Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
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,
- And we come to the end of the fairy tale—where the prince and Cinderella are married and live, literally, "happily ever after."
- But the poem doesn't quite end there. It begins describing, in some chilling detail, exactly what "happily ever after" might mean.
- For instance, take a look at the first simile: "like dolls in a museum case." While dolls in a case might be pretty, that's an awfully lifeless image, isn't it?
- And they are never bothered by anything. Not diapers, or dust, or eggs. In other words, they aren't bothered by life at all. That seems to suggest that they aren't really enjoying a real marriage, which (like it or not) will always involve dust, and diapers, and whole host of other, decidedly non-fairy-tale things.
- Also, if life never gets to you, are you really living? That's the central question here.
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
- The final stanza continues in this frozen vein, describing what a literal "happily ever after" would be like. The prince and Cinderella would never age and would never die. They would be completely and utterly separated from real life.
- This is not happy. This is impossible—but also scary and kind of depressing!
- Notice the creepiness of "their darling smiles pasted on for eternity." When you "paste on" a smile, you don't really mean it, do you? This figurative language also brings to mind the "dolls in a museum."
- One last pop reference before we go: the Bobbsey Twins were the main characters (two sets of twins) of a very popular early-twentieth-century children's book series. The twins started out getting a little older with each successive book, but the story's creators realized that soon they wouldn't be children any more. So they froze the Bobbsey Twins at ages six(ish) and twelve(ish), respectively. They never got any older after the first few adventures. Perhaps you think this is a little weird. We do, too.
- We end with a final "that story," which echoes the ones from the beginning of the poem. The story that was supposed to be a happily-ever-after fairy tale has turned into something else altogether. This happy ending is anything but. It's paralyzed and lifeless.
- Yikes, Anne Sexton—you've turned this fairy tale on its head!
- We told you she could do it.