Analysis of “Snow White”
Analysis of “Snow White”
The current analysis is focused on “Snow White” by Brothers Grimm. The plot of the fairy tale revolves around the topic of envy of a stepmother to the young and beautiful Snow White. While the later version of the story popularized by the Disney’s production is bright and positive, as this version lacks the gruesome parts of the story. The later cinematic implementation of the fairy tale adds new details to the narrative by changing the illustration of the main character. Snow White in the Grimm’s fairy tale is a weak and obedient stepdaughter, while in the movie, it was decided to make her an empowered female that defends herself against the stepmother.
As the original story shows, Brothers Grimm managed to include several gruesome details to the story in order to make it more dramatic. For instance, the story of “Snow White” does not end with the wedding of her with Prince but with her stepmother’s torturous death. In the story, she has to wear iron slippers put in the fire in order to dance to death. In addition, several studies indicate that the initial story included the poisonous comb in addition to the apple usually used to poison the Snow White. The recent film adaptation “Snow White and the Huntsman” managed to change the narrative considerably by eliminating several characters as well as making radical alterations to the story. In the movie, Snow White is a powerful woman who managed to destroy the stepmother by herself. The later changes to the story show that the fairy tale experienced changes because it was adapted to different audiences. While it was important to create a harmless fairy tale for children, the adaptation does not include the disturbing details of the stepmother’s death. At the same time, the adaptation for the adults had to include the modern trends in gender relations and social tendencies in order to become more relatable as well as entertaining for the viewers. The transition of “Snow White” from the story about the young and helpless girl to the empowered woman marks the alteration of the female archetypes in the society, while the elimination of the gruesome details from the narrative related to the need to adapt the fairy tale for modern children.
“Snow White” has a large number of different versions of the story. Every version of the fairy tale seems to be particularly distinctive. The main similarities usually include the presence of an older envious woman, who wants to kill the main heroine, the death of Snow White, and her resurrection. As Saunders (2008) recognized, in the Scottish version of the fairy tale, the main character dies more than once; several older versions do not include the seven dwarves. Saunders (2008) reviews the Italian version of the story that included seven robbers. One of the oldest translation of “Snow White” dated back to 1823 named the protagonist as Snow-Drop and this version completely eliminated any gruesome content from the original Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale. As the analysis of “Snow White” revealed, the Disney version managed to polish the story to eliminate any trace of the gruesome detail in order to make it more applicable for the animated movie for children (Abate, 2012). For instance, Abate (2012) revealed that one of the detail, specifically, the requirement to bring lungs and liver of the Snow White after the killing, was ignored by the Disney version. A more sanitized version was considered more appropriate for the children due to the disturbing content.
Moreover, as another research admitted, before the fairy tale was translated, it was the biological mother of Snow White, not the stepmother, who aimed at killing the protagonist (Joosen, 2014). It was considered that the change has to be made in order to soften the content for children. However, the alteration of the narrative may be caused by the need to preserve the role the biological mothers play in the Western culture and religion. It was customary to illustrate stepmothers as the vicious and envious beings in the fairy tales, while the biological mothers preserved the status quo. As Abate argues, “Snow White” is a story that was initially written by adults and published in a collection of the Grimm Brothers that was created for children (Abate, 2012). Consequently, it is not surprising that the narrative was continuously rewritten and adapted. In addition, Abate implies that the fairy tale highlights the murderous intentions of parental wishes and desires instead of feelings belonging to children (Abate, 2012). This is an interesting implication since the archetype of an older woman has been present in the Brothers Grimm story from the very beginning. As the role of mothers in society and culture experienced changes, the narrative of the fairy tale was altered as well.
Another analysis of the fairy tale showed that the patriarchal perception of motherhood has affected the development of the different archetype of an older and wiser woman. The research analyzed different translations of the story, which revealed that translators have extended the mother’s role by reinforcing the patriarchal mothering (Joosen, 2014). In “Snow White”, the biological mother is illustrated as a good queen while the stepmother is inherently bad due to her status. Here, the researchers point to the problem of ageism, which is still relevant in the modern society. In all versions of the fairy tale, the older stepmother undergoes the process of aging that indicates the loss of her power in the patriarchal society. As this society praises the beauty of women, she is pushed to experience loss, envy, and hatred towards the stepdaughter. Therefore, instead of becoming a wise teacher for the future generation of women, the older female is illustrated as vicious queen, who wishes to kill the younger girl. As Joosen (2014) believes, the contrast between the idealized image of the all-giving mother and the envious stepmother was affected by the Christian values that aimed at reinforcing the patriarchal culture. Moreover, the film “Snow White and the Huntsman” went even further by depicting the stepmother as the witch who kills young women in order to preserve youth (Roth & Sanders, 2012). Obsession with the youth and negating the right of women to age has caused a lot of controversies.
While it is considered that the Snow White is depicted as empowered female in the latest adaptation by the film, it is important to admit that the image of evil queen remained unchanged. The movie has retained the patriarchal stereotypes by explaining the Ravenna’s (stepmother) vicious nature as the result of the broken heart (Roth & Sanders, 2012). In the film, Snow White is able to oppose to the queen, yet still, the movie tells the same story. In the patriarchal world, the younger female has to withstand the confrontation of the older woman in order to combat her right to be with the man. As it was admitted, the movie includes the same stereotypes of ageism but wraps it in the different cover (Schimmelpfennig, 2013). The researcher admitted that the fairy tale depicted the topic of witch-hunts, which was popular during the life of Brothers Grimm that was demonizing women’s sexuality (Schimmelpfennig, 2013). The depiction of older women as evil creatures roots in one of the oldest treatise of the Christian Church, name Malleus Maleficarum or “Hammer of the Witches”, which had to provide evidence for witchcraft and the viciousness of women (Schimmelpfennig, 2013). In this manner, the archetype of a wise and experienced woman was transformed into the deceptive and sex-driven creatures that have a potential to become a witch.
The assessment of different fairy tales, including “Snow White” was conducted in the book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who emphasized that the religious dogma managed to alter the perception of women in order to control them as well as making them compete for the attention of a man (Estés, 1996). Therefore, “Snow White” in the original version is depicted as the innocent child, who cannot survive without men. Specifically, Snow White has become the victim right after the death of her father; she survives because the huntsman spares her life. She is able to survive in the woods only because the seven dwarfs help her. Finally, she is resurrected only with the kiss of the prince. On the contrary, the queen, who is aging, uses all her power to kill the younger female in order to be considered as the “fairest of them all”. The film was criticized for the stereotypical portrayal of women even though the narrative was drastically changed.
The description of the stepmother and Snow White usually falls within the categories of young and beautiful or old and ugly, which demonstrates the stereotypical perception of women. While intergenerational female conflict is eternal in fairy tales, it is important to ask why the contemporary movie returns to this topic in order to restage this relationship. As Cahill (2010) admitted, the repetition of this storyline in the film emphasizes the unease regarding the perception of beauty through artificial means and state of older women in this domain. “Snow White and the Huntsman” managed to emphasize the conservative intention to destroy the older and very often more powerful women in order to preserve status quo in the patriarchal society. In the result, the current version of the fairy tale did not progress but showed the degradation of the female archetype in the culture. Overall, despite the changes of the version of “Snow White”, the storyline retained the similar stereotypes regarding the status of a female in the society and the problem of ageism in the Western culture.
“Snow White” is one of the most popular fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm that experienced multiple changes to the narrative throughout the years. Disney versions managed to sanitize the fairy tale in order to adapt it to the younger viewers, while the adult adaptations changed the story in order to make it more entertaining. As the analysis shows, the transition of “Snow White” from the story about the young and helpless girl to the empowered woman marks the change of the female archetype in the society. Yet still, while certain changes are evident, the stereotypes regarding ageism and the perception of beauty in the Western society. For some reason, the modern culture is still overwhelmed by the traditional vision of beauty.
Abate, M. A. (2012). “You Must Kill Her”: The Fact and Fantasy of Filicide in “Snow White”. Marvels & Tales, 26(2), 178-185.
Cahill, S. (2010). Through the Looking Glass: Fairy-Tale Cinema and the Spectacle of Femininity in Stardust and the Brothers Grimm. Marvels & Tales, 24(1), 57-69.
Estés, C. P. (1996). Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Joosen, V. (2014). Snow White and Her Dedicated Dutch Mothers: Translating in the Footsteps of the Brothers Grimm. Marvels & Tales, 28(1), 88-96.
Roth, J. (Producer) & Sanders, R. (Director). (2012). Snow White and the Huntsman Motion picture. United States: Roth Films.
Saunders, J. H. (2008). The Evolution of Snow White: A close textual analysis of three versions of the Snow White fairy tale. The Pennsylvania State University, 1-179.
Schimmelpfennig, A. (2013). Chaos Reigns – Women as Witches in Contemporary Film and the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Gender Forum, 44, 1-13.