lørdag, mars 08, 2008

Den onde dronningen

Queen: O.E. cwen "queen, female ruler of a state, woman, wife," from P.Gmc. *kwoeniz, ablaut variant of *kwenon (source of quean), from PIE *gwen- "woman, wife" supposedly originally "honored woman"

Quean: "young, robust woman," O.E. cwene "woman," also "female serf, hussy, prostitute" (cf. portcwene "public woman"), from P.Gmc. *kwenon (cf. O.S. quan, O.H.G. quena, O.N. kona, Goth. qino "wife, woman");

A slut, or worthless woman, a strumpet. (The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, by Francis Grose.)

The story begins in midwinter, with a Queen sitting and sewing, framed by a window. As in so many fairy tales, she pricks her finger, bleeds, and is thereby assumed into the cycle of sexuality, giving birth "soon after", to a daughter, "as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window frame".

The real story begins when the Queen, having become a mother, metamorphoses also into a witch, - that is, into a wicked step mother: "... when the child was born, the Queen died, and "After a year had passed the King took to himself another wife".

The Queen's husband and Snow White's father never actually appears in this story at all, a fact that emphasizes the almost stifling intensity with which the tale concentrates on the conflict in the mirror between mother and daughter, woman and woman, self and self. At the same time, though, there is clearly at least one way in which the King is present.

His, surely, is the voice of the looking glass, the patriarchal voice of judgement that rules the Queen's - and every woman's - self-evaluation. He it is who decides, first, that his consort is "the fairest of all", and then as she becomes maddened, rebellious, witchlike, that she must be replaced by his angelically innocent daughter, a girl who is therefore defined as "more beautiful still" than the Queen.

But if Snow White is "really" the daughter of the second as well as the first Queen (i.e if the two Queens are identical), why does the Queen hate her so much? The traditional explanation - that the mother is threatened by her daughter's "budding sexuality" as the daughter is by the mother's "possession" of the father - is helpful, but does not seem entirely adequate, considering the depth and ferocity of the Queen's rage. It is true of course, that in the patriarchal Kingdom of the text these women inhabit the Queen's life can literally be imperiled by her daughter's beauty, and true that, given the female vulnerability such perils imply, female bonding is extraordinary difficult in patriarchy: women almost inevitably turn against each other.

An angel in the house of myth, Snow White is not only a child but (as female angels always are) childlike, docile, submissive, the heroine of a life that has no story. But the Queen, adult and demonic, plainly wants a life of “significant action”, by definition an “unfeminine” life of stories and story-telling. And therefore, to the extent that Snow White, as her daughter, is a part of herself, she wants to kill the Snow White in herself.


The first death plot the Queen invents is a naively straight forward murder story, she commands one of her huntsmen to kill Snow White. But the huntsman is really a surrogate for the King, a parental figure "who dominates, controls, and subdues wild, ferocious beasts". In a sense then, the Queen has foolishly asked her patriarchal master to act for her in doing the subversive deed she wants to do in part to retain power over him and in part to steal his power from him. Obviously he will not do this. As patriarchy's angelic daughter, Snow White is after all, his child, and he must save her.

Hence he kills a wild boar in her stead, and brings its lung and liver to the Queen as proof he has murdered the child. Thinking that she is devouring her ice-pure enemy, therefore, the Queen consumes, instead, the wild boar's organs; that is symbolically speaking, she devours her own beastly rage, and becomes of course even more enraged.

Certainly when the kindly huntsman-father saved her life by abandoning her in the forest at the edge of his kingdom, Snow White discovered her own powerlessness. Though she had been allowed to live because she was a "good" girl, she had to find her own devious way of resisting the onslaughts of the maddened Queen.

The seven dwarfs probably represents her own, dwarfed powers, her stunted selfhood, for they can do as little to help save the girl from the Queen. Her life with them is an important part of her education in submissive femininity, for in serving them she learns valuable lessons of service, of selflessness, of domesticity. That Snow White is a house keeping angel in a tiny house conveys the story's attitude towards woman's work: the realm of domesticity is a miniaturized kingdom in which the best of women is not only like a dwarf, but like a dwarf's servant.


After the Queen's artfulness has killed Snow White into art, the girl becomes if anything more dangerous to her "step" mother's autonomy than she was before.

For, dead and self-less in her glass coffin, she is an object, to be displayed and desired, patriarchy's marble opus, the decorative and decorous Galatea with whom every ruler would like to grace his parlor. Thus, when the Prince first sees Snow White in her coffin, he begs the dwarves to give "it" to him as a gift, "for I cannot live without seeing Snow White. I will honor and prize her as my dearest possession". An "it", a possession, Snow White has definitively proven herself to be patriarchy's ideal woman, the perfect candidate for Queen. The fairest in the land, she will marry the most powerful in the land.

What does the future hold for Snow White, however? When her Prince becomes King and she becomes Queen, what will her life be like? Trained to domesticity by her dwarf instructors, will she sit in the window, gazing out on the wild forest of her past, and sigh, and sew, and prick her finger, and conceive a child white as snow, red as blood, black as ebony wood? Surely, fairest of them all, Snow White has exchanged one glass coffin for another, delivered from the prison where the Queen put her only to be imprisoned in the looking glass from which the King's voice speaks daily. There is, after all, no female model for her in this tale except the "good" (dead) mother and her living avatar the "bad" mother.

-Fra The Madwoman in the Attic, av Gilbert & Gubar