The Evolution of Snow White

11 November 2016

Reflecting the female zeitgeist of the mid 1930s with the reactionary antifeminist undertones brought about by the overindulgence of the Roaring Twenties, the Disney film still leaves much to be desired in the realm of children’s indoctrination. The original Brothers Grimm version first established these moralistic formulae, but it did so in a particularly gruesome fashion. Gone were the morbid details of murderous narcissism, witchcraft, prepubescent sexual ripening, and ritual cannibalism, originally indispensible story elements to better reinforce the all-too-important Protestant values the brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm held so dear.

The target demographic was very different as well; while the Disney version was conceptualized with the General Patronage rating in mind, the Grimms’ version was formerly written and published for scholars and teachers in various editions abounding with annotations and notes. The pilot German edition was entitled “Snow-drop” and published in Kinder–und Hausmarchen in 1812. The rumored early drafts supposedly were a darker and more sinister tale, much more so than the edited version. However, this was not the first appearance of the Snow White character.

The Evolution of Snow White Essay Example

The Grimms collected the elements of their stories from old midwives, nurses, sewing circle members and the like, owing to the deeply-steeped oral folk traditions of the time. The earliest known written version of the tale may be a derivation of Giambattista Basile’s “The Young Slave,” published in the collection, Il Pentamerone in 1634. Referenced in the Grimms’ text in 1812, the story is recognizable as the parent of the Grimms’ Snow White albeit it differs in some of the finer points, as well as owing some similarities in other fairy tales.

In the account, a lady gets impregnated by the ingestion of a rose leaf. Secretly, the lady, a baron’s unmarried sister, births a baby girl and names her Lisa. Similar to the “Sleeping Beauty” trope, fairies were invited to bless the child but one unfortunate fairy botches up the blessing (she slipped and twisted her ankle), making it into a curse that states specifically that the child, Lisa, will die when she reaches the age of seven. True to the bumbled blessing, Lisa’s short and fast-forwarded life comes to an end on her seventh year, while her mother was combing her hair.

In her grief, the mother tries to preserve the charming vision of her daughter in seven caskets made of pure crystal and hides her in a secluded part of the baron’s castle under lock and key. The mother’s grief eventually brought her to her grave; on her deathbed he gives the baron the key to the room and makes him promise to never open the door under any circumstance. Years pass, and the baron marries. Borrowing from “Bluebeard”, the baron is called by his peers to a hunting trip so he gives his wife the key and strictly instructs her not to open the door.

Propelled by the sense of mystery, distrust and a skewed by-product of reverse psychology, the wife runs up to the locked room and opens it. Here she finds a stunningly beautiful young maiden—our Snow White, Lisa, now grown to her adolescent years by the magic of time—sleeping in an intricate crystal bed. Mistaking the girl for the baron’s secret mistress, the baroness in a fit deserving of the “Scorned Woman” description, dislodges the comb from the girl’s hair—subsequently waking her from her reverie—beats the girl within an inch of her life, cuts of her long, immaculate black hair and dresses her like a kitchen maid.

When the baron returned and inquired about the appearance of this strange and careworn young woman, the baroness supplies that the girl was “a slave sent her by her aunt, only fit for the rope’s end, and that one had to be forever beating her. ” One day, the baron was invited to a local fair, but before his departure, he promises everyone, including the cats and slaves, a gift when he returns. Lisa asks for a doll, a knife, and some pumice-stone. After a series of events, he finally acquires the requested gifts and presents them to Lisa.

Lisa tired of the suffering she has endured, goes to the kitchen, and tells the doll her heartbreaking tale while she contemplates killing herself with the sharpened knife. She threatens the doll that if it did not answer, she will most certainly end her life. The doll, animated by sympathy, answers and pleads to her not to. After several days of routine suicide consideration and marionette psychotherapy, the baron overhears the miserable tale of the child. Wanting to right what is wrong; he adopts the child as his own and restores her health, beauty and heritage.

The misinformed baroness is forever banished—back to her parents. Basile’s The Young Slave contains motifs we recognize not only from Snow White but also Sleeping Beauty (the fairy’s curse), Bluebeard (the locked room), Beauty and the Beast (the troublesome gift), and other tales. The minimal inclusion of any supernatural elements is also a distinct note. Excepting the circumstances of Lisa’s birth and death, the primary conflict did not, in any way, warrant the use of telltale poisoned apples, dwarven miners, and paranormal, information-gathering mirrors.

The cause of the baroness’s fit can also be considered as a “normal reaction;” a woman driven to a temporary insanity by jealousy and Lisa’s suicidal kitchen conversations with the doll spoke a poignant message of a child’s battered psyche. Basile painted for us a domestic and deeply moving tale of Italian courtly life. Finally, we move on to the Grimms’ “distilled” version. Similar to the Basile version, the story starts with a barren queen longing for a child.

Set in the frigid, northern snow lands, the queen gets inspired with the droplets of blood from her pricked finger marring the white snow and she wishes that her daughter be “as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame. ” Soon after that, the queen gives birth to a baby girl who has skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony. They name her Princess Snow White. As soon as the child is born, the queen dies. We are then introduced to the king’s replacement queen: a vain and conniving woman who daily consults a magical mirror that can answer any question asked to it.

Often, she asks the mirror in those immortal words, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is fairest of all? ” to which the mirror always replies “You, my queen, are fairest of all. ” This daily exchange goes on until the princess reaches the age of seven. Even at a very young age, the princess is described as the most beautiful woman in the land, and the mirror does not fail to point this tiny detail out to the queen. The queen’s jealousy overwhelms her and she orders a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her.

The huntsman, buckling under the sheer beauty of his young companion, shirks his duty and tells the girl to run away, hoping that the forest wildlife might be the ones to end her life. Of course, he mustn’t return empty-handed, so he kills a boar, takes its liver and lungs and presents them to the queen as Snow White’s. The queen, rejoicing in her victory, proceeds to eat the entrails after demanding it to be cooked. Back in the forest, where the forest critters stay their claws and hunger at the sight of pretty, little Snow White, she discovers a tiny cottage belonging to seven dwarfs, where she rests.

The dwarves, after a long day at the mines, find their homes slightly disturbed. Incensed at the existence of a trespasser, they quickly search the house and finding the sleeping body of Snow White in one of their beds. Again, dazzled at the sight of this lovely child, they took pity on her. When she finally woke up—and after Snow White’s explanation—they agreed to keep her safe in exchange for manual labor, and gratefully, she agrees. The dwarves, wary of the queen’s retaliation, warn her to close the door during the day and take care not to let anyone in.

The queen confers with the mirror to reaffirm her superiority, and is shocked and furious at the fact that Snow White is still alive. With her experience in the arts of witchcraft and camouflage, she scours the seven mountains in search for the girl and three times tries to take her life. After two failed attempts (the dwarves save her every time), she finally succeeds with the help of an enticing poison-laced apple. Such is the splendor of her apple that Snow White almost immediately eats it and falls into a deep stupor.

The dwarves fail to revive her and so they place her in a glass coffin, her beauty exposed for all to bask in. Snow White’s “corpse” does not decay even after a certain amount of time. A traveling prince happens upon the coffin and, intrigued, asks the dwarves for her. At first they don’t agree but they eventually give in, seeing that the prince’s help might be the best for the girl at this time. The prince’s servants carry her away but a serendipitous incidence lodged the poisoned apple piece from her throat, waking her from her reverie.

After quick declarations of love from both of them, they, without more ado, plan their wedding. The queen, still thinking the princess dead, consults her mirror who is the fairest in the land, and yet again the mirror disappoints her by proclaiming that, “You, my queen, are fair; it is true. But the young queen is a thousand times fairer than you. ” Not knowing the new queen was her stepdaughter, she goes to the wedding to scope out the new competition. When she realizes that not only was her stepdaughter alive, but the wedded queen of a prince, an unfathomable horror encroaches upon her heart.

As punishment for her repeated attempts at murder, she is forced to dance in a pair of heated iron shoes until she dies. The fetishization of physical beauty is obviously in play more so in this narrative than in Basile’s story. Physical beauty was the agent of the queen’s ire, and her determination in snuffing out that wondrous, miraculous beauty fuels the major conflict. Could it be simple vanity, an intense narcissism mutating into a murderous obsession in being the most beautiful?

Or could it be an inherent insecurity fueled by the fear of being upstaged by the cloying prettiness of the young woman? Roger Sale, best encapsulates the psyche of the queen in “Fairy Tales and After. ” He states, “There is, for instance, no suggestion that the queen’s absorption in her beauty ever gives her pleasure, or that the desire for power through sexual attractiveness is itself a sexual feeling. What is stressed is the anger and fear that attend the queen’s realization that as she and Snow White both get older, she must lose.

That is why the major feeling invoked is not jealousy but envy: to make beauty that important is to reduce the world to one in which only two people count. ” Within the realms of the Grimms’s female community, Snow White’s beauty is a hindrance; a loosely-said blessing given to a child too young to realize its significance and the social gravity (i. e. possible competition) connected with it. In Delia Sherman’s poem, “Snow White to the Prince,” the princess openly shows her disdain for the beauty she possesses, “My cursed beauty. Will you hear now why I curse it?

It should have been my mother’s — it had been, until I took it from her. ” Sherman also has some very astute observations concerning Snow White’s gullibility in accepting all these gifts from a suspicious and vaguely familiar source. Due to lack of character detail on the Grimms’ part, Sherman forged her own reading on the tragic relationship of stepmother and stepdaughter as what it really is, stripped from all the Judeo-Christian trappings of the original authors, “Do you think I did not know her? . . Of course I took her poisoned gifts.

I wanted to feel her hands coming out of my hair, to let her lace me up, to take an apple from her hand, a smile from her lips, as when I was a child. ” Snow White, according to Sherman, is not a guileless, naive little girl tempted by folly; she is the embodiment of every child yearning for even a sliver of affection and love from an abusive parent. Here, she willingly participates in the queen’s homicidal charades to invoke a certain semblance of motherly bonding between them. The Grimms’ flimsy explanation of “hardwork being the cure of idleness,” then dissolves in a pile of spent orals, as the painful realization of Snow White’s ignorance might be her longing for a mother figure. Olga Broumas has an analogous interpretation in her poem eponymously entitled, “Snow White,” “Don’t curse me, Mother, . . . No salve, no ointment in a doctor’s tube, no brew in a witch’s kettle, no lover’s mouth, no friend or god could heal me if your heart turned in anathema, grew stone against me. ” Snow White has been an alluring and, ultimately, mysterious figure that has been given a lot of literary treatments through the years.

Deconstructive attempts in popular culture tried to veer away from the archetypal elements set by the original story (as well as Disney’s counter-productive attempts) by reinterpreting the characters, setting, and the binaries of the main conflict. Honorable mentions would be Neil Gaiman’s short story, “Snow, Glass, Apples,” which features the Snow White story in the narrative voice and point of view of the stepmother. It features a vampiric Snow White, using her powers to inveigle the people around her while she feeds on the blood of her victims.

The queen, here, is fighting a desperate struggle to rid her kingdom this undead monstrosity but, true to the plot flow of the original, fails to convince her subjects to see through her evil stepdaughter’s ruse. Angela Carter’s gothic re-imagination “The Snow Child” would also be a worthy candidate. Instead of a baroness asking for a child, it was the Count who wanted a child “as white as snow. ” In accordance with an in-story legend, his wish is granted and he lavishes the child with his time and affection, much to the Countess’s vexation. At the Countess’s command, the child picks up a rose and dies at the prick of a thorn.

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