miraculously change their social status from “rags to riches” and from “diapers to Dior” irony and sarcasm fill the air. The author’s depreciation of such stories is more than emphasized by the very first phrase, “You always read about it” (Sexton 255). Here, the word “always” can be evaluated as mockery because the incredible experiences when poor people miraculously become rich are very few, and they will happen to a few individuals out of a billion. To understand the author’s vision of the stories of this kind, the very first description of one of such examples will be discussed below:

You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.

Here, the author emphasizes the place such people as plumbers occupy in life (this is seen in the word “toilets”), and she ironically states that sometimes such people may become the heroes of some incredible stories like that one of Cinderella. Then, the readers find some more stories which might seem to be similar to Cinderella’s story. However, when, after such an intriguing introduction, Cinderella’s story is told, Sexton reminds us that stories of this kind are only myths. She resorts to the use of a variety of word expressions ironically doubting happiness acquired by the heroes of such stories. Among this word-expression are: “they say, happily ever after” and “never bothered by diapers or dust”. Here, the irony is seen in the phrase “they say”. It is well-known that people may say everything; however, the truth appears to be different. Of course, life is full of hardships and even two loving people may not expect to never Sexton, as an experienced lady, being married twice, knew this simple fact quite well. That is why, in her poem, she aimed to warn her audience who could appear in the trap of being naïve to never expect cloudless life. Life does present hardships, and when the heroes of stories like Cinderella’s expect that happy end is their final point, they are to remember the lessons placed in Sexton’s poem.

In Cinderella’s story by Sexton, it is possible to see numerous allusions to modern-day life concepts such as a ball being “a marriage market”. Resorting to the use of such allusions, the author encourages people to understand that their life is often subjected to the stereotypes they acquired during their childhood. The other stereotypical concepts are the description of Cinderella and the prince. Cinderella is shown as the person normally dealing with “her cinders”, but sometimes wearing a golden dress and sophisticated shoes, and eventually becoming the prince’s wife. This concept may be a trap for little girls who will think that happiness only comes from following Cinderella’s steps, but in reality, “cinders” stay next to women all the time. A similar thing is with the prince as his concept shows to men that happiness is only possible with Cinderella, but real Cinderellas are very few and not enough for all. Sexton’s overall tone of the negative and sarcastic depiction of these life situations marked by fairytale-like stereotypes helps the audience to understand that making labels and developing common expectations can be a way to disappointment and frustration.


In conclusion, the poem “Cinderella” by Anne Sexton can be acclaimed as a thought-provoking piece of literature dedicated to overthrowing a number of stereotypes that cause significant social problems. Anne Sexton herself lived a life full of tribulations and pain, and she knew it very well that being happy “ever so after” could be nothing but a nice myth. In her poem, the author made an effort to warn her audience about the dangers of stereotypic thinking which might ruin the person’s world perception and rob of joy in life. Sexton realized this very well that there are not many free slots for “Cinderellas” and “Princes Charming” in this world. The author strives to inform people that not every person is able to fit the models described in stereotypes, but this is not the reason to give up and be a miserable person. She also explains that where people are accustomed to believing in the happy end, life only begins with its every trick and unexpected trouble. Overall, this poem is a caution against making stereotypes and following them as this is a sure way to a trap of daily routines and life’s thunderclaps.

Works Cited

Sexton, Anne. The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton, The United Sates: Mariner Books, 1999. Print.

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