Snow White – part 4
We have seen that Snow White, as SurLaLune Fairy Tales puts it succinctly “. . . must die to the pre-pubescent world of the dwarfs in order to be eventually reborn into the adult world as a sexually active women.” SurLaLune, too, points out that the glass coffin allows her to continue to be an object of desire, and that it is a man who must (traditionally) awaken the sexuality of a woman. In the earliest versions and in some other versions of the tale it was not the King’s son who wakes Snow White, but a surrogate for him, a servant. We have asked whether this is to distance the King’s son and Snow White’s adult desires from her inappropriately sexualized prepubescent fantasies.
Snow White is awake. She has dined with the King’s son. He’s told her the story of her death, professed his love and asked for her hand in marriage. They arrange a wedding, and Snow White’s mother, the Queen, is asked.
The Queen checks with the magic mirror
You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But the young queen is a thousand times fairer than you.
Snow White is now “the young queen.” The wicked mother was wretched and frightened, and did not want to attend the wedding, but could not stay away. When she arrived she was paralyzed by fear and stood still while iron boots were heated in the fire, and she was forced to put her feet in the red-hot boots and dance until she died.
When I talked about Cinderella I guess I didn’t get into the whole issue of shoes, but it is a big deal in fairy tales. Think about the glass slippers in Cinderella and the role they play–the wicked step-sisters cut off parts of their feet to fit into the delicate slippers. In The Red Shoes and in Snow White, the wicked mother-figure is danced to death in red-hot Iron shoes, and we’ve only scratched the surface. I won’t go too much deeper, except to point out that the essential quality of a shoe is that you put something into it. It is a vessel, a container for a body part . . . in other words, it is symbolic for woman’s sexuality.
In the context of Cinderella and of Snow White, the shoe is poetic justice: it is the destructive, jealous sexuality of the wicked queen-mother in Snow White and of the wicked step-sisters and step-mother in Cinderella which visits such harm on our young protagonists, and it is fitting that the pain inflicted on those wicked, jealous women comes from an object symbolic of the source of their jealousy. As Bettelheim says in talking about this fairy tale, “Untrammeled sexual jealousy, which tries to ruin others, destroys itself–as symbolized not only by the fiery red shoes but by death from dancing in them. Symbolically, the story tells that uncontrolled passion must be restrained or it will become one’s undoing. Only the death of the jealous queen . . . can make for a happy world.”
OK, so let’s revisit the mother and daughter on the bed, a little drowsy, mother reading or telling her daughter the tale. This is where Bettelheim falls short. For him, the message is in the words of the fairy tale. There is a lot of meaning in those words for both mother and daughter, certainly. The daughter hearing only the words will hear a story that begins with a dire warning: don’t compete with your mother for daddy’s love or she’ll eat your lungs and liver cooked with salt. But the story goes on to show that after adversity and after a transition that can be like death, you will eventually find your own adult relationship, one that mother can’t be a part of, and that the wicked queen will be punished in a dreadfully appropriate fashion.
Now imagine yourself as the mother reading this story to your child–who do you identify with in the story? Do you actually identify with the wicked Queen??? NO. Your feelings are all with Snow White. You are the one who runs through the forest after the huntsman spares your life. You’re frustrated that Snow White lets the witch in, that she lets the witch comb her hair and lace her bodice, not elated.
And that’s the point. There really are two daughters there on the bed, sharing the adventure. Both are Snow White. The story really is reassuring for both mother and daughter; all mothers are also daughters. And as mother and daughter sit together as girls listening to this story, mother is also saying she gives permission to her daughter to grow up. The words are there and the meanings that we have seen are really there, but so is the sharing. The closeness and collaboration between story-teller and audience, mother’s arms and the affect in her face and her voice are at least as important as the words themselves.
Filed under: Child Development, Fairy Tales, What's it all mean, Why do kids love it | 1 Comment
Tags: Brothers Grimm, Fairy Tales, Meaning of fairy tales, Snow White