The Three Temptations of Snow White

Last night, I gave a talk for the Jung Society of Austin as a practice for both next week’s PCA/ACA conference presentation and the whole dissertation business. To underscore my argument about why Disneyification of fairy tales isn’t a bad thing (which I contend it isn’t), I decided to look closely at Snow White. As a Disney movie, this was the first of the animated features, and it is one of the stories that was further Disneyfied into theme park attractions. I’ll skip over my cultural analysis of the Disneyification process for now (and my excitement about having my research validated).

In order to prepare for this talk (and PCA paper), I re-read the Grimm Brothers’ tale, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” This is the story that Disney gives credit for inspiring the film, and indeed the stories have a lot in common. One thing that Disney altered is the three temptations of Snow White. In fairy tales, it is not uncommon for the hero to undergo three tasks before they can achieve “happily ever after.” Three is the realm of the masculine, however one wishes to interpret it, while four is the realm of the feminine, again, however one wishes to interpret it. That most fairy tales have the hero undergo three tasks suggests that they operate in the realm of the masculine, or that the idea is that one has to go through the masculine to get to the feminine, but that isn’t up for discussion here. (3 + 4 = 7 Dwarfs. I’m sure that’s not a happy accident.)

The three temptations/trials of Snow White a la Grimm are the lace, the comb and the apple. All three of which point quite nicely to an interpretation pointing to budding womanhood. The lace is essentially a corset, which the Queen disguised as the old woman laces so tightly that Snow White passes out as though dead. No young girl likes the initial confinement of her first bra, so Snow White’s reaction really isn’t that surprising. The 7 dwarfs find her and cut her out of the corset, bringing her back to life. The corset here symbolizes the restrictions that come with womanhood that limit a girl’s freedom to her duties as a woman. It is also a symbol of perceived beauty; a corset having the ability to shape a woman’s torso in an attractive way to grown men.

The comb is poisoned, and is placed in Snow White’s hair by the Queen and causes her to pass out as though dead. Young girls in the era of the Grimms wore their hair long and free, but women were expected to pull their hair back and cover it upon marriage. The comb is another example of the confinement of womanhood. In many cultures, hair is sensual. Confining her hair hides her sexuality behind sexual mores. The comb is also a symbol of perceived beauty.

The apple, on the other hand, is a little more tricky. In the Grimm tale, the apple is only half poisoned. Originally it is a white apple, but the Queen poisons half of it, which turns it into an alluring red. When feeding the apple to Snow White, she keeps the white half for herself and gives the red half to Snow White. Red and women becomes a symbolism of mensuration, the physical transition into womanhood. But the apple also holds other loaded symbolism: Apple of Eden, Apple of Discord. So one way or another, the apple is supposed to represent Snow White’s loss of innocence, something else that occurs with the transition into womanhood.

So, in short, for all the bruhaha (mostly on the part of Campbell) about there not being any myths for women and their transition into womanhood, here’s a really good one handed to us on a golden platter. Or perhaps a golden pie crust? Hmm.. apple pie….

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