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Fantastic and Dead-end: Marriage in Sextons Cinderella - Essay Example

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Summary
Sexton’s narrative poem uses diverse literary elements to question the underlying social and gender issues of “Cinderella.” Sexton argues through imagery, repetition, sarcasm, and symbolism that the main goal of womanhood, which is marriage, is as fantastic and dead-end as fairy tales. …
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Fantastic and Dead-end: Marriage in Sextons Cinderella

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Sexton’s narrative poem uses diverse literary elements to question the underlying social and gender issues of “Cinderella.” Sexton argues through imagery, repetition, sarcasm, and symbolism that the main goal of womanhood, which is marriage, is as fantastic and dead-end as fairy tales. Sexton uses several images and repetition to show that marriage, as a means to happiness and success, is as fantastic as other stories. The first stanza is an image of rags-to-riches narratives. Sexton introduces a news story: “You always read about it:” (Sexton 1). The phrase “always read” reduces the classic fairy tale of “Cinderella” into something as common as repetitive story lines in the newspapers. Sexton mentions the plumber who wins the lottery and adds: “From toilets to riches./That story” (4-5). The assonance of “toilets” and “riches” suggests that riches can be a form of toilets too. Sexton criticizes material wealth as a measure of happiness and success, where material wealth is one of the outcomes also of “Cinderella.” Another image of materialism and marriage is in the second stanza. The nursemaid is described as “some luscious sweet from Denmark” (7) who snags the oldest son’s heart, and then goes “from diapers to Dior./That story” (9-10). By saying “some luscious sweet,” the nursemaid is objectified, where she uses her sweetness to get married to a rich man. Saying “diapers” to “Dior” is an alliteration, which, followed by the repetition of “[t]hat story,” signifies the tradition of marriage for women that is centred in materialistic goals; the traditional ideal for any women is to marriage rich. However, to say “that story” repeatedly also underscores the fantasy involved in the marriage ideal. Not all women marry rich guys, in the same way that not all plumbers turn into millionaires. “That story” of “Cinderella” is fantastic in its rarity, but interesting enough to build the basis of traditional womanhood that Sexton opposes. Aside from imagery and word play, Sexton uses a sarcastic tone and writing style to underline that “Cinderella” is an ironic allegory of womanhood and marriage. When she introduces the story of Cinderella, she does not say “Once upon a time.” Instead, she starts with “Once/ the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed” (21-22). By saying “once,” Sexton seems to be saying that these stories are incredible enough that they can only happen once. Afterwards, the image of a dying rich man’s wife is presented. The effect is that the story begins with death, which marriage is about too- the death of a woman’s freedom. Furthermore, Sexton emphasizes sarcasm even when narrating the last words of a dying mother: “Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile/down from heaven in the seam of a cloud” (24-25). The mother’s rules are typical of stereotyped rules on women. Girls are trained to be committed and good to their parents, and ultimately, later on, to their husbands. By putting an enjambment after “smile,” it highlights the happiness placed on promoting and protecting gender norms and values. By adding “down” after the enjambment, it suggests that it does not serve women’s interests to follow social norms and rules. The “seam of a cloud” from which mothers can smile from is incredible, and yet, as gender rules are passed on from mothers to daughters, the fantastic becomes real. In addition, Sexton uses cynical words that portray her real belief in ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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