The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Like Anne Sexton’s other fairy-tale poems collected under the title Transformations, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a long (164 lines), free-verse narrative based on the version of the Snow White tale collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in Germany in the nineteenth century. The darkness and violence of this version may surprise readers who are accustomed to fairy tales that have been sanitized to make them suitable for children, but although Sexton has established a very modern voice in this and the other Transformations poems, she remains faithful to the action that the Grimm brothers recorded.

In “The Gold Key,” the comparatively short poem that introduces the collection, the poet speaks of herself as a “middle-aged witch” with her “mouth wide,” ready to tell readers “a story or two.” The “witch” then imagines a sixteen-year-old boy who “wants some answers.” He is really each of the readers, the witch says, suggesting that the answers are to be found in the tales of transformation recorded by the Grimm brothers. In that introduction, Sexton is explaining why adult readers should pay attention to the sort of story usually considered to be children’s entertainment; she implies that these stories have important meanings.

In “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Sexton begins with a verse paragraph that describes the character of the virgin in fairy tales; the virgin is not only pure but...

(The entire section is 517 words.)