Fairy Tale Influences on Modern Society

Class: English (ENG3U1)
Date: May 3, 2006
The Assignment: Choose a poem from the textbook and analyze it and its theme. Don’t pick the poem “puce fairy book” because everyone thinks it’s easy but it’s actually hard.
Mark: 79%

Alice Major’s poem “puce fairy book” is told from the point of view of a female character that is unable to live up to a man’s expectations. She has flaws, like all people, but she admits to and embraces these faults. Unfortunately, it is much harder for the male to accept her imperfections. Major’s use of fairy tale allusions, symbolic connotations, and sarcastic satire demonstrates that society has created a “perfect” image for women to conform to that is unrealistic and unattainable.

Throughout the poem, Major alludes to romantic but impractical fairy tales that have reached a wide audience and are well understood. One tale she references is that of Sleeping Beauty when she says “you wanted a lady sleeping in a garden / no rings on her fingers / never been kissed” (5–7). Sleeping Beauty has a spell put on her that can only be broken by true love’s first kiss; Sleeping Beauty has never experienced love, which encourages men to believe that real women should wait for them also. Major invokes an image of The Princess and the Pea with the lines: “I piled up mattresses to cushion you / but you tossed and turned / bruised by that one small nub” (13–15). In this princess’ tale, a sleepless night confirms her status as royalty, because only a true princess would be delicate enough to feel a pea beneath a pile of mattresses. Major reverses the roles and depicts the male as restless because of the female character’s flaw. No one is perfect and it is unreasonable to expect anyone to be free of faults. The final allusion is to the story of Cinderella: “you brought me a crystal slipper / on a heart-shaped pillow / pretty but slightly passé / my foot was too big to fit into it” (17–20). Cinderella’s foot fit perfectly into the tiny crystal slipper presented to her by Prince Charming, leading men to believe that all women should be slender and delicate like fairy tale princesses. Fictional characters have unrestricted beauty and their creator can easily manipulate them to be seen in a better light, but real people do not have this advantage. The comparisons to fairy tales lends strong support to Major’s point because the stories and situations she references are impossible fantasies and can be criticized for presenting fake ideals to people at a young age.

Many phrases in the poem imply deeper meanings than they appear to have on the surface. In the first stanza, Major suggests that the female’s physical characteristics cannot live up to the man’s standards because “my hair would never grow long enough” (4). Although this statement specifically refers to her hair, it also hints that many of women’s physical aspects may be flawed: they do not always have silky hair, smooth skin, long legs, full lips, or other perfect features. She also rejects his notion that all women are naïve and innocent when she tells him “other princes had made it through my forest” (8). There is no real “forest”; she is actually expressing that she had been in love with others before she met the male character of the poem. For the male to expect that the female will wait for him is foolish. Finally, she demonstrates that women are not simple housewives who obey their husbands with the phrase “I forgot to water the roses round the door” (12). Some men expect their wives to keep the house clean, the garden groomed, and have their dinner ready when they get home, but women do not all fit into this mold of a “perfect” wife. Major selects her words carefully to imply a more complex meaning than it seems at first and these meanings help give the reader insight to society’s unfeasible expectations.

The poem is very satirical in the way that Major constantly finds fault with men’s expectations. Some men believe that women are merely trophies; Major’s prince “wanted Rapunzel waiting in a tower” (1). In reality, women do not pine for men when they are not around, but in Rapunzel’s tale, all she can think of is her prince. Men and women alike can have too much of an optimistic outlook on life and love: “you wanted happy ever after” (11) Major says of her partner’s attitude. To achieve infinite happiness is impossible because tragedies and flaws cannot be avoided in real life with magic as portrayed in many fairy tales. Major suggests that men are incredibly egotistical and think that women will do almost anything for them. The poem ends with the lines: “I declined, with thanks, the honour / of cutting of my toe” (23–24). The act of cutting off her toe to fit into the male’s impossible vision of perfection is representative of being untrue to herself and changing who she really is, and is certainly not an honour. By refusing, Major disproves men’s theory of women’s willingness. Society and media have pushed these far-fetched expectations, and Major uses satire to ridicule the extremeness of these hopes.

Major is successful in achieving her goal of educating the public about the impossible image that women are pressured by society, media, and their peers to conform to. She supports her argument by alluding to popular fairy tales, selecting complex and meaningful phrases, and using humour. Society’s demand for conformity amongst women has been constantly present, as shown by traditional fairy tales and modern poetry. Although society has made great advances in technology, the public’s mindset is still as old-fashioned as these fairy tales. If not for women like Major who speak out against these injustices, the media will continue to control women’s bodies and minds.

Work Cited

Major, Alice. “puce fairy book.” Echoes 12. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2002. 36–37.