Snow White-part 2


There’s so much to talk about, and so much that a daughter hears when her mother reads this story. Jan’s comment on Snow White, when I told her that’s what I was looking at today, was, “It’s so hard for a mother to find a balance where she’s not trying to prevent her daughter from ever having sex, and not pushing her daughter into sexuality prematurely.Mostly, we do OK at it. You do get into trouble if you start viewing your daughter as competition, though.”

What does your daughter hear?

There are so many themes that pop up here and there in this story that you’ve heard before in other stories that it’s like listening to an old jazz group just jamming. The spindle and the sleep and the prince from Sleeping Beauty and the Goldilocks search through absent peoples’ food and beds for one that’s “just right.” I’m not going to get involved in the symbology of the colors of white, red and black or the numerology of 3’s and 7’s, though there is a rich vein of discussion there, but I’m more interested in the developmental content, and why it’s loved so much.

Disney's Snow White, with apple. copyright studio and/or distributor

Let’s start at the surface. The surface story, like Rapunzel and others, is that of a child becoming a woman and marrying. In Rapunzel, the mother-figure couldn’t bear to lose her daughter and kept her prisoner, but Snow White faces a different obstacle.

The daughter listening to her mother hears of a mother who is inspired by the sight of her own blood on the snow to wish for a beautiful child . . . her own creation involved pain to her mother, and bleeding. But still all was well until she became more beautiful than her mother. She must have been loved, cared for, but we never see this. It isn’t part of the story. All the listener hears is that her beauty was threatening to the mother, that there is some sort of competition of beauty going on, and winning it is life-threatening. The Queen/mother here seems brittle and dangerous.

Where’s dad?

I think that’s part of the competition and part of the Queen’s rage. I’m with Bruno Bettleheim–I think we see dad’s gaze (in this part of the story, at least) through the magic mirror, and that the Queen/mother sees that her daughter is winning the competition for her father’s love. And I don’t think this is necessarily love in the mature sexual sense, though that is part of it. The daughter listening to the story might hear it in a more general way, that the competition for dad’s love is the danger.

The Queen summons the huntsman . . . and this is another place that we see father, but as an ineffectual and cowed figure who does protect the girl from her mother’s wrath but can only do so surreptitiously; he won’t confront her. He kills a small boar and the Queen eats what she thinks are the lungs and liver (the life’s breath and the seat of the soul) with salt (this, too, is essential for life, but it’s also an essential part of tears). This is primitive and purely an acting out of emotion, one which the listening daughter will recognize as one of her own fears: her angry mother could eat her up. And the eating, too, means taking an essential part of the daughter into the mother, and while that’s undeniably scary and hostile, it can also be an expression of love . . .  “I love you so much I could just eat you up.”

She runs away through a scary woods to a new life, a cottage with seven neatly laid-out places at the little table . . . a place that cannot be scary because of the neatness and the scale. All is small, all is orderly. The fact that there is food here, and a bed that is “just right” is reassuring to our little listener, too.

There’s a feeling that the multiple little guys have to represent little siblings to the listening child, but I’m not sure that that’s true. These are small, harmless creatures, true, but what do the dwarfs do in the story? They work, they lay out dinner, they warn Snow White about the Queen and they set rules . . . she can stay if she’s responsible and cleans, cooks and sews . . . she can’t let anyone into the cottage, it wouldn’t be safe. When the Queen comes by and kills her (the first two times) they revive her. These are the jobs of a nurturing parent, of the father (now less cowed, but still not effective enough in protecting her from her mother). I think the dwarfs “feel like” the girl’s father.

In another way, they might be a reflection of a 7 year-old’s inner life; think about the school child who’s industrious, independent (relatively), and in general trying to be a little adult. That’s the latency-aged child. Snow White has gone from the dependent pre-schooler to latency in her journey to becoming an adult.

Even though Snow White is far away (OK, one day’s run but this is a story-book day’s run), the Queen still feels threatened by her very existence.  She approaches the cottage in disguise to kill Snow White, and Snow White, knowing she is in danger, still can’t resist the wares she’s selling. What is the Queen selling? She’s selling colorful silk ties for Snow White’s bodice and combs for her hair . . . she’s selling adult femininity. Again, the message to the listening child seems to be there: don’t compete with mommy, dearest. And yet, and yet . . . mom is reading or telling the story.


Snow White and the dwarfs--unattributed art

What about the apple? I’m not certain how a child would hear the apple, but it is round and full, red and sensual. The Queen poisoned only half the apple and shares it with Snow White. According to the narrative the Queen/mother eats from the white half of the apple and Snow White eats from the red. Perhaps the mother, telling the story hears that the Queen has shared Eve’s apple, sexual knowledge, with her daughter and the daughter is overcome, and falls to the floor, dead.

Not dead, for she remains fresh and looks alive, if not breathing. Snow White is placed in a crystal or glass coffin, surrounded by candles. She sleeps, grows, matures, for when she ate the apple she was ostensibly seven years old, and when she wakes she is mature and ready for marriage and sexuality.

In part 3 we’ll talk about waking up, the prince, the wedding and the death of the Queen . . . and try to put together what the listening daughter takes home.


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