Bacchilega examines the similarities and differences in three different written versions of “Snow White”: Barthelme’s Snow White, Carter’s “The Snow Child,” and Coover’s “The Dead Queen.” It is not unusual to change and embellish upon a traditional story; people have been doing it for centuries. However, fairy tales maintain their key characteristics. In the case of “Snow White,” those include flat characterization, supernatural setting, and isolation of characters in a strange, exaggerated world.
“Snow White” dramatizes the association of the good angel-like character with the evil devil-like one. This interaction is monitored and incited by a male voice: the mirror. This man in the mirror defines the identity of both the main characters as well as their relationship. The protagonist is “the fairest of all” and the antagonist is the former bearer of that title, and their interactions are marked by rivalry and jealousy.
Most folklorists interpret the story as a female initiation tale, symbolizing the process of sexual, psychological, and social maturation in women in general. Snow White’s story shows the necessity of culture in the transformation of self, but also illustrates the boundaries beyond which she cannot venture. Snow White is stifled by her obligate domesticity. The men’s influence in Snow White’s life is clear. The huntsman, dwarfs, and prince all aid in her socialization. This implies that her initiation will only be complete once the white and red parts of her life – semen and menstrual blood, representing male and female opposites – unite through her black ritual “death.” In this way, the thematic colors of the story (skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony) apply to Snow White’s personal growth.
The three versions of “Snow White” analyzed here differ in point of view, adherence to the original storyline, and even primary message. Disney’s Snow White is more similar in all three points to the Grimm version of the tale.
Girardot explains the tale “Snow White” in the context of the main character’s initiation and transition into adulthood. Fairy tales, she argues, are not simply for amusement and escape, but also for gaining knowledge and broadening the imagination. Folklorists place “Snow White” into a “Banished Wife or Maiden” tale category. Fairy tales cannot be removed from the magical and religious spheres, as some critics have tried to do, because they are not simply meant to teach readers how to adjust to adult reality. The magic plays an integral part in “Snow White,” as well as other fairy tales. As for religion, fairy tales place angels inside heroines and fairies, and devils inside villains. Girardot acknowledges that Disney’s Snow White maintains the darker side of the original tale, especially in the evil stepmother character.
It is necessary to analyze multiple versions of a piece of folklore before creating an overarching analysis on the story’s meaning. For “Snow White,” this is a more difficult task, because many of the versions have been influence and changed by the Grimms version. However, the basic framework of the story has remained the same throughout the years. The message that the tale promotes, for example, has remained unchanged. On the surface level, the meaning of the story concerns the triumph of a beautiful and good heroine over the evil, jealous stepmother. However, the story goes deeper than that. It is a tale of maturation, the transition between childhood and adulthood, natural to cultural life, and asexual to sexual life.
Girardot analyzes “Snow White” by placing the girl’s story into five steps associated with initiation rituals: Prologue and Problem, Separation, Liminal Period, Reincorporation and Rebirth, and Epilogue. The first step is the introduction of the tale, from Snow White’s birth to her banishment into the woods. The Separation period entails her trek through the forest and eventual discovery of the Dwarfs’ cottage. Snow White’s stay with the dwarves and her “death” encompass the Liminal Period, and her revival and marriage to the prince are her Reincorporation and Rebirth. The last step is Snow White’s revenge on her stepmother during the wedding ceremony. Disney’s version of Snow White involved these steps as well, making it also an initiatory tale of a girl’s transition into womanhood.