Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421

This poem critiques society for valuing women based on their beauty and purity and fragility rather than on their experience, wisdom, or creativity. Further, the poem seems to claim that such a system of valuation compels women only to consider their beauty in an attempt to remain valued by society, creating conflicts among women as they vie for position as the most beautiful. Society, then, pits women against one another. If and when women attempt to eliminate their competition, they are punished for their brutality, and the cycle continues, unabated.

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The speaker compares the pride the queen feels in her appearance to “poison” via a simile that ends the second group of lines. Such pride in her beauty is like a poison because society tells older women that they are not as beautiful as younger women. The queen sees the brown spots developing on her skin, the whiskers growing on her face, and her mirror tells her that she is no longer the fairest woman in the kingdom. Having learned to believe that all her value is linked to her beauty, the queen determines that she must rid herself of Snow White so that she will not be supplanted. When her hunter fails her, she tries to kill the girl herself, eventually seeming to succeed.

However, when Snow White does awaken from her apparent deathlike slumber, she is immediately married to the prince who has fallen in love with her only because of her appearance. He had been sitting with her dead body for so long, admiring her beauty, that his hair actually changed color. As a result, Snow White learns that her beauty is what makes her valuable: the prince didn’t grow to love her for her mind or her heart but, rather, her looks. The prince and Snow White invite the queen to their wedding and punish her, torturing her to death. In other words, the queen is punished for trying to be the most beautiful by a society that has taught her that, if she is not the most beautiful, then she has no value.

Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror
as women do.

Thus, the cycle will continue. Snow White has learned that her value lies in her beauty, and so she checks it in her mirror. Presumably she is also beginning to internalize society’s standards, at the ripe old age of thirteen, and she may very well end up like her stepmother someday.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517

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...

(The entire section contains 1429 words.)

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