Study Guide

Cinderella Good vs. Evil

By Anne Sexton

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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).

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