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Analysis on Transformations by Anne Sexton

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Analysis on Transformations by Anne Sexton

The fairy tales Anne Sexton has twisted and retold in her poetry collection Transformations are deeply disturbing and incorporated with taboo subjects. They are stories about the well-known princesses in the Grimm Brothers fairy tales, women who are abused and imprisoned but who overcome all obstacles to get their happily-ever-after marriage with the prince at the end of the tale. Anne Sexton uses these innocent, childlike images opposed with cynical but more realistic situations in order show that the lessons society teaches children are false impressions that do not properly illustrate the corrupt, cruel world we actually live in. The poet also adds her own life experiences and critiques contemporary culture. Of her re-tells I will be analyzing Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Red Riding Hood.

In her version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, Anne Sexton highlights the fact that the conflict between Snow White and her stepmother is fought out in the space where patriarchal culture has instructed women to be rivals. Significantly, Sexton characterizes Snow White as a thing’, and is constantly comparing her to objects such as cigarette papers, dolls, bonefish, gold, and dust, among others. Snow White is also referred to as a virgin, a representation of the ideal type of woman that fairy tales manufacture within their cultural vision of stereotypical male and female roles. Sexton uses these things to critique modern day societys perception of women in which people of both genders view men as humans but women as objects.  She describes the princess as pure, even though further into the poem one realizes that she might not be as innocent as people are led to believe. 

Throughout history women have often been portrayed in literature as beautiful, but brainless. Anne Sexton is clearly mocking this idea by painting Snow White as stupid. Although the dwarves warn her about her stepmother several times: While we are away in the mines/ during the day, you must not/ open the door.” Beware of your stepmother/they said/ She will try once more (Sexton 6-7), the naïve Snow White falls for her stepmothers tricks over and over again, hence Sexton describes her as the dumb bunny (Sexton 8).

  Following the conventional fairy tale, Snow White finds her happily ever after with her prince as reward for her purity and goodness; while the stepmother is tortured and killed for her evil ways. After the Queens death, it is insinuated that there is a cycle of vanity that is repeating itself where it says, Meanwhile Snow White held court,/ rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut/ and sometimes referring to her mirror/ as women do (Sexton 9). The quote establishes that Snow White is both at once the powerful prideful Queen and the innocent beautiful virgin.

        Sextons retiling of the classic tale about the girl with the long hair, Rapunzel”, is probably the most disturbing of all of the poems I will analyze in this essay. The quest for identity on the social, personal, artistic and existential level is the predominant theme in Sextons poetry and the role of sex and the sensual is central to our understanding of her work (ONeill). Sexton opens the poem with a peculiar beginning that gives the reader a troubled sense that the Mother Gothel is having a sexual relationship with Rapunzel, The poem compares and contrasts Rapunzels heterosexual relationship with the prince and her homosexual relationship with Mother Gothel. When comparing both relationships, it becomes clear that Sexton was attempting to make the homosexual relationship appear much more gentle than the relationship with the Prince, given the fact that the way the Prince is described in the poem is clearly meant to make men sound rough, hard, and unappealing. 

Reading the poem may give you a hint about some type of sexual relationship between the two women, but it is never revealed to be true. The only hint of sexual abuse in the mother-daughter relationship is with the mention of Rapunzel and Mother Gothel playing mother-me-do”. One could assume a mother-daughter relationship was going on by how Mother Gothel punishes Rapunzel by cutting her long beautiful hair when she finds out the young girl had been seeing the Prince behind her back. Though it is likely that the womens relationship was sexual, there is still something innocent about it because of how the poet worded the interactions between the two. With the Prince however, it is greatly different. Immediately it is established that he dazzles her with answers (Sexton 4), implying that his answers may seem dazzling because they are untruthful. Although the relationship with the Prince was not described as smooth as the one with Mother Gothel, Rapunzel ends up having her happy ending with the Prince. This transformation of the story draws the readers attention to the impelled heterosexuality that women and men are forced to assume because of its naturalism.

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