Snow White --- German Fairy Tales (4)
December 1, 2017 11:59am CST
The story in a nutshell: A queen gives birth to a girl with skin white as snow, lips red as blood and hair black as ebony. They call her Snow White. The queen dies and the king takes a beautiful and vain new wife. When Snow White is seven years old, she’s more beautiful than her step-mother. The queen orders a huntsman to take the girl into the woods, kill her there and bring back her heart. The huntsman is unable to commit the deed and brings the queen a deer’s heart instead. Snow White discovers a cottage belonging to seven dwarfs who take her in in exchange for doing their household chores. They warn her to let in any strangers when they‘re away. The queen finds out about Snow White and visits her three times always giving her presents that are meant to kill her. Twice the dwarfs rescue her, the third time they assume her dead and put her in a glass coffin. A prince sees her, falls in love with her and asks if his servants can carry the coffin. They stumble, Snow White wakes up. The prince declares his love and soon a wedding is planned. Like Hänsel and Gretel and Cinderella the child Snow White is the victim of adult anxiety and jealousy. She never does anything to arouse these feelings. In his book The Uses of Enchantment Bruno Bettelheim (Austrian-born American psychologist) sees in Snow White the contrast of innocence and sexual passion, symbolised in the snow her mother sees when dreaming of a child and the drops of blood falling into the snow when she pricks her finger. Throughout the story Snow White is seen as the innocent child, the dwarfs recognise her innocence and trust her because of it. It’s also her innocence that makes her talk to her disguised step-mother and accept the gifts. Yet it’s her developing sexuality that arouses her step-mother’s jealousy. A theme of Snow White is transformation, the symbolic story of a child maturing into a woman. The dwarfs help her on her way to adulthood. They teach her adult tasks such as cleaning and cooking, they teach her to be diligent, honest, virtuous and clean. It’s not by chance that there are seven dwarfs, the number seven being symbolically important. There are seven days in a week, each of the four phases of the moon lasts seven days. Snow White’s beauty becomes apparent when she’s seven years old. The apple which leads to her death - or so it seems - is also a symbol. In the Bible it’s the symbol for temptation and sin. By eating it Eve commits the original sin. But it’s also a symbol of fertility, it can represent a woman’s breast. The apple emphasises Snow White’s turning into a woman. Bettelheim interprets Snow White’s deathlike sleep like this, “…what may seem like a period of deathlike passivity at the end of childhood is nothing but a time of quiet growth and preparation, from which the person will awake mature, ready for sexual union.” I bet you’ve never looked at the fairy tale like this! --- P.S. If you're interested in more interpretations of German fairy tales, you can click on the green bar at the top of the site.
19 people like this
• Riga, Latvia
You have some really interesting points here. Good look at Snow White. I have see many versions and I guess if I want to look at this fairy tale I will stick to my Disney video. Some of the versions in movies I have seen have seemed rather odd to me. In one version the dwarfs Snow White meets are actually robbers who trap and rob people who come into the forest and the all look like little bums or hoodlums however in the end they still do help Snow White get rid of her step-mother but her dad is still alive and he get saved too.
• Winston Salem, North Carolina
Sometimes I wonder if we over analyze stories. I've always questioned Snow White's intelligence. Even after her experience with the comb and the laces she was still foolish enough to take a bite of the apple.
Maybe this is some of Snow White's appeal that she is as dumb as many other 'normal' people? :-) But then, storytelling is often formulaic and the number three (like seven) has to appear. What I'm doing here is analysing and should not be a part of storytelling, of course. It's not vital to know why a story has a certain effect. What is important is that is has this effect. Yet, some people find it fascinating to look behind things. Another interesting field of research is the comparison of fairytales from all over the world. They may be dressed differently so-to-speak, mention different animals, food and customs but deep down they all deal with the same topics.
There are no 'authors' when it comes to the fairytales collected by the Brothers Grimm. They've been told and retold for hundreds if not thousands of years of years. The same motifs can be found all over the world. They deal with fundamental problems of humankind. Many clever books have been written on this topic.
@LadyDuck A comment box is not the place to argue about a topic which has been researched thoroughly for a long time. The internet is full of interesting texts (Wikipedia: Fairytales). I can't make you believe what is written there, but you can be sure that I'm not the victim of conspiracy theories.
• United States
Lots of symbolism here! I never did think about the number of dwarfs - or at least how the number 7 comes into play in the story. I also never really much thought of the fertility or maturing symbolism behind the stories . . . but I guess that's something we consider in stories when we are adults. These fairy tales were not just for children .