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Different Shades of Snow White

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The Brothers Grimm (1857)
Different Shades of Snow White

Snow White in her coffin by Theodor Hosemann (1852).

The original version of the Snow White story is, as with all Grimm fairy tales, quite dark: Snow White, forced to flee an assassin sent by the Queen in order to rid the world of the girl's superior beauty, takes refuge in the home of some dwarfs who extract an agreement from her to do all their household chores in exchange for room and board. The Queen tracks her down, giving her a poisoned apple, and she appears to die and is arranged in a glass coffin by the grieving dwarfs.

But the Queen's handsome son sees her supposed corpse becomes enraptured by her beauty, and asks for the body to take home and moon over; as he takes possession the apple is knocked out of her throat and she wakes. They marry, and the Queen, appalled at this turn of events, is further humiliated by being given a pair of red-hot iron shoes that she's required to dance in until she dies. They just don't throw wedding receptions like that any more.

What were the subtexts of this venerable tale? One of the implications of the original story is the contrast between the active woman and the passive, which equates with impure and pure womanhood: in this way the Queen and Snow White might be equally beautiful, but what creates a difference is the gap between their levels of purity. This is emphasized by Snow White living platonically with seven men (despite their being symbolically emasculated by their stature). The Queen's actions are active and Snow White's are reactive, until she is finally brought to life in her ideal role as wife and future mother.

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