Response 2: Snow White
By Harry Underwood
September 16, 2009
“The Queen’s Looking Glass” is an essay which evaluates the story of Snow White from a feminist-critical viewpoint which does rather well in its comparison and fusion of the divergent personalities of the wicked stepmother and Snow White. The essay renders both characters as essentially two personalities of the same female figure, akin to the psychiatric appraisal of the relationship between the modern-day comic book characters of Batman and Joker: to Gilbert and Gubar, the two characters complement each other in their opposite exhibitions of femininity, with the character of the wicker stepmother being more assertive, more creative, more intelligent, more expressive and, hence, more evil and masculine and hateful, and the character of Snow White simultaneously positing a more “ideal” femininity, retaining a child-like body and a lack of both voice and intelligence. Thus, to Gilbert and Gubar, the entire story of Snow White is an exercise in the demonization of expressive, intelligent, diverse femininity, that which is best expressed in the adult, mature, “uppity” wicked stepmother and queen as opposed to the docile child princess.
“The Huntsman’s Story”, by Milbre Burch, is a short story, based upon a real-life incident, which, from the onset, gradually morphs the setting of the huntsman in “Snow White” into the unbidden, real-life kidnapping and murder of a 12-year-old girl. It is a damning story of how the “new huntsman” came to the young girl to perform the deed without the prior bidding of anyone, let alone a wicked stepmother queen; furthermore, unlike the happy ending of most other fairy tales, “The Huntsman’s Story” details how there was no joyous reawakening from the permanent sleep placed upon the 12-year-old some two months before her body was found.
The Merseyside Fairy Story Collective’s reworking of “Snow White”, on the other hand, goes against the grain of the traditional rendition by reappraising the young girl as a young adoptee of the dwarves in the nearby mines rather than an exalted, quiet princess. She, horror of all horrors, also has a mind (and a voice) to reject and subvert the intentions of the tyrant queen, and to win and turn the hearts of male and female, serf and soldier alike, against the potentially-murderous actions and machinations of the queen’s roughshod vanities, but she also personally and unequivocally rejects being made the princess of the queen, as she neither favors becoming the quiet, docile utility of the queen’s vanities nor becoming beholden to the same infatuation with beauty as is possessed by her would-be familial superior.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, as told by feminist poetry icon and suicidaire Anne Sexton, exudes something of a cynical, deadpan reappraisal of the characters in the story, while not completely reforming the story toward modern-day proclivities. Snow White is seen by Sexton as a “dumb bunny” when she forgets her hosts’ warnings and bites the poisonous apple given to her by the disguised queen. Ultimately, one gets the feeling that Sexton is exemplifying her taste for multi-layered poetry interpretation in the way by which she retells the story from a viewpoint which is much less charitable than that provided in the original telling.
Finally, “Snow Child” bears very little resemblance to “Snow White” other than the Snow Child in question is the object of a male figure’s passing fantasy in a travelling coach. When the Count piques his wife’s own rage by wishing for a child composed from supernatural, child-like beauty, the Countess decides to do everything she can accomplish to kill the naked little girl who assumes more of the Countess’ clothing. When she does succeed in speeding the girl to her last breath, the Count becomes so remorseful that he has sex with the seemingly-dead body of the child before it decomposes. Angela Carter’s telling of this original story is a testament to the feminist critique of male standards for, and sexualization of, female beauty and chastity.