Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The first character we meet in the poem is Snow White, a “lovely virgin” who is thirteen years old. She has blue eyes, like a china doll, and white skin, and she is very beautiful. She is pure and “unsoiled.” When she grows to be more beautiful than her stepmother, her stepmother orders her death, but the would-be killer, a hunter, lets Snow White go. She escapes into the forest and finds a cottage that belongs to the seven dwarfs; when they find her asleep there, they allow her to stay in exchange for housework. Despite their warnings, she is tricked by her stepmother, first with bodice laces that the older woman ties too tightly, causing Snow White to fall unconscious, then with a poisoned comb that again causes Snow White to faint, and finally with a poisoned apple that causes her to fall into a slumber from which she cannot be awakened. The speaker calls her a “dumb bunny” as a result of her gullibility and credulousness. The dwarfs don’t want to bury her and hide her great beauty under the earth, so they put her in a glass coffin on display. When a prince falls in love with her apparently lifeless, but still beautiful, body, the dwarfs allow him to take her home. When the apple becomes dislodged from Snow White’s throat, she awakens, marries the prince, and quickly grows attached to her mirror.
Snow White’s stepmother, the queen, takes great pride in her appearance, such that the “Pride pumped in her like poison.” She feels that her only value lies in her beauty, and as she is “eaten . . . by age,” her beauty diminishes so that she is supplanted as the “fairest” by her stepdaughter, Snow White. She plots to kill her stepdaughter so that she can resume her superiority. However, she is ultimately punished terribly for her attempts on Snow White’s life, forced to dance in “red-hot iron shoes” until she fries “upward like a frog.”
The Seven Dwarfs
The “wise” seven dwarfs take Snow White into their home, and they give her room and board while she does the housework. They warn her that her stepmother will come after her and revive her the first two times that the queen succeeds in causing Snow White to fall unconscious. The dwarfs prize Snow White’s beauty and place her in a glass coffin after she eats the poisoned apple so that everyone can “peek” in at her.
The prince grows enamored of Snow White after her seeming death, as he can see her beautiful unconscious body through the glass of her coffin. In the end, he marries her and punishes her stepmother.