'Cinderella' by Randall Jarrell

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Her imaginary playmate was a grown-up
In sea-coal satin. The flame-blue glances,
The wings gauzy as the membrane that the ashes
Draw over an old ember --as the mother
In a jug of cider-- were a comfort to her.
They sat by the fire and told each other stories.

"What men want..." said the godmother softly--
How she went on it is hard for a man to say.
Their eyes, on their Father, were monumental marble.
Then they smiled like two old women, bussed each other,
Said, "Gossip, gossip"; and, lapped in each other's looks,
Mirror for Mirror, drank a cup of tea.

Of cambric tea. But there is a reality
Under the good silk of the good sisters'
Good ball gowns. She knew... Hard-breasted, naked-eyed,
She pushed her silk feet into glass, and rose within
A gown of imaginary gauze. The shy prince drank
A toast to her in champagne from her slipper

And breathed, "Bewitching!" Breathed, "I am bewitched!"
--She said to her godmother, "Men!"
And, later, looking down to see her flesh
Look back up from under lace, the ashy gauze
And pulsing marble of a bridal veil,
She wished it all a widow's coal-black weeds.

A sullen wife and a reluctant mother,
She sat all day in silence by the fire.
Better, later, to stare past her sons' sons,
Her daughters' daughter, and tell stories to the fire.
But best, dead, damned, to rock forever
Beside Hell's fireside-- to see within the flames

The Heaven to whosee gold-gauzed door there comes
A little dark old woman, the God's Mother,
And cries, "Come in, come in! My son's out now,
Out now, will be back soon, may be back never,
Who knows, eh? We know what they are--men, men!
But come, come in till then! Come in till then!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Cinderella by Randall Jarrell: A Masterful Retelling of a Beloved Fairytale

Cinderella is a timeless tale that has been retold countless times in literature, film, and other media. However, few retellings capture the essence of the original story while also adding something new and fresh to it. One of the exceptions is the poem Cinderella by Randall Jarrell, which manages to both stay true to the original tale and infuse it with new meaning and depth. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the many layers of meaning in Jarrell's Cinderella, from its commentary on gender roles and societal expectations to its exploration of the human psyche and the nature of love.

Overview and Analysis

Cinderella, published in 1955, is a poem that tells the story of a young girl who is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters but ultimately finds love and happiness with a prince. The poem is written in the third person and follows the traditional narrative of the fairytale, with a few notable deviations. For example, the poem begins with a description of Cinderella's childhood, which is not present in the original fairytale. We learn that Cinderella's mother died when she was young and that her father remarried a woman who was unkind to her.

The poem also deviates from the traditional fairytale in its portrayal of the prince. In the original story, the prince is a relatively flat character who exists solely to rescue Cinderella from her miserable life. However, in Jarrell's poem, the prince is given more depth and complexity. We learn that he is a lonely and melancholy figure who is searching for something more meaningful in his life. When he meets Cinderella at the ball, he is immediately drawn to her kindness and warmth, and it is this connection that ultimately leads to their happy ending.

One of the most interesting aspects of Jarrell's Cinderella is its commentary on gender roles and societal expectations. Throughout the poem, Cinderella is portrayed as a victim of the patriarchal society in which she lives. She is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters simply because she is a woman, and she is expected to marry a wealthy man and become a housewife. However, despite these limitations, Cinderella is also depicted as a strong and resilient character who refuses to be defined by her circumstances. She spends her days dreaming of a better life, and when the opportunity arises, she takes it.

Another interesting aspect of the poem is its exploration of the human psyche and the nature of love. Both Cinderella and the prince are depicted as complex characters with their own hopes, fears, and desires. Cinderella is not just a victim, but a person with her own agency and dreams. Similarly, the prince is not just a rescuer, but a person with his own emotional needs and vulnerabilities. When they meet at the ball, they are drawn to each other not just because of their physical attraction, but because of their shared understanding of what it means to be human. Their love is not just a fairytale romance, but a deep and meaningful connection between two individuals.

Themes and Motifs

Several themes and motifs run throughout Jarrell's Cinderella, adding depth and complexity to the poem. One of the most prominent themes is the idea of transformation. Cinderella is transformed from a mistreated and oppressed young girl into a confident and empowered woman. This transformation is not just physical, but emotional as well. Cinderella gains the courage to stand up for herself and pursue her dreams, and it is this transformation that ultimately leads to her happy ending.

Another important theme in the poem is the idea of societal expectations and gender roles. Cinderella is expected to conform to the traditional role of a woman in her society, which is to marry a wealthy man and become a housewife. However, Cinderella refuses to be defined by these limitations. She dreams of a better life and is willing to take risks and make sacrifices in order to achieve her goals.

The motif of the shoe is also present throughout the poem, as it is in the original fairytale. The glass slipper represents not just physical beauty, but also inner strength and resilience. Cinderella's ability to fit into the slipper represents her transcendence of her circumstances and her ability to overcome the limitations placed upon her by her society.


In conclusion, Randall Jarrell's Cinderella is a masterful retelling of a beloved fairytale. Through its exploration of themes such as transformation, societal expectations, and the nature of love, the poem adds new depth and meaning to the story. By portraying Cinderella and the prince as complex and multi-dimensional characters, Jarrell gives us a fairytale that is not just a simple romance, but a profound meditation on the human experience. Whether you are a fan of the original fairytale or simply appreciate great literature, Cinderella is a must-read poem that will leave you enchanted and inspired.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Cinderella: A Timeless Tale of Hope and Transformation

Cinderella is a classic fairy tale that has been retold countless times in various forms of media. However, the version written by Randall Jarrell in 1955 stands out as a masterpiece of poetic storytelling. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, symbolism, and literary devices used in the poem to understand why it has endured as a beloved piece of literature.

The poem begins with a description of Cinderella's life before her transformation. She is depicted as a downtrodden and oppressed figure, forced to do menial tasks for her cruel stepmother and stepsisters. The imagery used to describe her situation is bleak and depressing, with references to "ashes" and "dust" that evoke a sense of hopelessness.

However, despite her difficult circumstances, Cinderella maintains a sense of inner strength and resilience. This is evident in the lines "But she smiled, she smiled. / She knew how to smile, even then." This resilience is a central theme of the poem, as it highlights the power of hope and determination in the face of adversity.

The transformation of Cinderella is a pivotal moment in the poem, and it is described in vivid detail. The use of sensory imagery, such as the description of her dress as "silver and green and rose" and the reference to the "glass slippers," creates a sense of enchantment and magic. This transformation is not just physical, but also emotional, as Cinderella gains a newfound confidence and sense of self-worth.

The symbolism used in the poem is also significant. The fairy godmother represents a source of divine intervention, providing Cinderella with the means to escape her oppressive situation. The pumpkin that is transformed into a carriage represents the idea of transformation and metamorphosis, while the glass slippers symbolize fragility and delicacy.

The use of repetition is another literary device that is employed effectively in the poem. The repetition of the phrase "Cinderella, Cinderella" creates a sense of rhythm and momentum, as if the story is building towards a climax. This repetition also serves to emphasize the central character and her journey.

The climax of the poem is the scene at the ball, where Cinderella captures the attention of the prince. The description of the ball is filled with sensory imagery, from the "music" and "lights" to the "perfume" and "laughter." This creates a sense of excitement and anticipation, as the reader is drawn into the magical world of the ball.

The scene where Cinderella and the prince dance together is particularly poignant. The use of the metaphor "they danced as if they were made of glass" highlights the fragility of their connection, as if it could be shattered at any moment. This creates a sense of tension and drama, as the reader wonders if their love will be able to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way.

The resolution of the poem is satisfying, as Cinderella is able to escape her oppressive situation and find happiness with the prince. The final lines of the poem, "And they lived happily ever after, / As long as they lived at all," serve as a reminder that even the happiest of endings are not eternal, and that life is full of ups and downs.

In conclusion, Randall Jarrell's poem Cinderella is a timeless tale of hope and transformation. Through its use of vivid imagery, symbolism, and literary devices, it captures the essence of the classic fairy tale while also adding its own unique perspective. The poem serves as a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope for a better future.

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