Gender Roles and Relationships Between Men and Women in Petrified Man and Snow White
Gender has always been a controversial topic among humans and will continue to be this way. This has been shown through many works of literature through many generations and societies. The Petrified Man by Eudora Welty, and Snow White by Brothers Grimm, are two works of literature that I will discuss that show these controversies through old literature. Petrified Man and Snow White effectively portray gender roles, norms, and relationships between men and women in the societies discussed in these stories. Although both of these stories are quite different from each other, they portray these relationships and gender roles in many ways.
Petrified Man contains three main women characters, Leota, Mrs. Pike, and Mrs. Fletcher. This short story does not portray typical accounts of gender roles and norms. The women in this story have strong roles in their society unlike the men. Leota works at the beauty parlor and is known for her gossiping which is a typical stereotype for women. Once the gossip starts about her own customer, Mrs. Fletcher, things take a turn. Leota informs Mrs. Fletcher that Mrs. Pike has been discussing the fact that Mrs. Fletcher is pregnant which should be a private topic and not discussed with the whole parlor. Beauty parlors are where women go to feel relaxed and pretty not to go to be gossiped about. Once being discussed about; Mrs. Fletcher no longer feels the excitement for her pregnancy which is something every woman should be able to feel excitement for. A theme that ties into gender roles in this story is popularity. Leota is not as close with Mrs. Pike as she makes them seem to be and this is all for the looks of popularity which is also another typical norm for women that they all want to seem popular. Men are not seen as strong and independent in this short story like they are typically portrayed as. The women in this story all show their true colors to the audience than how they try to make themselves out to seem by gossiping about anything and anyone. The men in this story do not work and rely on the women for income and support. This may be the author, Eudora Welty, trying to show a point through her own story that without women, men would not be able to thrive. Later in this story, Mrs. And Mr. Pike are reading one of Leotas magazines in which they see a familiar face, Mr. Petrie. They are surprised to see that he is wanted for $500 for raping several women. Leota is upset when she realizes that she could have turned him in for the reward money and tries to convince Mrs. Pike to not turn him in but Mrs. Pike refuses. Although men are not shown in this story, Welty makes sure they are discussed amongst the women. Through the talk of the men, it is noticeable that the women are dominated by the men’s thoughts and how they view themselves. Leota adores her husband, at least that is what she makes sure others think, even though he is out of work and they are financially unstable because of it. She also allows the rapist; Mr. Petrie dominates her life because she was not the one who was able to report him as the rapist and get the money. Mrs. Fletcher also lets her husband dominate her life along with everyone else. She is tempted to not have the baby anymore and Leota tells her that her husband would be unhappy and may beat her if she were to do such a thing and Mrs. Fletcher denies. The story ends with Mrs. Pikes son, Billy boy, taunting the women about their wealth and intelligence informing them that he may too grow up to be a bad man.
Brothers Grimm portrays gender roles and expectations in Snow White effectively throughout this story. This story was written in the 19th century and has been rewritten many times since then. This particular version by Brothers Grimm contains more harsh imagery and expectant gender roles than the famous Disney version. This version of Snow White portrays the typical housewife and beauty scenario. The queen, who is also Snow White’s evil stepmother, comes to despise Snow White because her mirror informs her that Snow White is the “fairest one of all”. Women do not typically handle well being told that another is much more beautiful. This is also true in today’s society that women strive to be the most beautiful. The queen takes on a typical jealous gender role of a woman once being told that she is no longer the “fairest one of all” which leads her to find revenge in Snow White and act in a crazy manner. Women are expected to look beautiful at all times especially in the society which this book was written during. Since the queen was no longer the most beautiful by the mirror who is viewed as a man, she viewed that as losing because she wanted to be the best and most beautiful. Not only does the queen take on the typical gender role of a woman, Snow White does as well. Snow White takes on the feminine gender role that women are kind, beautiful, and powerless. The queen insists that the huntsman finds Snow White and kills her but once he finds her, he decides against it because of her beauty and innocence. Once she finds the dwarfs house, they decide to let her stay because of her beauty as well. This portrays a materialistic relationship between men and women because if it were not for Snow White’s beauty she may have been killed by the huntsman or been turned away by the dwarfs. Once the dwarfs found Snow White, they came to a deal that they would offer her protection in exchange for her doing housework for them. The dwarfs state “if you keep house for us, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, knit, and keep everything neat and tidy, then you can stay with us, and we’ll give you everything you need.” (Brothers Grimm 85) This portrays the relationship between men and women that women must do all of the housework which is still seen in today’s society. The story ends with the evil queen coming to find out that Snow White has too become a queen which leaves the evil queen scared and powerless. The queen had been jealous the whole time wanting revenge on Snow White but once she sees that Snow White gains power she knows she can no longer hurt her and she no longer has power.
Brothers Grimm, in their story Snow White and Eudora Welty in her story Petrified Man, effectively portray the images of gender roles, norms, and relationships between men and women in these societies and how it has led to these roles still being seen today. Petrified Man is a great example because it shows the opposite of the typical norms one usually sees and reads about because the women are working while the men stay home doing nothing. Although it does show this unusual norm, this story shows typical gender roles as well such as men dominating women’s thoughts and lives. Women are also seen in this story constantly gossiping and worrying about what others think of them which was typical for women then and now. Snow White effectively portrays gender roles and relationships between men and women in that beauty and competition is a major part in a woman’s life which can lead to jealousy and anger as seen through the evil queen. The dwarfs demand Snow White to do all of their chores in exchange for her protection which expresses the typical gender role that women do the housework. Overall, these stories effectively portray the gender roles, norms and relationships between men and women, and they are still seen today.
Literary Adaptations and Transformation: the Changes Disney Has Made to Snow White and the Little Mermaid
Through the years, children have grown up watching Disney movies and television shows, as well as reading fairy tales through bedtime story books. Since its first animated film release, Snow White in 1937, Disney has since embarked on a long journey in becoming a common, staple entity for children from the late 20th century till today. Disney’s influence can be seen everywhere, from the movies and shows that they watch on the screen to the lunchboxes, water bottles and stationary that children carry to school, Disney has a hold of many aspects of a child’s life. Disney truly has entered the popular culture and isn’t planning to leave anytime soon. New Internationalist dedicated an article titled A Reader’s Guide to Disneyfication, addressing the growing presence of Disney in popular culture. According to the magazine, “The Disney machine has touched us all, spreading the values of the marketplace, colonizing the fantasy life of children and changing the world irrevocably in the process” (A Reader’s Guide To Disneyfication, 1998). The article also says that “American media conglomerates like Disney… have near-monopoly control” in the entertainment industry. These effects are huge and “the result is Western (mainly American) domination of most forms of popular culture, especially books, music, movies, television and film” (A Reader’s Guide To Disneyfication, 1998).
Adaptation, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is “ A film, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work” (adaptation | Definition of adaptation in English by Oxford Dictionaries, 2019). From Linda Hutcheon’s book, A Theory Of Adaptation, adaption is defined as “ an announced and extensive transposition of a particular work or works. This “transcoding” can involve a shift of medium (a poem to a film) or genre(an epic to a novel) or a change of frame and therefore context: telling the same story from a different point of view” (Hutcheon, 2014). In simple terms, it is nothing but the reworking of characters, plots and language of text into a new medium. Disney has for decades been adapting various fairy and folk tales and reworking them to animate them and present them on a screen. Movies like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel and many others have been taken from authors like The Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen along with many others.
In this way, some light can be shed on the term ‘Disneyfication’. It is a term which can be defined as, “the application of simplified aesthetic, intellectual or moral standards to a thing that has the potential for more complex or thought-provoking expression” (Klugman, 1995). As a consequence, Disney has sparked a lot of criticism, from both viewing public and scholars alike, greatly concerning the way Disney had altered the original storyline of the fairy tale and folklore in their films. Many critics object to the approach Disney has taken as an “overly simplistic, sentimental approach — the dumbing down” (Shortsleeve, 2004). This dumbing down approach did not require much critical thinking from the audience, they altered and over-simplified it to create the main subject as a specific romantic notion. So, some critics believe that Disney affects the general perception of fairy tales because Disney films create a definitive fairy tale consciousness among their audience (Zipes, 2013). Many critics suggested that the, ”‘Disney version’ of a fairy tale often opts to ignore a majority of the more brutal and mature aspects of the original fairy tales in favour of more light-hearted and formulaic pieces of leisure” (Reynolds, 2017). Renown psychologist Bruno Bettelheim has implied that Disney’s work is nothing more than, ’empty minded entertainment’ (Bettelheim, 2010), and fully expresses that “children now meet fairy tales only in prettified and simplified versions which subdue their meaning and rob them of deeper significance” (Bettelheim, 2010). A question that Jack Zipes poses in his essay Breaking The Disney Spell, is whether Disney founder, Walt Disney, has imposed ‘a particular American vision on the fairy tale through his animated films that dominate our perspective today’ because of which we ‘see and read classical tales through his lens’ (Zipes, 2013).
Research conducted by Elizabeth Tucker among American pre-schooler children in the early 1990s found out that these children’s knowledge of Cinderella and the Little Mermaid was entirely based on the versions which had been constructed by Disney (Tucker, 1992). This in a way shows how the literary adaptations overpower the original text.
Taking from a BA Thesis on Disneyfication of classic fairy tales by Litania de Graaf from Utrecht University, who conducted an online survey on 40 people, age from 18-29, we can analyse the facts to see that most Disney viewers were females, and that majority of the subjects had a faint idea of the original fairy tales, if not completely, and many of them knew of authors like The Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and so on.
From these two surveys, we can see in children, they assume to believe the original story is as shown by Disney, but as they grow up with exposure to the original works through books and the internet, adults have a faint idea of the original fairy tales and original authors.
We will be comparing the changes Disney has made to two classic fairy tales, they being Snow White by The Brothers Grimm and The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (film), released in 1937, is based on the German story Schneewittchen by The Brothers Grimm, which translates to Snow White. The Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a milestone for Disney. It was the first animated Disney feature film. As the movie goes, Snow White was an object of affection for the Prince but an object of hatred for her evil stepmother, The Queen. Out of envy and spite, The Queen orders Snow White to be killed, but instead Snow White convinces The Huntsman to let her go, and she stumbles through the forest until she finds the seven dwarfs cottage, and upon discovery pleads them to let her say, in exchange for household work. As the Queen finds out Snow White is still alive, she transforms into an old hag and offers Snow White a poisoned apple, and Snow White falls down dead. It is only after a true love’s kiss that Snow White wakes up from her deep slumber and she gets married to the prince who woke her up, and they live happily ever after.
But as the movie was adapted, many changes were made to the storyline so as to appease to the audience. In the original fairy tale, Snow White’s mother sits by the window pane on a cold winter time, where she accidentally pricks her finger, and three drops of blood fall onto the snow. She wishes to herself ‘How that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as this frame’ (Grimm, Grimm, Zipes & Dezsö, 2014). In the book, when The Huntsman is sent to kill Snow White, he is told to bring back her liver and lungs, whereas in the movie he is told to bring her heart back. Another difference is that in the book, the dwarfs suggests she do household work to stay, whereas in the movie she offers to do so. In the book, the wicked Queen visits Snow White thrice, first with laces which she tied, second with a poisonous comb and third with a half red, half white apple, where only the red side was poisoned. In the movie, on the other hand, she comes only once with a poisoned red apple (presumably to cut short the movie and reduce costs). Another major change is that when Snow White lays in her glass Coffin, in the book she is found by the prince and is taken away to his castle when one of the carriers trip and the poison apple piece comes out and she comes back to life, whereas, in the movie, it is a ‘True Love’s Kiss’ that brings Snow White back to life. Lastly, in the book, when Snow White gets married to The Prince, the wicked stepmother is invited to the feast, but as she arrives and realizes that it is Snow White, they have already prepared for her red hot iron shoes in which she has to dance in till she dies. In the movie, she is seen to be chased by the dwarfs and is struck by lighting at the edge of the cliff and she falls to her doom.
The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid (film) released in 1989, is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale Den Lille Havfrue, originally written in Danish, which translates to The Little Mermaid. In the Disney movie The Little Mermaid, the story revolves around a sixteen-year-old mermaid who goes by the name of Ariel, who is discontent with her life at sea and wishes to know more about humans and life on land. As the movie progresses, she sees Prince Eric drowning when she goes to the surface and saves his life by taking him back to the shore, in the process falling in love with him. To go back to him, she makes a deal with the sea witch, Ursula, who gives her human legs for three days in exchange for her voice. If she fails to receive true love’s kiss from Prince Eric, she will have to return to Ursula and be her slave forever. As Ariel tries to get close to Eric, she is constantly interrupted by Ursula’s henchmen. Trying to foil Ariel’s attempts, Ursula transforms into a human named Vanessa and uses Ariel’s voice. Enchanted by Vanessa, Eric decides to marry Vanessa, until Scuttle, one of Ariel’s animal sidekick, discovers that it is Ursula in disguise. With help of her animal friends, she gets her voice back, but before Prince Eric can kiss Ariel, she turns back into a mermaid. King Triton, realizing that there is no other way to break the contact between Ariel and Ursula, offers to give his crown and trident, and is turned into a polyp. Her hunger for power leads to her downfall and finally, Triton gains his powers back and turns Ariel back to a human, and Eric and Ariel get married and live happily ever after.
But as Disney adapted the story from the fairy tale, we can see the changes Disney made to the storyline. Firstly, in the fairy tale, the little mermaid has no name, so throughout the fairy tale, she is referred to as the Little Mermaid. Also, in the story, the little mermaid is made to suffer every step she takes, and instead of taking her voice away, her tongue is cut off, rendering her mute forever. Also in the original fairy tale, there is a grandmother. The mermaid wishes for an immortal soul like humans, and her grandmother explains how it maybe be possible for her to gain one through marriage to a human. She turns to a sea witch to help her turn human, in exchange for her voice and so, she in mute throughout the book, and is warned that if she does not win the prince’s heart and get married to him and instead he marries another woman, she will turn to sea foam and die. As the story progresses, the Prince greatly loves the little mermaid, but he soon falls in love with another woman, the little mermaid painfully sees her dear little prince marry her. As she comes to accept her fate, anticipates for the sun to come out and looking forward to her death by turning to sea foam, her sisters come to the surface with their hair cut off. In their hand is a blade which, can be used to kill the prince and the little mermaid can turn back to a mermaid and live the next three hundred years with her family. But rather than murdering her prince, she kills herself, and instead of dying and turning to sea foam, she becomes a spirit of air, due to her kindness, and in the end has a chance to gain an immortal soul, is she lives the next 300 years doing good deeds. Some other differences we can note is that in the fairy tale, the mermaid has six sisters, whereas, in the movie, she has seven. Also, she does not have any animal sidekicks in the fairy tale.
As we see, the authors like The Brothers Grimm, their aim was “ Wanting to preserve these folktales so they do not get lost or altered, the Brothers Grimm spent a great amount of time collecting and writing down into many volumes” (Grimm’s Fairy Tales, n.d.). whereas Hans Christian Andersen, “the sources of his stories were mostly Danish folk tales, collected and retold by his immediate predecessors J. M. Thiele, Adam Oehlenschlæger, and Bernhard Ingemann. Unlike the collectors, whose aim was to preserve and sometimes to classify and study folktales, Andersen was primarily a writer, and his objective was to create new literary works based on folklore” (OxfordWords blog, n.d.). Whereas Disney’s aim was to make children/family friendly movies for the purpose of entertainment, as they have toned down many of the horrors in the fairy tale origin.
In conclusion, when we change the intent of the story, the whole meaning of the story changes. Thus, the plot of the story plays second fiddle to the intention behind the production of the said story, its intended audience, and the underlying message it will be propagating.
- A Reader’s Guide To Disneyfication. (1998). Retrieved from https://newint.org/features/1998/12/05/guide
- adaptation | Definition of adaptation in English by Oxford Dictionaries. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/definition/adaptation
- Author’s Purpose. Retrieved from http://literaryanalysis505b.weebly.com/authors-purpose.html
- Bettelheim, B. (2010). The Uses of Enchantment (p. 24). New York: Vintage Books.
- Hutcheon, L. (2014). Theory of Adaptation (pp. 8-9). Taylor and Francis.
- Klugman, K. (1995). Inside the Mouse (p. 103). Durham: Duke University Press.
- Reynolds, S. (2017). Grimm Fairy Tales & Their Successors: A Study on Snow White. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@renwald12/grimm-fairy-tales-their-successors-a-study-on-snow-white-4e11fb7d3c77
- Shortsleeve, K. (2004). The Wonderful World of the Depression (pp. 1-30).
- The Legacy of Hans Christian Andersen | OxfordWords blog. Retrieved from https://www.lexico.com/explore
Tucker, E. (1992). Texts, Lies and Videotape’: Can Oral Tales Survive (p. 25).
- Zipes, J. (2013). Fairy Tale as Myth/Myth as Fairy Tale (pp. 72-74). Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.
- Grimm, W., Grimm, J., Zipes, J., & Dezsö, A. (2014). The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1st ed.). Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540: Princeton University Prses.
Gender Stereotyping in Brothers Grimm’s Snow White
Snow White Analytical Essay
What do the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales reveal about gender stereotypes?
Snow White is a German fairy tale that was first published by The Brothers’ Grimm in 1812. It tells the story of a beautiful girl named Snow White who is constantly hated by her jealous stepmother. Many gender stereotypes are embedded throughout this fairy tale that teach young girls about the role that they are expected to play in society.
One gender stereotype that is presented in Snow White is that it is a women’s duty to be the homemaker. This is established after Snow White arrives to the dwarfs’ cottage. The dwarfs tell Snow White that “if you’ll keep the house for us, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, and knit, and if you’ll keep everything neat and orderly, you can stay with us…” (Grimm, 184). It can be seen that Snow White is forced into the role of a housekeeper, she does not take on this role instinctively. To this, the heroine replies “Yes…with all my heart” (Grimm, 184). This infers that not only are women supposed to cater to men but it should be something that they should have the desire to do.
The concept of feminine beauty is a theme that is prevalent throughout the entire story. According to the article, “The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales,” fairy tales such as Snow White suggests that “beauty, or the pursuit of beauty, [still] occupies a central role in many women’s lives…” (Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz 712). Characters such as the wicked queen are evidence that this statement is true. All of the Queen’s actions, her attempts of murdering Snow white, are centred on the pursuit of beauty—particularly the pursuit of becoming the most beautiful. This suggests that beauty is something that women are meant to compete for and that they should do anything necessary to achieve it. As a result of not being the most beautiful, the Queen begins to hate Snow White, “her hate for the girl was so great that her heart throbbed and turned in her breast each time she saw Snow White” (Grimm, 182). This not only implies that women should detest anything or anyone that is better than them, but it also shows how the concept of beauty can corrupt women. The Queen allows her hatred for Snow White to control her, so much that it “grew so dense in her heart that she no longer had any peace, day or night” (Grimm, 182).
Despite this, the standards of beauty are not set by the women themselves but by men. The Queen is seen appearing in front of a magic mirror several times throughout the story, which may suggest that women are vain. It is the mirror, which represents the male perspective, that ultimately decides the standards of beauty as well as who is the most beautiful woman. By doing so, the mirror is seen as having great control over the Queen as she would do anything to gain his approval. When the mirror would claim her as being the most beautiful it “would make her content, for she knew the mirror always told the truth” (Grimm, 181). This proposes that women can only be happy if men think that they are worthy of being called beautiful.
Beauty is also portrayed as a source of power for women in society. The Queen’s first attempt at murdering Snow White is through the huntsman. This in itself may opine that women use men in order to acquire what they want. Snow White is able to evade being murdered by the huntsman, “since she was so beautiful, the huntsman took pity on her” (Grimm, 182). This conveys the idea that beauty enables women to manoeuvre their way out of difficult situations. The idea that beauty allows women to get away with virtually anything is also presented in the fairy tale. Evidence of this can be seen when Snow White finds a cottage in the forest. Without permission she enters the cottage, helps herself to food and wine and then falls asleep in one of the seven beds. Naturally the owners of the cottage, the seven dwarfs, were furious and surprised that someone had been there. Upon seeing Snow White’s beauty however, “they were so delirious with joy that they did not wake her up” (Grimm, 183). This reveals that various rules do not apply to people who are beautiful.
Beauty also enables women to acquire love and marriage. The Queen’s third and final attempt to kill Snow White is when she gave her a “deadly poisonous apple. On the outside it looked beautiful—white with red cheeks. Anyone who saw it would be enticed, but whoever took a bite was bound to die” (Grimm, 186). The apple is a symbol for women’s ‘true’ nature. It suggests that women are beautiful on the outside, but evil and malicious on the inside. It is while Snow White is ‘dead’ from the poisons of the apple that she acquires the interest and love of a prince. Snow White didn’t have to do or say anything in order to get the prince to fall in love with her. When Snow White awakens, the prince tells her: “I love you more than anything else in the world…I want you to be my wife” (Grimm, 188). The prince is able to fall in love with Snow White unconditionally based solely off of her beauty.
The apple also symbolizes sexuality and love. “In many myths as well as fairy tales, the apple stands for love and sex in both its benevolent and dangerous aspects” (Bettelheim, 212). The white portions of the apple represents love that is pure and safe. This is why the step-mother chooses to take a bite from this portion of the apple when Snow White asks her to prove that it is safe to eat. The red portion of the apple represents the dangerous aspects of both love and sexuality. As is stated in the book “The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales,” the red part of the apple “evokes sexual associations like the three drops of blood which led to Snow White’s birth, and also menstruation, the event which marks the beginning of sexual maturity” (Bettelheim, 213). After Snow White gains the evidence that the apple is safe to eat, she eagerly takes a bite from the red part of the apple and falls into a coma. This insinuates that although she may think that she is ready for sexual maturity, it is evident through her actions, that she is too immature and naïve. She cannot be awoken from her slumber, and therefore become sexually mature, until enough time has passed.
Throughout the story, Snow White is seen being tempted for things that are fairly dangerous. Her temptation, especially for the apple, contains religious connotations. A number of parallels can be drawn between Snow White and the female character Eve in the biblical creation story of Adam and Eve. In the biblical story, Eve gives in to her temptations and eats a red apple from the Tree of Knowledge. By eating a fruit that was forbidden, Eve becomes aware of sexuality and lust. Both Snow White and Eve have been prohibited from engaging in their temptations from male figures. The male figure who forbade Eve from eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge is God whereas Snow White was forbidden by the dwarves. The fact that male characters tried to stop the women from acquiring knowledge about the world of sexuality and lust infers that men want women to remain pure and innocent. After succumbing to their temptation, both women are also punished for being disobedient. Eve is banished from the Garden of Eden and Snow White falls into a coma. This in itself teaches young girls about what they shouldn’t know or be aware of, and if they decide to explore these aspects of themselves, they will be punished for it.
The theme “good versus evil” is explored in Snow White through the use of contrast between the protagonist and the antagonist. Snow White represents all of the ‘good’ aspects of femininity such as youth, beauty and obedience. Whilst the Queen, the story’s antagonist, represents all of the negative aspects of femininity such as age (this can be seen when she transforms into an old hag), ugliness, power, vanity and jealousy. Directly contrasting these two characters portrays two extreme representations of women (the good and the bad). This suggests that women can either be good or bad, not a mixture of the two.
Nature imagery is used along with contrast in order to establish these two very different representations of femininity. In the story the Queen is isolated from nature; she is associated with the supernatural and death. In contrast, Snow White is always associated with nature throughout the tale, even before she was born. The story opens with Snow White’s mother pricking her finger with a needle. As she watches “three drops of blood” (Grimm, 181) fall onto the white snow she thought to herself, “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window frame” (181). Even the very factors that sparked her mother’s desire for her involved components from nature. Snow White also has a good relationship with animals. When Snow White was running through the forest, “wild beasts darted by her at times, but they did not harm her” (182).
The Literary Structure Of The Classic Fairy Tale ‘Snow White’
Structuralist Analysis of Snow White
Literature is full of binaries, which create meaning and function. Classic fairy tales are replete with patterns, symbols and binaries that use opposites to promote certain ideologies, convey certain messages. In the tale of Snow White, the structure followed is that of a sheltered beauty whose kind heart and attractiveness make her a ‘pure’ heroine who is put into unfortunate conditions by a bitter antagonist – here, her stepmother who envy’s her youth and beauty. She undergoes hardship and trials, eventually rescued by a handsome prince who is charmed by her beauty and marries her. Here the function of beauty and ‘good’ is prominent.
The story contains binaries like good and evil, beautiful and ugly. These binaries represent ideologies on beauty and ugliness, on what’s considered good and evil. We see the Prince falling in love with Snow White because of her beauty, the same reason she falls for his handsome charm. As characters too Snow White and the Prince both embody beauty, kindness and generally attractive qualities representing the good – directly contrasting the greedy, ugly antagonists who embody the evil. In this tale the Queen is ugly inside and uses beauty to stay in power, proving it’s perceived value.
In Snow White, the Queen is jealous of Snow White’s beauty and orders her to be killed. It is her beauty which endears her to the dwarves she meets and what draws the Prince to her in the first place. Hence, beauty is not only the cause of the issue but also the solution – wat ultimately proves to be her salvation and leads to a happy ending. The same way beauty is attributed to good, ugly is attributed to evil. Though the stepmother looks beautiful, she is described as an ugly witch on the inside. Later she becomes that ugly woman and dies unhappily.
Another binary that exists is that of nobility and commoners. Snow White immediately falls in love with the handsome man wearing rich clothes, with the fine horse and promise of a fine life. However, characters like the huntsman who saves her or the dwarves who help her represent the commoners, the ‘side’ characters who don’t get the same importance or attention as the prince. This reflects class ideologies, the idea of associating wealth and status to happily ever after and using the commoners to highlight the positive characteristics of the protagonists and her beau. These types of structure results in internalisation of valuing beauty, status and wealth.
Analyzing the Disney’s Stories: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
At the beginning of the twentieth century, “fairy tales reinforced the patriarchal symbolical order based on rigid notions of sexuality and gender so did then all of Disney’s productions”. (Bálint, web) These provide patterns as to how one should behave and view one’s place in society. They are aimed at both boys and girls, with the male learning to be rich and active while the female learns to obey. I’ll firstly analyze the Walt Disney’s first animated princess film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, created in 1937, from a structuralist point of view.
“For structuralism, the world as we know it consists of two fundamental levels— one visible, the other invisible. The visible world consists of what might be called surface phenomena: all the countless objects, activities, and behaviors we observe, participate in, and interact with every day. The invisible world consists of the structures that underlie and organize all of these phenomena so that we can make sense of them.” (Tyson, 210) You are not engaged in a structuralist activity if you describe, for example, the structure of a novel to interpret what the work means or evaluate it as good or bad literature . You are engaged in a structuralist activity if you examine the structure of a large number of novels to discover “the underlying principles that govern their composition” for example, principles of characterization like the functions of each character in relation to the narrative as a single piece. (Tyson, 209)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs illustrates the features of a larger genre, namely the fairy tale. It contains many of the genre’s most recognisable characteristics: the beautiful princess who has to suffer during the story, the wicked stepmother, the woodland setting with cute talking animals, the generous helpers (the huntsman, the dwarfs), the high occurence of number three:, there are three queens: Snow White’s mother, her stepmother, Snow White herself, then there are three drops of blood that drip from the first queen’s hand, the wicked stepmother has to come up with three plans to murder the girl at the dwarfs” cottage, and the dwarfs mourn Snow White’s death for three days before burying her. Of course, a very common feature of all the fairy tales, which is to be seen here, is the happy ending as we all know that the opponent will die or will be defeated. We always talk about a perfect ending in all the animated movies in the form of the stereotypical Disney scene which appears when the prince should kiss the princess in order to break the spell and that’s when they live happily forever and ever.
According to structuralism, one important concept is represented by the binary oppositions, concept used to describe theidea that the human mind perceives difference in reality most readily in terms of opposites: “two ideas, directly opposed, each of which we understand by means of its opposition to the other.” (Tyson, 213) . For example, we percive light as the opposite of dark, female as the opposite of male, good as the opposite of evil, black as the opposite of white, and others.
In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the first binary opposition that comes to our mind is the one of the victim and the villain, more exactly the pure princess contrasted with the villainous queen. “The Snow White character is sweet, innocent, passive and domestic, while the evil stepmother is narcissistic, evil and unrepentant” (Walsh, 190). Then, we can identify two kinds of motherhood: an older, jealous, selfish type, contrasted with the young, sweet purity of Snow White. To say that the evil queen is a bad mother figure is beyond understatement. Snow White, on the other hand, despite being a young girl right away becomes a mother figure to the seven dwarfs, earning her place by cooking and cleaning, telling them to go and wash, and generally being the perfect image of passive domesticity. As a result, Snow White gets her dream prince, and the bad queen dies.
Analyzing the narrative pattern we can identify a religious theme in the episode when the Snow White eats an apple and dies. It makes a strong comparison to Eve who ate the fruit from the tree of Knowledge, and causing Adam and herself to be banished from the Garden of Eden. As is the message in Christianity, so is the message in Disney’s movie: curiosity, knowledge and power in a woman is wrongful and fearful. (Savanna, web). This is also reflected by the wicked mothers and female villains in other fairy tales.
Regarding the concept of gender roles, based on the fact that patriarchal societies dictate how one should act, think and speak, maintaining that biological sex and gender are one, Disney conforms to these norms in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie (Course handouts)
Walt Disney produced the story during the 1930s, a time when women were still associated with the domestic sphere and for the most part trapped in traditional gender roles. Thus, due in part to societal conventions, Disney’s first princess was characterized as a passive innocent heroine. She is naïve as she gets tricked by her stepmother twice, and though she is a princess and a child, she is still taught that in order to be a good girl she must obey what she is told to do. This includes the cooking and cleaning what the dwarfs ask. The other component of being a perfect woman is looking presentable at all times and looking better than everyone. This is where the queen in the story fits in. She has become so obsessed by the image in the mirror and being the best that she becomes evil. “The story is giving women mixed messages saying not to obsess about looks but be beautiful, and portraying a woman as the heroine, but still saying disobedience of the women’s roles will lead to punishment.” (Andersen, web) As a man of those times, the prince who comes in at the last minute to save his future wife, is only attracted by her physical appearance.
Contemporary fairy tales are now trying to give a voice to the previously marginalised women of the traditional tales. The silent females of the traditional tales have found a voice in modern fairy tales. This can be viewed as a deconstructive technique, and offers new perspectives into how the ideologies governing women today have changed, and also into how modern fairy tales treat their traditional counterparts” ideologies. (Walsh, 5)
Snow White’s Other Life
Snow White was the prettiest girl there was. Smooth silk skin, red wine lips, big blue eyes, and a smile that could kill. One night snow and her seven friends were walking through the woods. She should not have gone out of the castle but her stepmother had mad he so mad she just had to leave and get away. When she was walking through the woods she felt a sharp pain in the back of her neck and after that, she went blank.
Snow White woke up in a glass coffin with the taste of bitter apple in her mouth and a stranger’s face staring into hers. A white face with dangerously sharp pointed teeth. She sat up, pressed her hand to her stinging neck, and stared at the two dots of blood on her palm. Snow just stared and stared at the blood. She was scared what the strange man was going to say. The stranger broke into a smile, making those teeth all the more visible to see. “Ah, good! It hasn’t been too long. How do you feel?”All right I guess, but who are you?” Snow looked around. The moonlight seemed as bright as day. All seven of her friends watched from behind a tall pine tree and their faces with terror”.What’s wrong girls?” she asked them. They just stared at her with fear and breathing heavily. “Really, I’m all right, but I just want to know who you are?”Actually, I’m afraid you’re not”, said the stranger, offering her a hand out of the coffin. He didn’t look too well himself: super pale, bluish around the lips.
But he moved with strength and grace and wore a gold coronet as though he were accustomed to it. “Technically, you’re dead. If you come with me, I’ll explain”.Snow’s heart plummeted, but she forced a smile. “At least my stepmother will leave me alone now”. Snow white had returned home to gather her things and she would soon leave after that to be with her true love”.I wish you hadn’t come in here, Stepmother”. “How dare you speak to me that way? First, you run off just because we get into a fight? You didn’t tell me where you were going and I was scared half to death!” “Leave. now. My husband and I agreed to give you this one chance to just walk away. Go, stop this ridiculous rivalry, and we’ll let you free”. “Husband? Since when did you get married? You ran out on me when we were in the middle of arguing”. “As you wish”. A young man in an old-fashioned suit and gold coronet entered the room and placed a gentle hand on Snow’s arm”.Stepmother, may I present my husband”.The young man inclined his head. “So; you admit that you left my wife lying in a coffin”. “She was dead! This time she was dead! I know it! I made sure of it!” “So she is, and you did make sure of it”, he agreed, smiling. His smile showed his dangerously sharp pointed teeth once again. “And yet Snow White is still the fairest of them all”.He took the Stepmother by one arm and Snow took the other, their grips inhumanly strong. “Please, come in. you’re just in time for our wedding supper”.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Disney Animation 1937
A fairytale is a short story designed to both amuse children and to convey basic morals and principles and give life lessons. Most of the fairytales that children are told today have been passed down through generations often dating back to the eighteenth century and before. Because of their early origins, female representation in fairytales is often archaic with females being portrayed as weak or submissive and often being objectified.
This representation of women is an accurate portrayal of how women were expected to behave and be treated at these times in history.
This construction of gender however, is not relevant to the social standards for women today so a problem is faced in that young children are being shown and taught these outdated gender ideals which go on to influence their future perceptions of gender roles.
The story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves dates back to the nineteenth century but the Disney animation was not produced until 1937. Disney’s Snow white details the life of Snow White who, sporting the stereotypical image of beauty and child-like innocence is made to wear only rags and clean the palace by her wicked and powerful stepmother, the queen.
She is ordered to be killed by the queen because of her beauty but is set free by the huntsman because he cannot bear to kill something so beautiful. She seeks refuge amongst seven dwarves who try to keep her safe while the queen still plots to kill her.
After one the attempts it seems that the queen may have succeeded until Snow White is saved by the kiss of a prince. In the deconstruction of this plot examples of Disney’s sexism and gender stereotypes in the representation of female characters are evident. Take the stereotyped nature of the Wicked Queen’s character and physiognomies. The Wicked Queen is seen to be an evil woman who is vain, selfish, jealous and conniving, all poor traits that are stereotypically associated with females and often in particular females in power.
This creates the illusion that women cannot handle power or that all women in power are intrinsically bad. On top of this, despite the fact that in the beginning of the story the Wicked Queen is ‘the fairest in the land’ in the Disney animation she is shown to wear an unflattering amount of makeup and have no hair, things that are not stereotypically considered to be classically beautiful. As well as this the Wicked Queen is far more ‘cartoon looking’ than Snow White. This not only sends out a strong message that beauty is good, as in Snow White’s case, while ugliness is bad but also sets a standard for what beauty is and what ugliness is.
The contrast between the character of the Wicked Queen and Snow White gives a clear indication of the gender construction in terms of what are perceived as good traits and bad traits for a woman. The queen is a woman in power and in control of her own life however, she is given traits that are evil and yet stereotypically feminine such as her obsession with her appearance. If in the story of Snow White, the Wicked Queen were a man it would seem absurd for him to be so obsessed with his own appearance. It would also seem absurd for him to want to kill Snow White for being more attractive than him.
Men in fairytales are often constructed to be more involved with things such as power, money and land. Men in fairytales also kill their enemies in stereotypically masculine ways such as in battle or hand to hand combat. At the end of Snow White the seven dwarves are seen chasing the Wicked Queen up a rocky mountain where she falls and is left for the vultures to eat. This act is far more bold and heroic than the sneaking conniving methods the Wicked Queen uses to try and kill Snow White. The fact that the Wicked Queen is constructed in this gender biased way gives a strong message to the viewer that beauty is all that women care about and that evil women also possess these stereotypically feminine traits.
Snow White’s character is distinctly contrasted to that of the Wicked Queen in almost every aspect however, they do have one common attribute which is the way in which they are constructed to act in purely feminine ways. Snow White is constructed to be the moral opposite of the Wicked Queen, displaying an image of what Disney believes is a socially acceptable way for a woman to behave. Snow White is portrayed as submissive and is rewarded for her obedience, beauty and domestic skills, spending the majority of her time within the private sphere.
These traits are all stereotypically associated with women and feminine behaviour. When Snow White runs off into the woods to escape her evil step mother she finds a little cottage in disarray, “You’d think their mother would have-” she says before being cut off, denoting that she believes the mother of the dwarves should have been cleaning their house, another example of gender stereotyping in this film. When the dwarves return Snow White enacts the stereotypical motherly role by demanding that they all wash their hands.
This not only reflects a stereotypical portrayal of women, that they must look after men, but also of men, that they cannot look after themselves and need a woman to perform domestic duties. In a gender neutral reconstruction of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves domestic duties would be shared out evenly irrespective of gender. There would also be no assumption that the dwarves cannot clean their house or that they need a woman to clean it for them and roles such as domestic carer and breadwinner would not be assumed.
The construction of male characters in fairytales is often as biased and predisposed as that of females. Men in fairytales are often shown to be physically apt and powerful and in the case of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves particularly superficial. When the large, strong huntsman is sent into the forest to kill Snow White he is only stopped because of her immense beauty suggesting that if it weren’t for Snow White’s physical attributes he would have completed his task of killing her. The broad-shouldered prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is also perceived to be very emotionally shallow claiming to be in love with Snow White after having exchanged only a few words with her.
This suggests that it is not her intellect or personality that he is in love with but her physical characteristics. If the story was written to exclude gender bias the huntsman and the prince would be far less stereotypically depicted in both appearance and mannerisms. They would not be depicted as large, strong, square-jawed men and they would not revere beauty so highly or objectify Snow White. Twice when Snow White is tricked by the Wicked Queen she is saved by male characters. In the first instance by the dwarves and in the second instance by the prince who kisses Snow White to save her. This implies that women need men to save them and that without a man’s love a woman is nothing.
In a gender neutral reconstruction of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves the male characters would not assume the role of the rescuer or protector and Snow White would not assume the role of the defenseless beauty waiting to be rescued. The passivity of Snow White’s disposition is a critical element of her character. Snow White displays passivity when the huntsman takes her into the forest to kill her and she doesn’t attempt to escape.
Snow White is reliant on men to save her and she is consistently rewarded for her dependence. Another illustration of Snow White’s passivity is her consistent reliance on the seven dwarves to keep her safe, knowing full well that the Wicked Queen is attempting to kill her. The most prominent example of Snow White’s passivity is in how she is to lie down to sleep until her prince awakens her. Snow White’s passivity and the constancy with which she is rewarded for it gives the viewer the notion that Disney endorses this weak, helpless female stereotype and disapproves of women taking a more proactive approach in their lives and within the public sphere as the Wicked Queen does.
If the gender bias was eliminated from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves proactivity in women would not be shunned while passivity would not be rewarded. Snow White would be more pre-emptive in trying to escape from the huntsman and maintain her safety and would be more proactive in finding her own happiness and refuge instead of waiting to be saved. When Snow White is awakened by the prince and he professes his love for her he immediately lifts her up onto his horse and they ride away to be married after waving goodbye to the dwarves. This transaction is done without a word from Snow White whose consent seems to not have been considered in the slightest.
The fact that Snow White is never asked for her vocal consent in going away with the prince gives a dangerous message to young viewers- that women are always willing and that their consent doesn’t actually matter. The handing over of Snow White from the care of the dwarves to the care of the prince is almost ceremonious and gives the illusion that women should not for a moment be without the care of men. If Snow White and the Seven Dwarves excluded gender bias Snow White would be given time to consider the prince’s offer and respected and not resented if she chose to decline his advances.
Overall, the key points that would need to be changed for the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to eliminate gender bias would be the objectification of Snow White that is depicted throughout the film and most notably when the dwarves display her body in a glass coffin for all to see. The rewarding of stereotypically passive feminine qualities such as domestic skills, beauty and innocence and the punishment of aggressive feminine qualities such as vanity, jealousy and greed as well as the denouncement of women in power.
The representation of men would also have to be changed altering them from physically stereotypical males with stereotypically male mannerisms who need women to perform their domestic duties. They would also need to be depicted as less emotionally shallow, and be depicted as valuing women for their skills and personality, rather than just their physical attributes. All in all Snow White and the Seven Dwarves displays many forms of sexism and gender bias including gender stereotyping, the objectification of women and gender role assumptions within the private and public sphere.
This creates a poor example for children as they learn which behaviours are socially acceptable my mimicking things they see. To set a better example to children Snow White and the Seven Dwarves can be reconstructed to eliminate the ubiquitous elements of gender bias and stereotyping that are displayed. Then and only then will we begin to see a change in the way children learn to perceive the differences between the sexes and the abilities, characteristics and wants of both. By Isabella Flachsenberger Gower.
An Essay on Vanity
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” this ever so famous line quoted from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs sticks to the back of our minds more often than expected. Modern day witches gradually start to emerge in our world with the same intention, or shall we say insecurity, as the witch in the fairy tale – to have the satisfaction of being on top. Nowadays, more and more people, especially teenagers, begin to look in the mirror to see if they are satisfied with themselves.
Vanity, which is being worthless and futile, causes this. When an individual feels worthless, he becomes insecure because he feels that he is not “worth it,” regardless if it’s true or not. This leads to even more troubling problems like fitting in the “in crowd,” attaining high self-esteem and self-confidence, and finding one’s true identity.
The feeling of worthlessness or simply called vanity leaves teenagers to have the craving to fit in.
When one feels that he is not worthy, he seeks the attention of others and he feels that he needs their approval. What happens after this? Then, he tries doubly hard to fit in the “cool crowd” by wearing the trendiest clothes, saying the coolest lines, and doing the meanest things. This may make him one of the “cool people,” but this evidently doesn’t’ make him commendable. Another common thing for trying-hard-to-fit-in teenagers to do is start the hazardous habit of smoking. Their very own peers may well become their very own adversaries because they are the ones who pressure them in taking up smoking. Eventually, these vulnerable teenagers lose their self-image in exchange for a place in the “cool crowd organization.”
Being a teenager is indeed a very difficult part in the cycle of life. It can ruin your self-esteem and self-confidence in a second. For example, cool kids pick on the insecure ones for the fun of it. These kids laugh at nerdy-looking teens and snicker at try-hard-to-fit-in ones. Usually, the ones being laughed at and looked down upon are the ones having problems with vanity. Their sense of futility plus the kind of attention they get from others decreases their self-esteem to zero, thus, causing their self-confidence to drop. This shouldn’t be the case. The vainer a person is, the more he should do something about it, and the more he has to believe in himself.
In extreme cases, adolescents alter their very own persona just to please others. An evident example of this would be teens who steal so that their peers won’t think of them as inadequate. They would rather be called “conyo” than be of the standard class. The question here is why do they have to steal? People who steal aren’t contented with what they have that’s why they make use of other people’s belongings and mark them as their own. By doing this, they would gain attention because their peers would commend them on the objects that they stole, which usually are expensive and classy ones. This is one of the persona alterations that vanity can cause. These common Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of teens are pretenders. They live their lives superficially, pretending to be somebody that they’re truly not.
This is a real problem among adolescents. Since they are on the stage where they are able to intellectually contrast themselves with others, they feel that they should show another personality aside from their own so that they wouldn’t have to worry about people’s reactions to their true personality. They cover their faces with masks to keep others from finding out their true identity and to protect themselves from rejection. Because of their insecurity, they may never be able to find their true selves. They should take out their masks and show the world their true selves so that people may accept them for who they are, and not for who they are trying to be.
To all those teenagers with problems regarding vanity and insecurity, you should be able to face your own fear of rejection so that you wouldn’t be living in a superficial world. Be brave enough to bring out your true identity because you should always give yourself a chance to prove that you are indeed “worth it.” They say that it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. So dare to face your fears and dare to be true to yourself for it is only then that you would find inner peace and self-confidence.
Sleeping Beauty vs. Snow White
Every little girl pretends to be a princess and prances around imagining a prince charming. Even when they grow up and become a woman, they’re still waiting for that prince to come sweep them off their feet, so they can fall crazy in love and live happily ever after. This fantasy is much because of Walt Disney movies such as “Sleeping Beauty”, “Snow White”, “Cinderella”, “Little Mermaid”, and many others. These stories have been passed down for centuries and numerous versions exist today.
There are many interpretations of the stories and their meanings that most people don’t even recognize. Though the stories all seem different, some of them still have similar meanings. “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” are two stories that have a common meaning.
Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are both characters that are unrealistically beautiful. Sleeping Beauty for instance, had fair skin, blue eyes, long blonde hair, and an impossibly thin figure. This sets unrealistic standards for female beauty.
Also the stories show a dependence on males for the female identity. The princess is sleeping, just waiting for her prince to come save her so she can resume her place as princess and “live happily ever after”. Snow White was also poisoned and laid sleeping until her prince came to save her. In a way, this is saying that women are simply waiting around for a man to come save them from ordinary life, so that they can have their ‘happily ever after’ ending. Another point that shows up in “Cinderella” is that the stepmother who raised three children on her own, which shows independence, is made the villain of the story, while passive Cinderella is the lovable victim. In these fairy tales, they show tat a woman is nothing without a man. They give the picture that a woman has nothing to do but wait for her prince, and then once he comes her life will be fulfilled. In today’s world it’s quite obvious that these things could not be more false.
According to Bruno Bettelheim, the numerous versions of “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” represent a young girl growing up and becoming a woman, though it is showed in different ways. In “Sleeping Beauty”, or in Grimm’s version “Brier Rose”, the curse put on the girl by the evil fairy represent new restrictions imposed on a female. It can be interpreted as the beginning of menstruation. The thirteen fairies represent the months of the calendar. The twelve good fairies represent the twelve traditional months of the year, and since there is no thirteenth month, the thirteenth fairy represents menstruation. Also the evil fairy realizes the girl’s potential for becoming the object of desire and out of jealousy tries to prevent the girl from ever becoming a woman.
Further on the representation of the curse as menstruation, there is the King trying to prevent it from happening, because he does not understand it. However, the Queen understands the curse and its importance, being a woman herself, and does nothing to stop it. So naturally when the girl sees a spindle for the first time, full of curiosity, se pricks her finger and falls asleep. The absence of the girl’s parents when she pricks her finger represents the parents’ inability to help children through the various trials of growing up. The King and Queen’s waiting symbolizes the wait for sexual fulfillment. It shows the end of childhood and a time of quiet growth, from which she will awaken mature and ready for sexual union (Bettelheim, 232).
In the tale of “Snow White”, Bettelheim explains how it tells of how a parent (the Queen) gets destroyed by jealousy of her child, who in growing up surpasses her (195). The Queen is not only jealous of Snow White’s beauty in some versions, but also jealous of the love of the father for the girl. They are jealously battling to be the King’s favorite. Since Snow White is more beautiful, she has more power and able to win over her father. Bettelheim uses Freud’s Oedipus complex for understanding the conflicts between Snow White and her stepmother. The King and Queen in stories represent absolute power, such as a parent holds over the child. When the child’s position in the family becomes a problem, they try to escape to start the road to finding themselves. Snow White’s time with the dwarfs represents her period of growth (201). When Snow White eats the apple, the child in her dies, and is left to rest in a glass coffin, which represents waiting for maturity, until her prince comes (213).
Both these stories represent a girl maturing into a woman, and having an older woman jealous of their beauty, trying to prevent them from growing up. These characters have to go through a dormant period of resting, so they can reach sexual fulfillment and awake matured, ready to start a life with their prince. There is also someone in both stories, a male, who does not understand the maturing period, and tries to prevent it. In “Sleeping Beauty” it was the King and in “Snow White” it was the seven dwarfs who tried to help her. This shows that despite a parents attempts to postpone being able to reach maturity at the proper time, it happens nonetheless.
Breaking the Disney Spell
Jack Zipes, in his essay “Breaking the Disney Spell”, directly addresses the issue of what happens when a story is taken from its original oral form and written down. Zipes discusses in depth what Walt Disney has done to fairy tales and the consequences of Disney’s actions. Zipes addresses many issues, including those of context, society, and alteration of plot. He accuses Walt Disney of attacking “the literary tradition of the fairy tale” (344). While many scholars disagree with Zipes’ accusations, his essay makes very solid and well-presented points that he promptly backs with fact.
Regardless of what the scholars say, Zipes was right: Oral tradition is important, and Disney’s representations of historical folktales damaged fairy tales as we know them. When Walt Disney began his cartoon and film career in 1927, he might have been unaware of how the American public would rush to purchase his “original” creations. His first cartoon, a re-creation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that added a comedic spin, began his career in the cartoon industry and eventually spun his company into a billion dollar enterprise (Funding Universe).
As Disney’s popularity grew, he continued to expand his film creations, but generally by copying or “re-creating” fairy tales or other historical literature. Many Americans believe that Walt Disney was the first person to create fairy tales, and Disney failed to recognize the original creators of the stories that made him so popular: the folk. Historically, fairy tales were told amongst people that historians and folklorists refer to as “the folk. ” That is, the stories were shared orally, in what is commonly referred to as “sacred space” (Curry). Fairy tales were not intended to be read alone, in silence.
Rather, they were created to be shared in a group of people, and, while fairy tales were saturated with meaning, that meaning could vary based on the storyteller. Fairy Tales were also often the holders of a warning or admonition that could be adjusted depending on the listener. One mother might have told her daughter one version of “Cinderella” in order to make a statement about her daughter’s life, whereas another mother might have told a completely different version of the same story. This, Zipes argues, is what made fairy tales unique and important.
He comments, “A narrator or narrators told tales to bring members of a group or tribe closer together and to provide them with a sense of mission” (332). Fairy tales were told from an older generation to a younger generation. As mentioned previously, they were not shared in private, by oneself, alone with a book or videotape. Zipes comments, “This privatization violated the communal aspects of the folk tale” (335). The stories were a collective form of communication that occurred in a group setting, in a safe place, in a sacred space. Fairy tales, besides communicating moral and social messages, were a rite of passage.
Martha C. Sims and Martine Stephens, both revered folklorists, make a statement about the importance of storytelling and teaching in their book Living Folklore. “Rites of passage mark notable dates or stages in a person’s life. Most rites of passage occur at times of change or transition: birth, puberty, entering adulthood or coming-of-age, marriage, and death, for example” (110). Fairy tales were used in rites of passage as a way to communicate with the younger generation about the changes that take place during puberty, adolescence, and marriage.
Even in the written versions of Fairy Tales produced by the Brothers Grimm, Perrault, and other respected folklorists, scholars are able to grasp and to understand the importance of various elements that are present in the stories that show valuable truth about life adjustments and growing up. Many folklorists, however, consider Disney’s version of historical fairy tales to have stripped them of their meaning. Zipes is one of them. Zipes uses the example of Disney’s recreation of Puss in Boots to show that Disney altered the story to “use it as a self-figuration that would mark the genre for years to come” (343).
Zipes argues that Disney changes the protagonist of the story from Puss to the “young king. ” In the original version of the tale, the cat was the hero and the young boy he was friends with played a minor role in the tale. The boy in the original tale was not royalty at all: he was a commoner. Disney changed both the importance of the boy’s role in the story, as well as his social status. By adjusting the story, Zipes declares that Disney projected his own self into the story and presented it in a sort of auto-biographical fashion. Disney saw himself as the young king and projected that into the story.
Disney did not see himself as simply an ordinary commoner: he was far above the peasant class, at least in his own mind. While many of Disney’s fans and viewers may argue that his recreation of fairy tales made little to no impact on the original meaning, Zipes believes otherwise. “Disney’s film is also an attack on the literary tradition of the fairy tale. He robs the literary tale of its voice and changes its form and meaning” (344). Disney not only adjusts the main elements of a story, but he also alters the point of view and the narrator, as we see in Puss in Boots.
Instead of the story being told from Puss’ point of view, the “hero” of the story is the young boy. In Disney’s other fairy tale recreations, he often adds characters and makes them the hero or savior of the story. Often, instead of being told by a female point of view and being about women, as many fairy tales are historically represented, Disney projects a patriarchal view on the story and makes it obvious to his viewers that a woman’s life is meaningless without a man to guide her. Disney’s characters all understand the importance of waiting around for their prince to arrive and “save them” from the life that they so torturously endure.
Instead of the bright, intelligent, and witty women that are evidenced in such tales as Italo Calvino’s The False Grandmother and Lasair Gheug, the King of Ireland’s Daughter, Disney’s heroines appear to be lacking not only spine, but brains as well. Many American children have grown up completely unaware that the concept of a prince saving a princess is a distinctly Disney idea. The classic fairy tales often involve feminine strength and an urging of women to be able to outsmart her predators. If a girl is not able to outsmart her attacker, she is simply killed.
This is evidenced quite well in Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood and the Brothers Grimm tale of Little Red Cap. A comparison of the two stories will bring to light the idea that if a young girl is smart enough, she can outwit any predator – even a hungry wolf. The girl in Little Red Cap is able to do just that, and escapes with her life. Contrarily, the heroine of Little Red Riding Hood is not quite clever enough, and she is “gobbled up” (Perrault 13). The concept of women needing a savior is quite obvious in the Disney version of Snow White.
Zipes notes, “Snow White was his story that he had taken from the Grimm Brothers and changed completely to suit his tastes and beliefs. He cast a spell over this German tale and transformed it into something peculiarly American” (346). Maria Tatar also notes the impact of Disney’s version on the American public as she comments, “Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has so eclipsed other versions of the story that it is easy to forget that hundreds of variants have been collected over the past century in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas” (74).
In the oldest versions of Snow White, the heroine of the story does not need to be “saved” by a prince. The Brothers Grimm depict Snow White coming back to life by her coffin being jarred, which dislodged the apple in her throat (Grimm 89). Similarly, in the Lasair Gheug version of this tale, it is the king’s new wife who saves Snow White by picking the ice out of her forehead and palms (94). Disney, however, shows Snow White as a weak female who must be rescued by her “prince Charming. ” She is saved, not by accident or by a minor character, but “when the prince, who has searched far and wife for her, arrives and bestows a kiss on her lips.
His kiss of love is the only antidote to the queen’s poison” (Zipes 348). Disney’s portrayal of princesses or young girls as weak and frail leads Zipes to believe that Disney “perpetuated a male myth” which is, subconsciously, a celebration of his own destiny and success (348). Disney, although his primary characters are nearly always female, depicts them as weak and needy. It is only the secondary male character and the antagonist female in Disney’s stories who appear to have spines. By keeping his primary female characters weak, Disney is sending the message that women are helpless without men.
Zipes, in accordance with this idea, notices that not only are the primary females in Disney’s stories kept weak, but that the male “heroes” of his tales are overly masculine and are the saviors of the stories. “In this regard,” notes Zipes, “the prince can be interpreted as Disney… Snow White cannot be fulfilled until he arrives to kiss her… ” (349). Zipes argues that Disney, in his creation of weak females and strong male heroes, is making a statement that he, Disney, is a hero. Disney’s re-telling of these fairy tales is not simply adding his own perspective to the issue at hand.
Rather, Disney completely rewrites fairy tales to mean what he wants them to mean. Most historical fairy tales have a common theme and moral in them, regardless of the story teller. From Perrault to the Brothers Grimm, much retelling is similar, with only slight variances. Disney, however, with his addition of “him” to the story, alters the story not only by point of view, but also in it’s moral and its core message. Some folklorists argue that a recreation and revision of historical folklore is necessary to ensure that the current generations retain their interest in the past.
Many might argue that Disney’s retelling of fairy tales has not harmed the historical value of the stories. Benjamin Filene makes this argument in his work Romancing the Folk. “… the backward glance can be more than nostalgic — that memory can create American culture anew” (236). While Filene may truly believe that it is important to incite interest in folklore amongst the youth of the current generation, Zipes disagrees. His research leads him to believe that this alteration, whether for personal gain or simply for popularizing any type of folklore, permanently hinders the message that is inherently present in the original version.
Disney, in his new representations of fairy tales, loses sight of the original messages and completely removed the moral and meaning from the stories. Zipes, in Breaking the Disney Spell, provides clear evidence that Disney has violated the sanctity of fairy tales by rewriting them for his own personal pleasure and gain. By projecting himself into the fairy tales, Disney not only removes the moral message of the story, but also replaces the matriarchal values with patriarchal ones. Disney molds women to meet his standards of how women should behave, rather than portraying the strong and clever females that are visible in the original tales.
While fairy tales were altered when they became a written tradition rather than an oral one, most stories still maintained their original moral values. Disney, however, strips the stories even of that in lieu of something “better”: his own pleasure and fame. After Disney, fairy tales will never be the same. Now, society is stuck with his egotistical creations that are beneficial to no one but himself. Instead of the stories being meaningful and a rite of passage, they are reduced to simply a meaningless tale of Disney’s life and goals. Zipes was right: Disney has damaged fairy tales and they will never be quite the same