Example Of Literature Review On Modern AND Maudlin Cinderella: A Comparative Analysis
Cinderella has been written, and rewritten by a number of artists over the centuries but certain elements of her tale always seem to remain the same, the shoe, the prince, and the happily ever after. However, in Anne Sexton’s poetic retelling of Cinderella’s story, all elements of romance, magic, and fairy-tale promises of a happy ending are removed, leaving only the bare bones of a cynic’s ire in their wake. Ultimately, Sexton relates a version of the tale that emphasizes the original tale’s condemnation for manipulative and vain women, but fails to remove Cinderella from the taint of their sins.
Cinderella, originally Aschenputtel in the German, was the daughter of a rich gentleman who leaves his beautiful and kind daughter in the hands of his unkind second-wife, allowing her to be poorly treated even in his presence. She forces her step-daughter into indentured servitude acting as a scullery maid, and not as the rightful heir. In spite of how hard her life was, she maintained her faith in God, and prayed at her mother’s grave to see her life improve. Eventually, through miraculous events she is rewarded with a life of ease as the Queen, and her step-sisters and step-mother are punished for their evil. The main characters in the text are Cinderella, her two step-sisters, her step-mother, and the prince.
The story follows the basic story structure of the persecuted heroine. We are told that “There she had to do hard work from morning until evening, get up before daybreak, carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. Besides this, the sisters did everything imaginable to hurt her (122).” So Cinderella, a girl, who is good to her core, and who is mistreated by her step-mother, a maternal substitute is rescued from a terrible fate by a handsome prince. This same theme, at its most basic level, is also seen in Rapunzel and Snow White.
As a morality tale, Cinderella reinforces several personality traits or social characteristics which carry Cinderella toward her destiny. The main character, Cinderella can command the animals, not because of a supernatural power, but because they are attractive to what is good in her, purity, and lack of malice. Similarly, the prince can see only her, when she enters the room, because of her morality, grace, and natural beauty. Finally, she achieves success through creativity, perseverance and a general display of good character and virtue, even when placed with unpleasantness. Ultimately Cinderella, because she is good, is rewarded with goodness, and overcomes evil.
Unfortunately, it also communicates certain, for psychological, undertones. It subtly presents the idea that women are always willing to manipulate others to get what they want. While the step-sisters prove that they are willing to cut off parts of their body in order gain the prize of the prince’s hand in marriage, ultimately, only Cinderella overcomes her female nature, as it is presented by the Brothers Grimm, and allow herself to gain only what is due her, without lying, or trying to manipulate others in order to get it. Instead, she simply allows her natural beauty to shine through and attract the prince to her virtue, rather than her physical characteristics.
It is the result of this goodness that Cinderella is blessed, not in her own doings, but in God. On her death bead, Cinderella’s mother told her "Dear child, remain pious and good, and then our dear God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you (119)." As is common in literature, doves are sent as a messenger from God, and so, in Cinderella, the doves are used as a symbol of God’s judgement. Ultimately they bless the marriage of Cinderella to the Prince, while simultaneously reigning down judgement on the sisters and plucking out their eyes in repayment for their cruelty, vanity, and deceit.
Anne Sexton’s poetic retelling of the Cinderella story is perhaps most interesting in its subtlety. It, generally, adheres very closely to Grimm’s version of the tale, and yet, by stripping it down to its bones and offering minimal commentary, in the form of single lines in the poetic verse, Sexton robs the original tale of its romanticism leaving only skepticism and a kind of scornful bitterness behind.
This begins with Sexton’s introductory two stanzas, which set up the tale of Cinderella, as not the tale of a persecuted heroine deserving of her fate, and happiness, but rather as the luck winner of a sick lottery, or a rags to riches story, where perhaps the rags were just. Seen through the eyes of this instruction, Cinderella becomes not a good girl rewarded for piety and virtue, but rather game player who ultimately manages her manipulations better than everyone else.
Further, Saxton’s variation of the tale removes all description of goodness from Cinderella. She is still dirty, and acts as a servant in her father’s household, but in stripping the tale down in verse Saxton removes all mention of her personality traits, or virtues.
Unfortunately, this means that the tales goes further to demonstrate the original stories negative view of women, by allowing even Cinderella to play a part in the dark psychological undertones. While in the original tale it subtly presents the idea that women are always willing to manipulate others to get what they want, the addition of the Nanny character in the introduction who is “some luscious sweet from Denmark who captures the oldest son's heart,” while still allowing the step-sisters maim their bodies in order gain the prize of the prince’s hand in marriage, ultimately, every female character, even Cinderella are ultimately capable of manipulating men in order to win what they believe they deserve or desire (255). This is further reflected in Saxton calling the ball the “marriage market” a place where young men and women alike go to shop for an advantageous marriage, not necessarily true love.
Finally, Sexton removes the tales “happily ever after” ending by going on to say that they lived like “like two dolls in a museum case never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg, never telling the same story twice, never getting a middle-aged spread, their darling smiles pasted on for eternity (258).” The reality, as it is seen through Sexton’s writings, is dull and lacking witt or wantonness, it is not the “happily ever after” of fairy tales that are steeped in laughter, and languid afternoons, which let of view them forever entwined in their romantic embrace. Instead they become passing figures, shadows of the romantic fairy tale we once knew, and no image of a thing we would desire.
Cinderella, as was originally written by the Grimm brothers is certainly a grim tale of betrayal, mistreatment, vanity and cruelty, and yet Cinderella is allowed to be fundamentally good, ultimately serving as a persecuted heroine who rises above her circumstances to receive her well-deserved reward. However, Sexton strips away the stories details which make Cinderella a good-girl and leave behind only a desperate urchin willing to manipulate a prince in order to find her way to a more comfortable life. By retelling Cinderella’s tale in a way that strips away the romance and purity, Sexton relates a version of the tale that emphasizes the original tale’s condemnation for manipulative and vain women, allowing Cinderella no to be the exception, but the master manipulator in a gender of thieves.
Grimm, Jacob, Wilhelm Grimm, and Ralph Manheim. ""Cinderella"" Grimms' Tales for Young and Old: The Complete Stories. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977. 119-27. Print.
Sexton, Ann. “Cinderella” The Complete Poems of Ann Sexton. Atlanta, GA: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. 255-258. Print.