Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 467
This poem is a retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but the speaker editorializes in a great many parts, drawing attention to society's expectations of women and the damage that this can do to women who are taught that beauty is their most important quality. Snow White is introduced as a "lovely virgin" who is just thirteen years old. Her stepmother, the queen, is also beautiful but "eaten . . . by age." This stepmother wants to be the most beautiful, and she routinely asks her magic mirror who the fairest woman in the kingdom is. When the mirror tells her that she is the most beautiful, "Pride pumped in her like poison." Only her beauty brings her this kind of pride.
One day, the mirror tells her that Snow White has become more beautiful than she, and the queen sees the signs of her age. She orders Snow White's death, but the hunter cannot kill Snow White (she is too beautiful and virginal) and brings the queen a boar's heart to eat instead. Snow White eventually finds a cottage belonging to seven dwarfs, and she goes to sleep there. The dwarfs marvel over the "sleeping virgin" and watch her wake up. They warn her about the queen, knowing she will try again to kill the beautiful girl. The queen does try, first with new laces for Snow White's corset, which she laces too tightly. She tries again, and Snow White falls for it, "the dumb bunny," eating the poisoned apple.
Snow White, however, is so beautiful that the dwarfs do not want to bury her, so they put her body in a glass coffin so that all can look upon her and her loveliness. A prince comes and and falls in love with Snow White—based solely upon her looks, mind you—and the dwarfs let him take her body away with him. When the prince's men stumble, the apple becomes dislodged, and Snow White awakens. Snow White and the prince invite the queen to their wedding, and she is made to dance in "red-hot iron shoes" as punishment for her attempts on Snow White's life. She is punished, then, for wanting to be the most beautiful in a society that only values women for their beauty. Snow White sits, looking like a doll, and "sometimes refer[s] to her mirror / as women do." It seems as though, then, that this is part of a vicious cycle. The queen ages and she is supplanted in beauty by a younger woman; that younger woman is taught to cherish her beauty as her most important quality (as it brought her love and friends); finally, it is implied that she will eventually age and be supplanted by a younger woman herself, only to continue the cycle.