Poet Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” is a cynical and detached interpretation that relies on the fable as legendary, and known to all. While Sexton details all the events of the tale, she does so in a humorous way using modern language, for contrast. The theme is essentially understated; no matter the truth or fantasy, this is a universal story of justice and final happiness embedded in our world. Conversely, A Cinderella Story chooses a different approach. Moving the tale to a modern setting, it nonetheless affirms the positive message of the fairy tale. There is humor as well, but the primary theme echoes the original story: goodness will eventually be rewarded, and love will come to the girl who has suffered at the hands of those underserving of happiness. Ultimately, Sexton’s poem and the 2004 film, as different as they are, both reinforce the need in the public to a “happy ending” as necessary to endure an unjust and unhappy life.
Designs and Structures
What makes Sexton’s retelling of the Cinderella tale effective is its tone, consistent in both the relating of the story and the satiric counterpoint. Importantly, Sexton never overtly claims that the tale is fantasy. Instead, she presents each part of it as established fact, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. This reinforces her theme of presenting a thing accepted by the world, no matter the improbability. The amused remarks punctuate the story, as when the bird delivers the gown and slippers to the heroine: “Rather a large package for a simple bird” (Sexton). Still, nothing is challenged as untrue. The same quality exists in the film, despite the modern California setting. Structurally, it remains a fairy tale by virtue of extremes, as in Samantha’s goodness in the face of the abuse from Fiona, Brianna, and Gabriella. The film is effective, but only in the sense that the audience may not question the truth of the story. Modern elements aside, it relies completely on the integrity of the fairy tale as real.
Symbolism and Authors’ Voices
Sexton combines all the classic symbolism and metaphor of the classic fable with references meant to reflect a modern reader’s consciousness. The voice is then casual and off-hand, and simultaneously archaic in repeating the language of fable. The poet transitions from a cynical description of the ball as a “marriage market” to a traditional expression of the prince’s scheme as he, “covered the palace steps with cobbler’s wax” (Sexton). The modern and the classic, in symbolism and event detail, blend in one voice. With the film, writer Dunlap keeps his language in today’s era, but also infuses symbolism to emphasis the moral. For example, the torn wallpaper in the diner reveals advice Sam’s late father would tell her: “”Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game” (Rosman). The film’s “voice” then relies on current speech while employing some language that is both symbolic and antiquated. In a sense, it resembles the poem in applying a modern lens to an artifact of the past, even as the film does not covertly question the truth of the story, as Sexton does.
Film and Reading
Strangely, the film is a valid representation of the reading only because it refuses to question the core story of goodness triumphing over evil. The modern interpretation in no way examines other possibilities. In fact, it adds to fantasy in asking the audience to suspend disbelief even beyond the fairy tale reality. More exactly, Sam is the prettiest girl in a school environment where appearance is everything, and this somehow goes unnoticed (Holden). Consequently, there is popular appeal mainly because the movie demands that the audience accept the truth of a romantic ideal. Put another way, and as a film alone, it depends upon the popular audience as wanting to believe in a fundamental fairy tale.
Significance of Film’s Opening and Closing
The movie’s opening is important in an obvious way; namely, it is necessary to reveal how a familiar story is being translated to today’s world. The event of Hal’s marrying Fiona, her daughters, and Sam’s character as dutiful combine from the start to inform the audience that this is a retelling of the Cinderella tale. The sense is that anything that seems too modern musty be ignored, or believed as in keeping with what the audience knows it will see. The same is true of the conclusion, which strongly echoes the classic happy ending. There is one variation; Sam is both going to study and Princeton and united with her “prince,” and the former indicates a concession to modern expectations that a young woman should pursue an independent life apart from true love. Real happiness is expanded, then, within the classic framework.
When Sexton’s poem and the 2004 film are set side by side, a remarkable reality emerges. Fantasy or otherwise, the ancient fairy tale of Cinderella somehow has impact and relevance today. Sexton may suggest skepticism, but she nonetheless relates the tale in its entirety, which adds credibility to it. The movie more directly affirms some idea of truth in the fable, and only extends the story to encompass modern expectations of happiness as different for young women today. Nonetheless, Anne Sexton’s “Cinderella” and the 2004 A Cinderella Story, while greatly different works, each supports some need in the public to believe in a “happy ending” as necessary to compensate for an unjust and unhappy life.