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
Perfection (persuasive essay)
“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” “You are.” (Snow White)
Ah, yes, the Evil Queen. She was wicked, terrible, and horrid – or was she? Maybe she was just a normal, average person seeking acceptance. Maybe she felt the need to be the best, to achieve perfection. Or, maybe she was just insecure, seeking to put others down because of a misguided past. Whatever the reason was – society, perfection, insecurity; the Evil Queen felt that she had to be better than everyone else, or at least the best a person can possibly be.
In society today, many of us are replicas of the Evil Queen, putting on ourselves a heavy burden in order to obtain perfection, yet kill ourselves in the process as she did. Instead of trying to be absolutely perfect, why not simply try our best and know our limits, rather than die striving to achieve an impossible goal?
What do you see every time you look into the mirror? Unless you’re one of the blessed few, you usually see the imperfections.
The tiniest details that no one else notices, but you blow it out of proportion. What do you see when you see me? Some say, “A good student – inquisitive, creative, opinionated, and happy.” That’s quite different from what I see. When I look in the mirror I see…pimples, blemishes, imperfections, pain, rejection, stress, confusion, and frustration. It’s all from our idealist society; it’s all from the media, the school, or even your next door neighbor. The environment we’re in makes it hard to come to terms with the fact that, in truth, perfection will and can never be achieved.
We all say, “Oh, no one is perfect,” and “Looks aren’t important,” but do we really believe it? We all try to achieve this perfect ideal, the idea of perfection in our idealist society – a goal that is absolutely unattainable. Do yourself justice, but there comes a time when further improvement will not significantly improve your cause, and it would be better to move on rather than wasting your time trying to perfect one thing. We were created in God’s image to be perfect, but after the fall of Adam, we are now born with a sinful nature and therefore unable to achieve this form of absolute perfection. The line needs to be drawn between perfection and agonizing; too often we struggle to be what we know that we cannot.
Perfection is hidden behind a curtain of lies. Every time you open up a magazine, it stares at you right in the face – self-improvement, perfection. We see the perfect models with the perfect bodies. They have the perfect skin, the perfect hair, the perfect teeth. We look at it and say, “I know that’s all done with computers. That model doesn’t look like that in real life. That model has blemishes, imperfections, and probably anorexia,” but is that how we really feel? We know it, but subconsciously, stored in the very back of our minds, is the fact that we want to look like that.
We want to have the perfect body, the perfect skin, the perfect hair, the perfect teeth. Therefore, we struggle to achieve it, both men and women alike. Awhile ago, I came across a web site that said, “Beauty is a disguise that hides all imperfections.” Although this isn’t true in all cases, it helps put things that can’t be seen based solely on appearance in a better perspective. Beauty can lie – perfection lies; it is merely a piece of beautiful Christmas wrapping around an empty box. The temptation of perfection leads us to nothing but the false assumption that we can live a in this imperfect world.
Society itself brings us to the conclusion that in order to look good and fit in, we need to make ourselves perfect. “Oh, my gosh, Becky, look at her butt, it is so big.” We all do it; we are all critical of other people and their imperfections. Usually it is just jealousy or our own insecurities, but it still happens. We look at other people, and to make ourselves seem better, we look to their flaws. We look for that broccoli in their teeth, for that uneven part in their hair. It’s no wonder that we become neurotic about looking perfect – but is it really necessary?
Although everyone has his or her own flaws, it is their good qualities that make them who they are, who we are. God has given each of us a unique personality, to be special, different, and one-of-a-kind. Focusing on the faults of others would do nothing but soak the world in depression and low self-esteem. Knowing that God created mankind in His own image, we should not judge ourselves and judge others to boost our confidence. The world would be a more loving and peaceful place if we looked at others through God’s eyes instead of through the eyes of man.
What should we really see when we look into the mirror? There isn’t much to it – maybe just a human being. Who knows, maybe she does have a scar on her forehead, but she has really pretty eyes. Maybe the glass isn’t half empty after all; it’s just how we look at ourselves. It’s simply how the media, how society, how everything, makes us feel inadequate. If people begin to come to the absolute realization that perfection cannot be achieved, the world could lead a much better, happier life. Not being in search for things that we cannot change, but changing the things that we can. After all, we’re all just human beings, trying to achieve perfection in an imperfect world, trying to be able to ask ourselves what we truly see in the mirror. Maybe it won’t be the “fairest of them all”, but it certainly isn’t the worst. Besides, it really isn’t that bad being second best next to Snow White.
Cinderella: Brothers Grimm and Traditional Fairy Tale
Anne Sexton’s poetic debunking of Cinderella is a dark comic version of the popular fairy tale. In it, she combines the Brothers’ Grimm tale with stories from modern society. In the poem “Cinderella” by Anne Sexton, she uses the stylistic devices diction, tone, symbolism, repetition, similes, and references from contemporary living to the Brothers’ Grimm to satirize the happily ever after that many people chase. Does this fairy tale ending exist or is it just a dream stalked by many? As Sexton begins the poem, she sets a sarcastic tone by saying “You always read about it” and following it with extravagant rags to riches stories when in fact, these stories do not always occur.
The sarcastic tone is shown throughout the poem. With Sexton’s harsh words of reality, she breaks the dreams of the readers seeking a traditional fairy tale. The use of Sexton’s sarcastic tone foreshadows what is to come in the poem. The line “that story”, which is repeated numerous times, exposes the unrealistic nature of these rags to riches stories.
Through the lines “Cinderella and the prince / lived, they say, happily ever after, / like two dolls in a museum case/ never bothered by diapers or dust, / never arguing over the timing of an egg” Sexton is in fact changing the fairy tale into a myth, making Cinderella and the prince just a portrait hung on the wall.
By her use of sarcasm, Sexton is depicting for the readers how the fairy tale ending is in fact not reality. Just because Cinderella marries the prince does not necessarily mean that they will live happily ever after. When a person runs off and gets married, it never turns out quite like a fairy tale. In the last stanza of the poem, Sexton describes the relationship between Cinderella and her prince in a set of similes used to continue the sarcastic theme set throughout the poem. She writes that Cinderella and the prince never kept house, never argued, never aged, never did any and all the things that come…
Snow White and the Huntsman
Snow white and the huntsman is the battle between beauty and innocence for fairest blood. This is a four star dark twist to the traditional fairy tale of the orphaned princess, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), and her escape from her step mother and evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
From the producers of Alice and the Wonderland, An Evil Queen, Ravenna, tricks, seduces, and kills the king; she takes the kingdom and rules with intimidation and magic. She draws her life force and youth from magic which is fuelled by the draining of other beautiful young hearts and souls.
Her life is to be the fairest in all of the land yet another has come of age to surpass even the strongest magic. “She is life itself”
Snow White, the late king’s daughter, was kept alive for many years in a tower in the castle since she was a little girl. Now she is what stands between Ravenna and immortality. “Be warned, her innocence and purity is all that can destroy you but she is also your salvation”.
In a flurry of lust and luck, as well as her connection with Mother Nature, she escapes into the dark forest. The adventure begins as the Queen hires the Huntsman who knows the dangerous dark forest, to bring the princess back to her. The pursuit of Snow White, on an evil Queen’s quest for immortality – the princesses snow white heart.
The pursuit of the princesses’ heart starts… and ends with the flawless acting of Oscar winner Charlize Theron. The South African born Theron, known for her blonde hair and revengeful roles in Monster (Alieen Wuornos), and The Italian Job (Stella Bridger), graces the screen in a five star performance. She shows her versatility as a lead actress in her not revengeful but narcissistic character of Ravenna. This is portrayed in the second Mirror scene. Ravenna asks the Mirror “Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is fairest of them all?” The mirror tells her” My queen, you have defied nature and robbed it of its fairest root. But on this day there is one more beautiful than you.”
She becomes angry as she longs to be the most beautiful in all the land. Ravenna’s last words to the king before she murdered him were “Men use women. They ruin us and when they are finished with us they toss us to the dogs like scraps”. Her conviction as an actress is authentic but what triumphs over that are her powerful actions that can convey an entire conversation in a simple movement. This is best seen where she is dragging herself out of the black goop after killing Snow White. She uses one hand and reaches, in vain, out to the Mirror as if to beg it to tell her she is most beautiful now the princess is dead. Even during her own near death moment her narcissistic personality shows though a very basic need for power and prestige.
Allot of power and prestige of Ravenna comes to this movie through the main soundtrack ‘Breath of life’ by Florence and the Machine. After a drum beat beginning that sets the medieval mood, a choir and rhythmic beats adds a flare to the unique voice of Florence. Jon Dolan of the Rolling Stone reviews comments that it was “All doom-drum rush and endless-midnight orchestral sweep” Ravenna looking for her breath of life (I was looking for a breath of life, A little touch of heavenly light), but the world that had once turned on itself now turned on her and cried no (But all the choirs in my head sang, No oh oh). You can hear in the beat that she is fighting life itself.
The casting of this movie was a mix of brilliance and flawed choices. Where Theron’s casting was no doubt the brilliance, Kristen Stewart as Snow White was the major flaw. Stuart, known to her fans as new girl Bella, from the Twilight saga, showed her incapability of holding a lead actress role. Unlike the role she played in twilight, she has no other main characters to hold her up. She drains the personality from Snow White in addition to the lack of importance felt in her character. This is predominantly seen in the “fight to the death” scene with Snow White and Ravenna. While Theron oozes fire and elegance, Stuart can’t seem to capture a believable character. Snow White is supposed to be innocence and humility in contrast to the Queens magic and pride. Her sharp angled face, greasy voice, and empty facial expressions she was a flawed choice by the directors.
Drunk, bitter and half dead. The gorgeous Chris Hemsworth plays the in between of life and death as the Huntsman. Once being a small point in the original brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hemsworth’s huntsman has created a new take on the contrast between the two main roles. This is greatly shown when he is pulled out of a dirty tub of water with a hangover and a debt and he is brought to the queen’s throne.
When the queen’s guards draw spears against him he says “Do me the favour, I beg of you.” He can’t stand to be alive because the Queens magic killed his wife for her youth. Finn tells the Huntsman “She screamed your name but you weren’t there. Now you can beg her forgiveness in the other world.” Now as Snow White lay dead the Huntsman begs for forgiveness from her “I’m so sorry I failed you. I’m so sorry. But you’ll be a queen in Heaven now and sit among the angels.” It’s his kiss and sorrow which awakens her from death itself.
Colleen Atwood is a name that is very familiar in the movie designer world and with a BAFTA and OSCAR nomination is certainly one of the very important people in the makings of this movie. Some of the best designing seen this decade has come from Atwood who is known for her dark works in Dark Shadows (2012), Alice in the Wonderland (2010), Edward Scissorhands (1990) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Her epic fantasy costumes bring the film to a whole new gene of evil allure. From the Huntsman ancient clothes to the modern flare of Snow Whites traditional dress, Atwood’s best work has to be Ravenna’s wardrobe.
A beautiful wedding dress fit for a Queen to an evil black cape fit for a Witch empress, the skilful dress of this movie would be the floor length silver dress. Worn in the scene in which she is stabbed with a dagger, this piece of art is exquisite, with the flared sleeves, fitted body, and square neck brings the vintage era setting to life. This dress would not be complete without being coupled with a fabulous collection of accessories including a black and silver choker with matching earrings, a purple pendant encrusted with silver on a beaded chain and a crown that mimics the one on the statue of liberty. The most powerful accessory would have to be the claws on her right hand. This simple yet vicious prop is used in small roles throughout the movie but the best example is when she uses her index claw to eat a raven heart. This will in no doubt send a delicate shiver of disgust down your spine.
This dark, evil and beautiful movie is worth all its four stars. Even though Kristen Stewart’s performances as Snow White was not nearly up to par, if looked upon as the story of Ravenna’s demise, Theron more than makes up for what Stuart lacks. A story of Beauty, lust, pride and a quest for fairest blood, this is the must see the movie of 2012.
“Lips red as blood, Hair dark as night, bring me your heart, my dear, dear Snow White.”