Briar Rose

Anne Sexton’s Twisted Version of Sleeping Beauty

June 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

Sleeping Beauty’s Sexual Scars in Anne Sexton’s “Briar Rose”

Parents often use fairytales as bedtime stories for their children. Anne Sexton takes these often light-hearted and whimsical tales and spins them into a creation of her own. According to Diana Hume George in “An Overview of Sexton’s Canon,” Sexton, “updated their contexts and language to point out their applications to and parallels with modern life, and she exposed the dark psychic core of each tale in ways that inverted or even reversed their normative meanings.” The poem “Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty),” begins with a girl in a hypnotic state, sitting on her father’s lap. The stanza is ominous and uncomfortable to read, setting the tone for the rest of the poem. In the following stanzas, the traditional fairytale plays out but as it continues, Briar Rose’s happy ending is nowhere to be seen. Sexton focuses on pivotal events in the story and twists them in a way that recreates the original fairytale and exposes its darker undertones that are otherwise overlooked in the original story.

Sexton begins the first stanza in third person and describes a girl in a hypnotic trance in order to establish the unsettling tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker states that, “She is stuck in the time machine, / suddenly two years old sucking her thumb” (l. 7-8). The girl regresses to a younger age, making her more childlike and vulnerable. The speaker goes on to state that the girl struggles to find her mother but instead, her father is the one to hold her. Whilst on his lap, he tells her, “Come be my snooky / and I will give you a root” (l. 21-22). Snooky is slang for ones romantic partner and a root is phallic in shape. For the father to tell his daughter this immediately signals the incestual undertones that will be present later on.

Over the course of the poem, Briar Rose’s life is marked by unfortunate events. The first one occurs when she is only a baby. Her father held a christening for her but he only owned twelve gold plates and therefore only invited twelve fairies. The thirteenth fairy, feeling spurned, prophesizes that

“The princess shall prick herself

on a spinning wheel in her fifteenth year

and then fall down dead.

Kaputt!” (l. 37-40).

The use of a silly phrase such as “Kaputt!” contrasts greatly to the grave tone of the situation. It highlights the intended lethalness of the curse, which is otherwise glossed over in the watered-down, bedtime version of the fairytale.

In response to the curse, the king becomes overbearing in his need to protect his daughter. He orders every spindle in the kingdom to be destroyed. This makes sense in regards to the prophecy but the king’s orders eventually become more extreme. The speaker states that, “He forced every male in the court / to scour his tongue with Bab-o / lest they poison the air she dwelt in” (l. 60-62) By having the men clean themselves with a modern-day product containing bleach, it is as if the king wants the men to purify themselves so that they will not corrupt his daughter. The curse said nothing of specifically men doing harm to Briar Rose though, so the king’s need to protect her becomes obsession-like. The king’s obsession over his own daughter’s purity is the beginning of the incestual undertones that subverts the original tale’s message of sefless love.

Try as he might, the king’s precautions to keep Briar Rose safe from both men and the curse are thwarted, resulting in the second pivotal moment within the story. Inevitably, Briar rose pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, sending both her and the inhabitants of the kingdom into a deep slumber. The speaker describes the sleeping inhabitants in terms of modern-day parallels, such as comparing the frogs to zombies and the trees to metal. By doing so, the slumbering kingdom’s fate becomes more sinister, as if the inhabitants are petrified instead of simply sleeping. Over the years, many princes try to break the curse but they, “had not scoured their tongues / so they were held by the thorns / and thus were crucified” (l. 86-88). The princes dying show the king’s control over Briar Rose, even while she sleeps. Ultimately, they cannot rescue her because they had not scoured their tongues as the men of the court had done and thus were deemed unfit in the father’s eyes.

A hundred years pass and a prince finally breaks the curse, although everything is not what it seems. In the third pivotal event, when the prince kisses Briar Rose awake, she cries, “Daddy! Daddy!” (l. 96). After being awakened after such a frightful occurrence, it would only make sense for a girl to cry out for her father, but Briar Rose was specifically awakened by a kiss. This implicates that the father has kissed Briar Rose as well, giving the reader a glimpse of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

At this point, the original fairytale ends with Briar Rose living happily ever after with her prince. In Sexton’s version of the story, Briar Rose awakening marks the beginning of her downward spiral. Although Briar Rose marries the prince, she becomes an insomniac, still haunted by the memories of her father’s sexual abuse. She becomes dependent on drugs and cannot sleep, “without the court chemist / mixing her some knock-out drops / and never in the prince’s presence” (l. 106-108). Briar Rose becomes more and more disturbed by the memories her father’s sexual abuse but refuses to let her spouse know. Briar Rose’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father results in the overall deterioration of both her mental and physical health.

Briar Rose’s health steadily worsens until she descends into a state of delirium. The speaker switches from that of third person to first and says, “I must not sleep / for while asleep I’m ninety / and think I’m dying” (l. 120-122). Briar Rose goes back and forth between different points of her life, from when she was a small child at the hands of her father to when she was in the hundred-year slumber. Because of this, Briar Rose becomes even more dependent on drugs, similarly to how real-life victims of sexual abuse can fall victim to drug usage in order to cope with their past.

In the following stanza, it becomes evident that the girl in the beginning of the poem is the modern-day parallel to Sexton’s recreated version of Sleeping Beauty. In the first stanza, the little girl is just “learning to talk again” (l. 10). She lost her will to talk after being sexually abused but slowly starts to come forth with what happened, just as Briar Rose begins to do. The speaker says, “I was forced backward. / I was forced forward” (l. 145-146). The movements mimic the sexual positions that her father forced her into when she was younger. Although older and now married, Briar Rose still feels like a prisoner to her father. This directly subverts the wholesome image of the king in the original tale. In Anne Sexton’s version of Sleeping Beauty’s, the king is the true villain of the story because of what he did to his daughter. By raping her as a child, he ensures a lifetime of unhappiness to follow.

In the traditional fairytale, a prince eventually thwarts the thirteenth fairy’s curse and awakens the princess with true love’s kiss. It embodies a wholesome message of good conquering evil. Sexton twisted the fairytale and utilized specific themes within it – such as a father’s love – in order to give voice to victims of incest and sexual abuse. In reality, many victims do not lead a happy life because of the memories of abuse that stay with them, long after it ends. By doing the same to Briar Rose, Sexton shows that not everyone can live a happily ever after.

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Female Characters in the Novel Briar Rose by Jane Yolen, and in Grimm’s Tale

June 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

The princess in the Grimm’s tale is portrayed as an acquiescent main character and a passive heroine. In the tale, her fate is determined before she is old enough to speak her first words. Throughout the tale, she continues to lack the gumption to alter her destiny, supporting the notion that her character does not have an aim. The king and queen host a celebration to which they invite the wise women in the kingdom so that they would be kindly disposed towards the princess. However, there were only twelve golden plates and thirteen wise women. The Grimm’s place emphasis on dinnerware as an arbitrary determiner of fate. The thirteenth wise woman goes to the celebration to curse the princess. “She [the thirteenth wise woman] wanted to avenge herself for not having been invited… she cried out with a loud voice, ‘In the princess’s fifteenth year she shall prick herself with a spindle and fall over dead.’” The princess’s fate is controlled by external factors. Through the Grimm’s use of indirect characterization, the readers perceive the princess as a character with no true aim. One of the single actions the princess makes in the story is to touch a spindle, the one action she was not supposed to make, which causes her to fall into a 100-year long deep sleep. Her character then lies there and waits for her prince to come to save her.

The princess is placed in a traditional sexist role. In more modern times the notion that it is important to portray women in different roles than the typical “traditional” ones in order to teach young readers they have equal opportunities is prevalent. In Yolen’s novel, the main female character, Becca, works as a reporter which could be an attempt by the author to display her as strong and resilient since the pioneering women of journalism faced consequential discrimination within the profession. In the early 1900s, it was said that journalism was a “man’s job” since people thought it would be too risky for women.

Yolen gives Becca a clear aim in the novel. After her grandmother’s death, Becca begins to believe there is a hidden meaning behind the fairytale Briar Rose which her grandmother always told at bedtime. As a devoted young journalist, she decides to write a story uncovering the truth about her grandmother. Yolen makes it evident that this story is important to Becca’s character as she is emotionally attached. Stan, observes, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be happy until you find out who your grandmother was, Becca.’ Through the following example of direct characterization Yolen depicts to the audience that Becca is not passive like the princess in the Grimm’s tale. “….She always had such physical reactions: able to function in the immediate emergency, falling apart afterwards.” Yolen portrays Becca as driven and the readers perceive her as the character the author uses to push the action forward in the novel.

In addition, Yolen uses indirect characterization to depict Becca as a woke character which makes female readers in particular respect her as it is relatable to them. For example, when Becca asked a man from a different newspaper if he could send copies of some articles he responded “Sure thing, honey. Just give me your name and address.” Yolen then writes “She let the honey go by and told him what he needed to know.” The author portrays Becca as someone with a strong sense of right and wrong, who chooses her battles, as opposed to the princess’s portrayal as a passive victim.

Other female characters in Yolen’s novel are also portrayed with a clear aim, for example Gemma. Yolen places Becca and Gemma at odds since Gemma kept a huge secret from Becca all her life. This makes the audience see Gemma as the antagonist. In the flashback parts of the novel, it is clear that Yolen’s goal for Gemma’s character is to survive. The reader learns in a flashback that a partisan group, which included Joseph, found Gemma and saved her from death. Gemma’s goal thereafter was to stay alive. She had no memories, except for the remnants of the tale of Briar Rose. Later she discovers she is pregnant and the goal of her character shifts. Yolen then places emphasis on the need for Gemma’s character to look after her baby. “I am with child…and I will not let it die,” she says. Yolen portrays the main female character with an aim, giving them purpose and meaning for the audience.

The theme of family is evident in Yolen’s novel and contributes to the audience perceiving Becca in a positive light. Becca’s family is very important to her character. She is very well loved by her parents and has a special bond with her grandmother. “It was why she came to the nursing home every afternoon after work at the newspaper and stayed with Gemma three and four hours each weekend…” Becca is also the youngest of three sisters. Her older sisters, Shana and Silvia, are both married with children and live far away. The reader receives a bit of a snobby impression of them. However, they are also described as “strong, competent women.” Even though they all care for each other very much, Becca does not always get along with her older sisters. “‘This was a promise to Gemma,’ said Becca, hanging up and feeling — as she usually did after arguing with one of her sisters — morally oppressed.” Yolen portrays Becca in opposition to her sisters with the reader on her side, which contributes to the readers seeing Becca positively. The older sisters have always excluded Becca as she is the youngest. ‘She was not part of their magic circle and never had been.’ The way Yolen characterizes Becca in this scenario has an effect on the reader as they sympathize with Becca.

In the Grimm’s tale, the king and queen long for a child and are very happy when a frog creeps out of the water while the queen is bathing to tell her that “your wish shall be fulfilled, and before a year passes you will bring a daughter into the world.” When the child is introduced, the authors use direct characterization to point out the child’s beauty. “The queen gave birth to a girl who was so beautiful that the king could not contain himself for joy.” Already from the start, the way the princess is characterized is through her beauty. For instance, words like “healthy” or “happy” could have been chosen instead of beautiful. Although, it does seem like the king and queen love their daughter very much since they host a huge celebration in her honor. The king also attempts to save the princess from her curse which shows the readers that he cares for his child. “The king, wanting to rescue his dear child, issued an order that all spindles in the entire kingdom should be burned.”

As previously mentioned, the princess is described as beautiful and throughout the tale, she is almost solely characterized in terms of her beauty. The twelve wise women who gave the princess “gifts” before the thirteenth wise woman put a curse on her wasted it on characteristics like virtue, beauty, and wealth. “The feast was celebrated with great splendor, and at its conclusion the wise women presented the child with their magic gifts. The one gave her virtue, the second one beauty, the third one wealth, and so on with everything that one could wish for on earth.” These are all very passive traits that depict the princess solely as an object of desire.

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Long-lasting Lattle in Briar Rose

May 6, 2021 by Essay Writer

Briar Rose was a very interesting story, I say this because it is one of the only fairytales that could be somewhat realistic. There may have been magic involved, but somehow it seemed like it could actually happen. All texts have a message behind it, I personally feel that it had a nice message in the end, and it made me look at the text differently. The text showed readers that no matter what comes your way you will always prevail through anything, even a spell.

I am not a big fan of fairytales, but some, like Briar Rose made me think that the fight between good vs evil still exists. I believe that good will always out way the bad, and evil will always continue to fail. In the text, Briar rose was loved by many and was still cursed by the evil fairy. “Now, as she had not been asked to the feast she was very angry, and scolded the king and queen very much, and set to work to take her revenge. So she cried out, the king’s daughter shall, in her fifteenth year, be wounded by a spindle, and fall down dead.” Throughout all of that, Ms. Rose still ended up happy and loved.

Reading the text, I learned that people will always try and bring you down, especially when you are happy. Briar only got to experience life for fifteen years, and was put to sleep for one hundred years, because of a fairy not getting a golden dish. “Then the twelfth of the friendly fairies, who had not yet given her gift, came forward, and said that the evil wish must be fulfilled, but that she could soften its mischief; so her gift was, that the king’s daughter, when the spindle wounded her, should not really die, but should only fall asleep for a hundred years.” Even though it was a good story, the plot of it was dumb. How can someone be that mad about not being invited to a dinner? The fairy seemed like she was never good in the end, because she thought of such an evil curse.

Briar Rose also showed me that if you do something good, you will be rewarded. I have always been firm believer when it comes to blessings, but only if you do not expect it. The Queen was only looking to help the fish, and did not expect anything in return. “Then the queen took pity on the little fish, and threw it back again into the river; and before it swam away it lifted its head out of the water and said, ‘I know what your wish is, and it shall be fulfilled, in return for your kindness to me—you will soon have a daughter.” This showed how humble and grateful the queen was. She only did it out of the kindness of her heart and was given a blessing for doing that. This is a good story to teach children and maybe even preteens, because of the message. “The best feeling of happiness is when you are happy because you made someone else happy-unknown.”

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