Anne Sexton transforms the well-known fairytale Snow White into a sardonic piece of writing that reflects societal perceptions of the woman. In her poem she explores the idea that a woman is nothing more than a doll, something that sits pretty on a shelf for all to admire. She also describes the reliance on men, and how women are becoming dependent and incompetent. She counteracts this with a women’s intelligence compared to her beauty and vanity, and what a woman should be. She explores the idea of beauty and vanity going hand in hand, meaning that even princesses can be vain. Fairytales aren’t real, and they are overrated- happily ever after does not exist, especially for those who aren’t beautiful.
All fairytales have a female antagonist, and one that is usually a princess. Snow White is sexualized as the virgin.
Good Day Mama, and shut for the thrust of the unicorn.
She is unsoiled.
She is as white as a bonefish. (9-13)
This text explains that she innocent and untouched. All that matters to a prince is that she is beautiful and a virgin. A brand new doll with porcelain skin and glassy eyes.
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. (3-7)
Sexton compares Snow White to a doll because she is merely an object for ones admiration and love. She is to be pampered and taken care of in return of sitting pretty on the shelf, to be admired. Beauty and vanity play the two-sided coin in this poem, you can’t have one without the other. The queen epitomizes vanity, when she asks the mirror who is the fairest of the land. When the reply is Snow White, she is outraged. Being the most beautiful person in the land is what the queen desires. She craves the attention because beauty is so valued, and Sexton makes that clear. If Snow White or the Queen weren’t beautiful, would anyone ever notice them? Sexton says, “Beauty is a simple passion.”
Meaning everyone desires beauty, so those who have it are more noticed. Because Snow White is beautiful, both the prince and the dwarves value her. But with beauty comes vanity, and that is something that Sexton believes in. She believes women should be active and intelligent; beauty is just a façade that relieves women of reaching their full potential. If a woman is beautiful, she can be just as successful as a smart woman without doing all the work because she can rely on men. Any man will want a beautiful wife that does not interfere with his matters. This is what the prince seeks, and finds when he falls in love with Snow White only for her beauty.
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.
Sexton believes all women should work to be smart, and beauty is no reason not to achieve that. Snow White is unintelligent because she keeps opening the door to the queen even when the dwarfs urge her not too. Her unintelligence is linked to her reliance on a man because she ends up in the happily-ever-after position as the wife of a prince even though she did nothing to deserve it. But what Sexton is trying to show us at the end of the poem that Snow White is now obsessed with herself and her status, and that she will one day be the queen that tries to kill the next young beauty. Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror
as women do.
The fairytale ending is fictional. The world isn’t Prince Charmings, beautiful princesses, and evil queens that always lose. ‘The End’ isn’t ever the end because it’s a cycle of innocence, beauty, vanity, and then ultimately envy. Beautiful women are nothing more than an item; they rely on men and are not intelligent. They are envious, and full of vanity. The perfect women doesn’t exist, and there will never be a happily ever after.