‘Whistle while you work’: A comparative study of gender representation in ‘Little Snow White’ and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Cinnamone Winchester

Keywords

Snow White, Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney, animation, adaptation, feminism, gender, culture

Abstract

This article employs comparative methods to explore gender representation and the depiction of female innocence and sexuality in two iterations of the ‘Snow White’ fable: the 1812 Brothers Grimm fairytale ‘Little Snow White’, and Walt Disney’s 1937 screen adaptation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. By conducting literature-based research into the historical contexts of the texts, as well as into critical issues raised by adaptation, it will be made evident that both iterations clearly encourage traditional family values and call for women to take on a subservient role. This article argues that while Disney has more recently attempted to engage in a contemporary brand of ‘marketable’ feminism, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs followed in kind from the Brothers Grimm by depicting the character Snow White as a personification of nineteenth and twentieth-century ideals surrounding gendered domesticity. Her stepmother, on the other hand, represents ‘harmful’ female sexuality. The remaining dramatis personae—particularly the prince and the seven dwarfs—are the Queen’s narrative foils, reinforcing patriarchal supremacy and reflecting the sensibilities of their historical audiences. Ultimately, it may be concluded that the two adaptations reflect disjunctions between traditional audiences of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and contemporary liberal sensibilities concerning gender.

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