'Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs' by Anne Sexton

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No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.
Open to say,
Good Day Mama,
and shut for the thrust
of the unicorn.
She is unsoiled.
She is as white as a bonefish.Once there was a lovely virgin
called Snow White.
Say she was thirteen.
Her stepmother,
a beauty in her own right,
though eaten, of course, by age,
would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.
Beauty is a simple passion,
but, oh my friends, in the end
you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes.
The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred--
something like the weather forecast--
a mirror that proclaimed
the one beauty of the land.
She would ask,
Looking glass upon the wall,
who is fairest of us all?
And the mirror would reply,
You are the fairest of us all.
Pride pumped in her like poison.Suddenly one day the mirror replied,
Queen, you are full fair, 'tis true,
but Snow White is fairer than you.
Until that moment Snow White
had been no more important
than a dust mouse under the bed.
But now the queen saw brown spots on her hand
and four whiskers over her lip
so she condemned Snow White
to be hacked to death.
Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter,
and I will salt it and eat it.
The hunter, however, let his prisoner go
and brought a boar's heart back to the castle.
The queen chewed it up like a cube steak.
Now I am fairest, she said,
lapping her slim white fingers.Snow White walked in the wildwood
for weeks and weeks.
At each turn there were twenty doorways
and at each stood a hungry wolf,
his tongue lolling out like a worm.
The birds called out lewdly,
talking like pink parrots,
and the snakes hung down in loops,
each a noose for her sweet white neck.
On the seventh week
she came to the seventh mountain
and there she found the dwarf house.
It was as droll as a honeymoon cottage
and completely equipped with
seven beds, seven chairs, seven forks
and seven chamber pots.
Snow White ate seven chicken livers
and lay down, at last, to sleep.The dwarfs, those little hot dogs,
walked three times around Snow White,
the sleeping virgin. They were wise
and wattled like small czars.
Yes. It's a good omen,
they said, and will bring us luck.
They stood on tiptoes to watch
Snow White wake up. She told them
about the mirror and the killer-queen
and they asked her to stay and keep house.
Beware of your stepmother,
they said.
Soon she will know you are here.
While we are away in the mines
during the day, you must not
open the door.Looking glass upon the wall . . .
The mirror told
and so the queen dressed herself in rags
and went out like a peddler to trap Snow White.
She went across seven mountains.
She came to the dwarf house
and Snow White opened the door
and bought a bit of lacing.
The queen fastened it tightly
around her bodice,
as tight as an Ace bandage,
so tight that Snow White swooned.
She lay on the floor, a plucked daisy.
When the dwarfs came home they undid the lace
and she revived miraculously.
She was as full of life as soda pop.
Beware of your stepmother,
they said.
She will try once more.Snow White, the dumb bunny,
opened the door
and she bit into a poison apple
and fell down for the final time.
When the dwarfs returned
they undid her bodice,
they looked for a comb,
but it did no good.
Though they washed her with wine
and rubbed her with butter
it was to no avail.
She lay as still as a gold piece.The seven dwarfs could not bring themselves
to bury her in the black ground
so they made a glass coffin
and set it upon the seventh mountain
so that all who passed by
could peek in upon her beauty.
A prince came one June day
and would not budge.
He stayed so long his hair turned green
and still he would not leave.
The dwarfs took pity upon him
and gave him the glass Snow White--
its doll's eyes shut forever--
to keep in his far-off castle.
As the prince's men carried the coffin
they stumbled and dropped it
and the chunk of apple flew out
of her throat and she woke up miraculously.And thus Snow White became the prince's bride.
The wicked queen was invited to the wedding feast
and when she arrived there were
red-hot iron shoes,
in the manner of red-hot roller skates,
clamped upon her feet.
First your toes will smoke
and then your heels will turn black
and you will fry upward like a frog,
she was told.
And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure,
her tongue flicking in and out
like a gas jet.
Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror
as women do.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs: A Dark and Twisted Retelling

As someone who has grown up reading fairy tales, the story of Snow White has always held a special place in my heart. So when I stumbled upon Anne Sexton's retelling of this classic tale, I was both intrigued and apprehensive. But as I delved deeper into the poem, I found myself getting lost in the vivid imagery and the hauntingly beautiful language. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, I will be exploring Sexton's Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, analyzing the themes, symbols, and literary techniques used in the poem, and providing my own interpretation of this dark and twisted retelling.

The Themes

At its core, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is a poem about the harmful effects of patriarchy and the search for identity and self-discovery. Sexton takes the familiar fairy-tale tropes and twists them to create a compelling narrative that subverts the traditional gender roles, presenting the female characters as complex and multifaceted, and the male characters as oppressive and controlling.

The poem opens with the image of Snow White "in the midst of winter" (line 1), which serves as a metaphor for her loss of innocence and her descent into darkness. Snow White's innocence is further emphasized when Sexton writes, "her skin was as white as snow, as red as a rose, as black as ebony" (lines 3-4), highlighting her purity and beauty.

However, Snow White's beauty becomes both a blessing and a curse when her stepmother, the Queen, becomes jealous of her and orders her execution. This jealousy is rooted in the Queen's fear of aging and losing her power, which is tied to her physical appearance. The poem suggests that in a patriarchal society, women's worth is often determined by their beauty and youth, and this leads to a toxic and competitive relationship between women.

The theme of identity and self-discovery is also explored in the poem, as Snow White goes through a journey of transformation and growth. After being rescued by the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White is forced to confront her own mortality and face the reality of her situation. She is no longer a princess but a fugitive, and she must learn to survive in the wilderness and rely on her own strength and cunning.

As Snow White spends more time with the Dwarfs, she begins to discover her own desires and needs, and she starts to assert herself more. This is shown when she refuses to marry the Prince and declares, "I have no wish to go to the ball, / I will stay beside my stove" (lines 98-99), indicating her desire for independence and autonomy.

The Symbols

Throughout the poem, Sexton uses a variety of symbols to convey her themes and ideas. One of the most prominent symbols is the mirror, which represents the Queen's obsession with her own beauty and her fear of aging. The mirror is personified and given a voice, which adds to the eerie and unsettling atmosphere of the poem.

The apple is another symbol that is used to great effect in the poem. In the traditional version of the Snow White story, the apple is a symbol of temptation and forbidden knowledge. However, in Sexton's retelling, the apple is a symbol of agency and empowerment. Snow White chooses to eat the apple, knowing that it will bring her death but also freedom from the Queen's tyranny.

The forest is also a symbol that is used to represent the unknown and the dangerous. Snow White is lost in the forest after being chased by the Queen's henchman, and this symbolizes her journey into the unknown and her search for identity. The forest is a place of danger and uncertainty, but it is also a place of transformation and growth.

The Literary Techniques

Sexton's use of language and literary techniques is one of the strengths of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. The poem is written in free verse, which allows Sexton to experiment with form and structure. The lack of a set rhyme scheme or meter gives the poem a sense of fluidity and unpredictability, which matches the tone of the story.

Sexton also uses a variety of literary devices, such as allusion, metaphor, and personification, to create a rich and layered narrative. For example, the use of personification in the mirror gives it a sinister and malevolent quality, and the metaphor of Snow White's skin as "black as ebony" highlights the darkness and danger that surrounds her.

The use of repetition is another technique that is used to great effect in the poem. The repetition of the phrase "Snow White" throughout the poem serves to reinforce her identity and the central role that she plays in the story. The repetition of the word "mirror" also emphasizes its importance and significance.

My Interpretation

As someone who has always been drawn to dark and twisted stories, I found Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs to be a compelling and thought-provoking retelling of the classic fairy tale. Sexton's use of language and imagery creates a vivid and unsettling world, and her exploration of themes such as identity and patriarchy is both relevant and timeless.

To me, the poem is a commentary on the harmful effects of patriarchy and the importance of self-discovery and agency. Snow White's journey from a passive and obedient princess to a strong and independent woman is a powerful testament to the transformative power of adversity and struggle.

Overall, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs is a haunting and beautiful poem that offers a fresh and unique perspective on a familiar story. Sexton's mastery of language and literary techniques is evident throughout the poem, and her exploration of complex themes and ideas is both nuanced and insightful. I highly recommend this poem to anyone who enjoys dark and thought-provoking literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a classic fairy tale that has been retold in various forms over the years. However, Anne Sexton's version of the story, in the form of a poem, is a unique and powerful interpretation that delves deeper into the psychological and emotional aspects of the tale.

The poem begins with the familiar lines, "Once there was a lovely / princess / who was fair as the sun / and her hair was black as ebony." However, Sexton quickly deviates from the traditional storyline by introducing the concept of the princess's mother being dead, and her father being absent. This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is much darker and more introspective than the original fairy tale.

Sexton's Snow White is not just a beautiful and innocent princess, but a complex and troubled character. She is haunted by the memory of her dead mother, and her father's absence only adds to her sense of loneliness and isolation. The poem explores Snow White's inner turmoil and her struggle to find her place in the world.

The seven dwarfs, who are usually portrayed as comical and endearing characters, are given a more sinister and ominous presence in Sexton's poem. They are described as "seven little killers" who "hacked and chopped / the trees down to size / with their seven little axes." This imagery creates a sense of foreboding and danger, and suggests that Snow White is not safe in their company.

The poem also introduces the character of the prince, who is usually portrayed as a heroic figure in the traditional fairy tale. However, in Sexton's version, the prince is a flawed and troubled character, much like Snow White herself. He is described as "a man with a heart like a flea," and his love for Snow White is portrayed as obsessive and possessive.

The relationship between Snow White and the prince is a central theme in the poem, and it is explored in great detail. Sexton portrays their love as a destructive force that threatens to consume them both. Snow White is torn between her desire for the prince and her fear of him, and the prince's love for her is portrayed as a dangerous obsession that ultimately leads to his downfall.

The poem also explores themes of jealousy and envy, which are central to the traditional fairy tale. However, Sexton's interpretation of these themes is much more nuanced and complex. The jealousy and envy that the evil queen feels towards Snow White are not just the result of her beauty, but also of her inner strength and resilience. Snow White is portrayed as a powerful and independent character, who is able to overcome the obstacles that are placed in her path.

Overall, Anne Sexton's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a powerful and thought-provoking interpretation of the classic fairy tale. It explores themes of loneliness, isolation, love, and obsession, and presents a much darker and more complex version of the story than the traditional fairy tale. The poem is a testament to Sexton's skill as a writer, and her ability to take a familiar story and turn it into something new and original.

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