What is the role of female antagonists (witches, evil faeries, ogresses, etc.) in European fairy tales like in "Snow White" and "Cinderella"? Besides their basic plot function, what is their thematic significance to these stories?

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When reading many of these traditional fairy tales, female protagonists and villains tend to serve as foils of one another, even as they also tend to reflect qualities of the Madonna-Whore dynamic commonplace in Medieval Christianity. Within the literature and arts, women were commonly presented along bifurcated lines: either as virtuous objects worthy of admiration or as entirely sinful (presented as temptresses and murderous killers).

Regarding both the female hero and female villain in European fairy tales, there is a simplicity of characterization built largely around contrasts. The heroine is young whereas the villain is older and fully grown. In her youthfulness, the heroine is also defined in terms of her innocence, which also sharply contrasts her villainous antagonist. When the villain is beautiful, she tends to be vain about her beauty, prideful, and fixated upon her appearance and on how others perceive her. The Queen from the story of "Snow White" is perhaps the most striking example of this, going so far as to attempt to murder Snow White for the offense of being more beautiful than she is. On the other hand, when she lacks in beauty, she is often presented as completely monstrous in appearance, as the ogress or crone.

In all cases, I think there is a strong sense by which these female villains reflect traditional Christian teachings regarding the seven deadly sins, with pride, envy, and gluttony being particularly apparent. In this regard, the female villain's sinful nature contrasts sharply with her would-be victim's innocent and uncorrupted nature.

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