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by Anne Sexton

Stanza 4 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 17-21

Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
That story.

  • First things first: charwoman is just an older term for a maid, or someone who does odd jobs around the house. The term's implication is that she probably doesn't make a lot of money.
  • So she's on a bus and it "cracks up," meaning not that it busts out laughing, but that it crashes.
  • Because she's been in a crash, the maid is entitled to a bunch of insurance money. (The fact that she even had insurance is a little odd, but we'll let that go for now). 
  • So now we're back to sheer luck, like the plumber's. By being incredibly unlucky (getting on a bus that crashes), this maid ends up being very lucky (collecting a ton of money from a settlement). 
  • So she goes from "mops" to "Bonwit Teller." (Bonwit Teller was a famous New York department store known for super-luxurious goods—think Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf Goodman.) Here the reference to the department store Bonwit Teller is a kind of synecdoche, which is a big honking word that means a part referring to a whole or a whole referring to a part. Think of "one cannot live on bread alone," for example, where "bread" stands in for food more generally. In this case, Bonwit Teller is the whole (a high-end department store) that stands in for the expensive stuff it's filled with.
  • So, then, the upshot is that this maid goes from cleaning to luxury clothing and handbags, presumably living happily ever after. A Cinderella story.
  • One last thing to ponder, though: we don't know what made the charwoman eligible to collect on the insurance. Was she was horribly injured? Disfigured? Permanently disabled? Sorry to rain on this particular parade, but it's good to think about and might be relevant to the rest of the poem: Cinderella stories may not be what they seem. Not even the original.

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