Study Guide

Cinderella Quotes

By Anne Sexton

  • Women and Femininity

    Or the nursemaid,
    some luscious sweet from Denmark
    who captures the oldest son's heart. (6-8)

    The key line here is the second one, which characterizes the nursemaid as a "luscious sweet"—kind of an objectifying term, if you ask us. It turns the woman into something for consumption, and the "some" makes her just one of many, as if her individuality didn't matter. Moreover, it seems that her "sweetness" (in terms of looks, not personality) is the only thing that gets her ahead.

    Next came the ball, as you all know.
    It was a marriage market.
    The prince was looking for a wife. (41-43)

    The whole "marriage market" thing is possibly one of the most cynical moments in the whole poem. It portrays the women at the ball as mere objects for a man to choose among. Women here, as a gender, can do nothing more than to marry into money. There's certainly no implication that they could get ahead on their own.

    Now he would find whom the shoe fit
    and find his strange dancing girl for keeps. (77-78)

    The important phrase here, we think, is "for keeps," an expression that implies eternal possession. Prior to this passage, the prince has covered the steps of his palace with wax in order to try to trap Cinderella—or at least, her shoe. (This sounds more like a trap for an animal than a girl, right?) So he gets her shoe and then basically thinks "Okay, now I've got her for good." It's not exactly the most romantic thing in the world, when you think about it. Cinderella, as a woman, is again being seen as a kind of object.

    but her big toe got in the way so she simply
    sliced it off and put on the slipper. (82-83)

    So, if you're a girl, have you ever done anything uncomfortable for the sake of looking good? Wearing heels, perhaps, or squeezing into some form-fitting jeans? How about cutting off your toe? No? Good! That's kind of a ridiculous (and gruesome) length to go to for beauty, we think. And we also think it exemplifies the way in which women in "Cinderella" want a husband more than anything else in the world. So much, in fact, that they're willing to spill their own blood. Yuck.

    At the wedding ceremony
    the two sisters came to curry favor (95-96)

    More cynical portrayal of gender roles here. Even after mutilating themselves, and even though they are part of a wealthy family, the sisters must come and try to get back into the good graces of their stepsister. Why, you ask? Because they want wealthy husbands too! This moment casts men and women in some pretty grim gender roles: men as controllers of destiny, women as subservient.

    Cinderella and the prince
    lived, they say, happily ever after,
    like two dolls in a museum case (100-102)

    Here it seems as if the "happy" couple has been frozen in their just-married state—she the blushing bride, he the proud prince. That sounds great until you think about the fact that it never gives either of them the chance to change over time. They're stuck in their stereotypically-gendered positions, forever and ever. Depressing.

  • Wealth

    From toilets to riches.
    That story. (4-5)

    We're just going to let this quote stand in for the rest of the "example stories" that make up the first part of the poem. Because when you look at them, they're mostly the same: something improbable happens and someone goes "from toilets" (or something similarly icky) "to riches." In each case, though, the luck is based around money—making it seem like the only way to be fortunate is to become rich.

    Her father brought presents home from town,
    jewels and gowns for the other women
    but the twig of a tree for Cinderella. (33-35)

    Here again, the fortune or misfortune of the situation centers on money (or expensive stuff). We think, oh man, that stinks for Cinderella because she didn't get any of the costly things her stepsisters did. Once again, it seems like the only thing that matters in this poem is money.

    Next came the ball, as you all know.
    It was a marriage market.
    The prince was looking for a wife. (41-43)

    Well, the prince might have been looking for a wife for other reasons, but most of the women at that "marriage market" ball are looking for one thing: money. Marrying into a royal family is a surefire way to turn your luck around when it comes to wealth, and that's what every woman in this story seems to want. We don't know much about the prince— maybe he's a total jerk—but it doesn't matter. Marrying him and moving up in society are the only goals here, it seems.

    Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
    send me to the prince's ball!
    The bird dropped down a golden dress
    and delicate little gold slippers. (58-61)

    Cinderella isn't fit to go to the ball, and why not? Because she's poor. She must look wealthy in order to be noticed by the prince, so she has to wish for things that will make her look wealthy. A gold dress and shoes do the trick. Later the poem says that her stepfamily didn't even recognize Cinderella without her dirty face, which is another way of saying that wealth turns you into a different person altogether.

    At the wedding ceremony
    the two sisters came to curry favor
    and the white dove pecked their eyes out. (95-97)

    The stepsisters here are still trying to reap some of the benefits that come from knowing a royal family, and based on the rest of the poem, those benefits are almost surely monetary. The dove is having none of it: ultimate justice, in this poem, is measured by allowing or denying people wealth. Even though they come from a wealthy family, the stepsisters want more, and are punished for it.

    never bothered by diapers or dust (3)

    This quote toward the end of the poem brings back all the example stories at the beginning. The "diapers" and "dust" are reminiscent of the duties of the nursemaid and charwoman, and more generally of the things wealthy people don't have to deal with. Saying that Cinderella and the prince are "never bothered" by these dirty things is, in part, saying that they were very rich.

  • The Supernatural

    and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
    Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
    down from heaven in the seam of a cloud. (24-26)

    At this point in the poem, nothing supernatural or magical has really happened yet, but this is our first indication that something might happen, soon. Cinderella's mother, lying on her deathbed, promises her daughter that she will shower her with blessings if she is devout and good. How can she do that after she's dead? Supernatural events are coming…

    She planted that twig on her mother's grave
    and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
    Whenever she wished for anything the dove
    would drop it like an egg upon the ground. (36-39)

    Boy, wouldn't it be nice to have a tree like that? This is the fulfillment of Cinderella's mom's promise: now Cinderella can have anything she wants. She just has to ask for it. In the example stories in the beginning of the poem (about the plumber and the charwoman, etc.), the events are improbable but not impossible. This situation is impossible because of its magical element. This might make Cinderella either more or less deserving of her fortunes than the people described at the beginning, but we'll let you decide.

    The white dove brought all his friends;
    all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
    and picked up all the lentils in a jiffy. (50-52)

    In this instance, the impossible makes the impossible possible! (Try saying that five times fast.) Cinderella could never have picked up an entire dish of lentils out of an ash pile by herself in an hour. But with the help of the magical dove and his friends, they accomplish the task in no time.

    The bird dropped down a golden dress
    and delicate gold slippers.
    Rather a large package for a simple bird.
    So she went. Which is no surprise. (60-63)

    Cinderella also relies on magic to get her to the ball (after the magic-with-lentils trick didn't work). The narrator here is doing a little verbal eye-rolling with line 63—as in "Right. No kidding she went. She had a magical bird give her a dress!" Seems like the narrator doesn't think too much of Cinderella's supernatural help.

    The prince rode away with her until the white dove
    told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
    That is the way with amputations.
    They don't just heal up like a wish. (84-87)

    In yet another instance of Cinderella being saved by the supernatural, the white dove calls the stepsister out on not being the one the prince is looking for. And in another example of the narrator's cynicism, she notes that amputations "don't just heal up like a wish." This implies that Cinderella has had it pretty easy so far, getting whatever she wants just by asking her magical dove for it.

    At the wedding ceremony
    the two sisters came to curry favor
    and the white dove pecked their eyes out. (95-97)

    The supernatural in this poem also doles out justice. In this quote, the white dove pecks out the stepsisters' eyes for even daring to come to Cinderella's wedding. It's unclear as to whether Cinderella wished for this or not. What is clear is that the dove is making sure that every aspect of Cinderella's life is perfect—right down to a nice dish of revenge, served cold. Mmm. Revenge-alicious.

  • Good vs. Evil

    Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
    down from heaven in the seam of a cloud. (25-26)

    As Cinderella's mother is dying, she promises her that if she remains "devout" and "good," she will "smile down from heaven." This is just a way of saying that Cinderella will receive blessings. Contained in this little passage is the implication that the good are inherently rewarded and the evil are not. As we know, the fairy tale bears this out, but real life is far less certain.

    The man took another wife who had
    two daughters, pretty enough
    but with hearts like blackjacks.
    Cinderella was their maid. (27-30)

    If Cinderella is the "good guy" in this story, it needs a "bad guy" to be a classic fairy tale. So we have the stepsisters, with "hearts like blackjacks," and their evil mother. They make Cinderella their maid, which is a pretty mean thing to do to a family member, really. This sets up a really obvious good and evil dichotomy (opposition). There's no confusing good for bad here; it's pretty black and white.

    Cinderella begged to go too.
    Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
    into the cinders and said: Pick them
    up in an hour and you shall go. (46-49)

    All Cinderella wants here is to go to the prince's ball. But her stepmother, being the evil woman she is, doesn't just say "no." Instead she gives her an impossible task and a "maybe." That's more evil, we think, than just saying no. It gives Cinderella a little bit of hope, which the stepmother (as you'll see here in a minute) cruelly takes away.

    No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
    you have no clothes and cannot dance.
    That's the way with stepmothers. (53-55)

    Even after the lentils get (magically) picked up, Cinderella's request to go to the ball is denied by her stepmother. This time, it's for a reason that Cinderella can't fix (not without magic, anyway)—she only has raggedy clothes and she apparently can't dance well enough for a royal ball. Truly, Cinderella's stepmother is evil. This, incidentally, sets us up to be okay with all of Cinderella's supernatural help. We figure she deserves it after being so cruelly treated.

    This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
    like a love letter into its envelope. (93-94)

    Good wins out! We knew it would (and so does the narrator—see the "which is no surprise" quote up in line 63). Cinderella triumphs in the end, marrying the prince, and living a royal life. Of course, we know that in this version, the "happily ever after" is ambiguous at best. But we still look for black-and-white scenarios in fairy tales. (Do you think we're conditioned to do this? Something to think about.) So, Cinderella fitting into the shoe is a classic example of good winning out over evil.

    At the wedding ceremony
    the two sisters came to curry favor
    and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
    Two hollow spots were left
    like soup spoons. (95-99)

    Good winning out over evil in this story isn't enough. The evildoers must be punished, and punished they are, in a rather gory fashion. The white dove—usually a symbol of peace—gets revenge on the evil stepsisters by pecking out their eyes, leaving "hollow spots" (almost like a hollow heart, or maybe a hollow bank account).

  • Luck

    You always read about it:
    the plumber with twelve children
    who wins the Irish Sweepstakes. (1-3)

    When people think of luck, one of the things that often comes to mind is winning the lottery. There's a reason this story is the first example of good luck—it's the most obvious one. Winning the lottery is pure luck. It requires no skill at all, just enough money to buy a ticket and the right combination of numbers.

    Or the charwoman
    who is on the bus when it cracks up
    and collects enough from the insurance. (17-19)

    All the stories in the first part of the poem are instances of luck or good fortune, but we're focusing here on the two that are most purely luck. This one is a perfect instance of chance—there's no way the charwoman could have known that the bus was going to crash. (And even if she did, that would be a reason to avoid the bus, not to get on it.) It's pure luck that lands her an insurance fortune. These examples set up the cynical, "what-did-she-ever-do-to-deserve-this?", Anne Sexton version of the Cinderella story.

    She planted that twig on her mother's grave
    and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
    Whenever she wished for anything the dove
    Would drop it like an egg upon the ground. (36-39)

    And here is Cinderella's lottery prize: the tree with the white dove. Sweet. Now, Cinderella's no witch. She didn't conjure up the tree and bird from any kind of spell or anything. It just appeared after she planted the twig her father gave her. You could say that she deserves this kind of luck after being treated so badly by her stepfamily. But that's a whole other matter—one that deserves some thought, we think. (So go ahead. Start thinking!).

    and the prince took her hand on the spot
    and danced with no other the whole day. (6-7)

    Cinderella's luck only gets better as the story goes on. This moment is parallel, in a way, to the example story in the beginning about the nursemaid from Denmark. Cinderella is so beautiful in her golden dress that the prince ignores everyone else at the ball. That's a bit of fortune that will land her with a husband and a treasure trove of royal privilege.

    Cinderella and the prince
    lived, they say, happily ever after,
    like two dolls in a museum case
    […]
    their darling smiles pasted on for eternity. (100-102, 107)

    So this is where Cinderella's fortune takes her. It's a little creepy, this ageless, deathless place where she and the prince end up together. It just goes to show that if you think you're getting something for nothing, you'll end up paying the price. The "happily ever after" is anything but, when you really look at it.