Gaiman’s 'Snow White' Story From a Feminist Perspective

The role of women in literature, particularly fairy tales, has historically been one of meek submission and of damsels in distress waiting for a man to save them. We see this in the most popular fairy tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. The latter being a rather interesting story because if focuses on Snow White’s beauty and the “evil” Queen’s raging jealousy that drives her to want to kill Snow White. Snow White is portrayed as an innocent, can do no wrong, young girl whose pleasant disposition makes everyone she meets instantly love and care for her which keeps her safe. However, Neil Gaiman in his variation of the tale, “Snow Glass, Apples,” reimagines the fairy tale from a feminist perspective in which he gives Snow White more power and even turns her evil. His spin on the classic fairy tale gives Snow White power over others and goes as far as to give the narrator a female voice, more specifically, the Queen’s voice. Gaiman’s retelling of Snow White from a feminist perspective offers a much darker but more progressive approach to fairy tales and the role of women in them.

Neil Gaiman’s variation of the tale reveals a more feminist approach, rivaling the norm of the social construct of the role and portrayal of females. In “Snow, Glass, Apples,” the narrator of the tale is the Queen who has been given the role of heroine. Snow White is a vampiric child who feeds on others and becomes the villainess of the story. The choice of the writer to have a female voice as the narrator can be viewed as a feministic approach. The gender of all-knowing narrators is not explicitly stated and implies that the voice is that of a male. The voices of women are often silenced in fairy tales revealing that women have no power in these tales and are subject to male domination. Gaiman breaks the constant cycle of the silencing of women and eliminates the male voice allowing the female perspective to take on the reigns of the story. He provides the Queen the power to cast a better light on herself as the protagonist and releases her voice to drive the story forward. However, the female voice is subjective in this case because the Queen is able to weave the narrative to control the emotions of the readers and garner their sympathy. Therefore, the female voice is brought forward but it risks an unreliable narrator.

A main aspect of feminist theory is the society’s gender role of women. Gaiman tackles the stereotypical gender roles in his work. Snow White is no longer portrayed as the innocent and fragile child as she had been in pervious variations. Gaiman writes Snow White as a malicious lecher that feeds off adults around her to maintain herself. This is in contrast to the way Snow White is portrayed in the original fairy tales where she is seen as a wide eye innocent – a fragile little girl who relies on the kindness of others. However, Gaiman interprets her reliance on others as her leeching on the kindness and good will of strangers in every sense she is a leech, a vampire. Gaiman writes, “She looked at me and smiled-she smiled but rarely-then she sank her teeth into the base of my thumb, the Mound of Venus, and she drew blood.” Snow White is no longer masked behind a veil of purity and her animalistic nature shines forth. The Queen refuses to take on the stereotypical role of mother and caregiver to Snow White. Throughout the narration, the Queen infrequently acknowledges Snow White as her “stepdaughter” choosing to address her in alternate ways such as “child” or “princess”. The Queen holds the title of “step-mother” but does not actively take on the duties of a guardian. In the fairytale it states, “The girl would not eat with us. I do not know where in the palace she ate.” The quote explains the lack of maternal instincts to ensure the child was fed and being properly taken care of. The Queen does not view Snow White as her responsibility until it comes to the point where she must end her life in order to save the kingdom. She did not have any intention to save Snow White from the darkness that lied in her heart, rather she ordered men to cut out the heart of the princess and have it brought to her. The Queen did not view Snow White as her step-daughter, she viewed her as an animal. The Queen possessed no parenting capabilities nor desires and removed herself from the role society expected her to play.

Females from a young age are led to believe that the focal point of their lives is their beauty. They grow accustomed to look into the mirror and rather than viewing themselves they see magnifications of their imperfections. Their personal perceptions of themselves warp their identity that reflects back to them in the mirror. In the different retellings of the tale such as the version by the Brothers Grimm, the queen’s infatuation with Snow White’s beauty and her outward vanity are the sole driving force of the story. The evil stepmother’s jealous obsession of the pure beauty of a seven-year-old girl implies that in the eyes of women there is no need to be jealous of noble characteristics such as generosity, honesty, thoughtfulness, etc. Gaiman utilizes the female perspective to break the tradition of prioritizing outward beauty to shift the preoccupation on the Queen battling with the supernatural Snow White. The mirror no longer plays a vital role of expressing vanity as it did previously. In the tale it is used by the Queen for more practical reasons such as to observe Snow White who is living and feeding in the dense forest. As the Queen says in her retelling, “I covered the mirror in doe-skin, and told him that I would personally take it upon myself to make the forest safe [from the Princess] once more. I had to, although she terrified me. I was the Queen”. The Queen is no longer utilizing the mirror to feed her ego and find the fairest of them all. The mirror is a tool for protection from the vampiric Snow White whose beauty is overshadowed by her evil nature.

Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples,” is a postmodern fairytale that explores an unconventional perspective to the classic story of Snow White. Gaiman looks past the stereotypical themes of the classic work and offers new norms. The introduction of a female voice as narrator breaks the cycle of women being silenced and empowering the gender minority. Snow White sheds the innocent and beautiful façade placed on her by society to embrace what Gaiman expressed as her more dark characteristics. By employing a feminist viewpoint, the purpose of the mirror no longer reflects women’s true desire and the basis of their jealousy, beauty. It shatters the importance of physical attributes and the mirror becomes a tool revealing a protective purpose. Gaiman’s retelling of this age-old tale through a postmodern and feminist lens is a welcomed change.  

07 July 2022
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