Honoring the Heroine: Snow White

Welcome to Fairy Tale month – and this time we tackle the Fairy Tale I had originally planned the previous year. So there she is, the last of the more “classic” princesses. Snow White is not just the “one which started if all”, it is also changed the way her story is told forever. Therefore, I will today discuss Snow White and what influenced this adaptation, next week I will tackle a German adaptation to show how it differs from Disney’s version but also how it got influenced by it, and finally I will tackle a modern take on the story. If you want me to to discuss a specific adaptation, now is the time to nominate it, I might add it to the list.


Now, Snow White is one of those properties, which has inspired film makers pretty much from the get go. Walt Disney himself was fascinated by the story because he saw the adaptation of 1916. Which I recommend, btw. The movie is kind of hilarious in that it has Snow White slaving away in the kitchen due to the order of the queen, but she also has maid of honours which attend her and is treated by everyone like a princess, even when she is standing there in rags while everyone else is wearing court dresses. Overall, I can see why Walt Disney liked it. So, if you are open-minded enough for silent movies, you might want to check it out.

Disney’s take on the story is very emotional. That is truly the best way to describe it. Nowadays movies are all about character development or themes, but early Disney movies, they were all about emotions. It didn’t matter why Snow White ended up in the woods or why she “died”, what mattered was that the audience would feel her fear and would bawl out their eyes over her. Even the romance is sold entirely through visuals combined with “One Song”. It is a clever use of codified romantic tropes, leading to there being no doubt that the connection between Snow White and the Prince being special, even though neither the audience nor Snow White herself actually knows anything about said Prince. It doesn’t really matter, though, because the movie suggests that those emotions are real, and unless you are approaching the story with an entirely cynical mind-set, it will be taken as a given. Especially since the romance is not really the centre of the story.


But before I discuss Snow White herself, I have to acknowledge that there are aspects of her story which can be considered problematic. Partly because the movie is a product of its time. The gender roles of the characters are very, well, traditional. Snow White is the damsel in distress. The prince is her shining knight. The dwarves alternate between father figures and man children Snow White has to take care of.

Snow-White-9-Full-bodyThere is also an issue with the meta level of the story. There are religious undertones in it, which are unusual for Disney – and I am not just talking about the fact that Snow White actually prays during the movie. I am talking about the way how the Evil Queen meets her demise. She is not killed by the dwarves or by making a mistake, instead there in heavenly intervention in form of lightning striking suddenly, which results in her falling to her death and then, for good measures, being smashed by a giant rock and left for vultures to devour. Her wickedness is literally punished by the heavens, while Show White’s virtues are rewarded.

I am still ready to defend both the movie and the character, because they present something, we have nowadays forgotten to appreciate: Kindness. That is the actual core of the story, the value of kindness and how it reaps its own rewards.  Description-Snow-White

Snow White’s beauty isn’t just based on looks. It is based on her being such a caring person. The one thing Snow White is seeking in her movie is love. Not just love by the prince, she also wants that Grumpy likes her. Snow White is friendly to everyone, and this friendliness serves as her protection. Because she is so innocent and loving, it is impossible for the Hunter to follow his orders to kill her. Because she is ist still friendly to the animals when she is at her lowest point, alone and afraid in the woods, they are ready to show her the way to the dwarves’ home. And while the main reason why the dwarves don’t kill her is that even asleep she just looks too innocent to do so, the reason why they allow her to stay and become fiercely protective of her is because she offers her skills in exchange. As I already pointed out, this is a very traditional arrangement, but it would be incorrect to claim that Snow White is completely helpless.


In a way Snow White is heroic exactly because she isn’t particularly brave or cunning. Her panic when she is alone in the forrest for the first time (btw, forrests were a way more dangerous place in the past than they are nowadays) is something a lot of people would experience when put in a potentially threatening situation. We all feel insecure and afraid when we are confronted with an unfamiliar situation. But Snow White is eventually able to pull herself together and look for a solution. Yes, she gets help finding said solution, but she wouldn’t get said help if she weren’t able to eventually overcome her fear, calm down, and recognize that there is no direct danger to her.

I said above that the romance isn’t really the focus of the story. That would be the relationship between Snow White and the dwarves, especially Snow White and Grumpy. While Snow White takes over the house wife duties for the dwarves, it is more her taking charge than acting as some sort of servant. And her interaction with Grumpy is pretty much a battle of wills, in which she slowly breaks down the barriers he has built around himself by basically ignoring how grumpy he acts.

Though the movie also clarifies that kindness alone is no protection from danger, that sometimes a healthy dose of distrust is needed. While one can’t really fault Snow White for believing in the wishing apple – after all, the wishing well has worked perfectly for her – if someone is so insistent on you eating an apple, it might be a better idea to not do it, no matter what is promised. This is both the beauty and the problem with Snow White’s character: If all people in the world were like Snow White, kind, understanding, and ready to look past appearances, we would life in a paradise. But since we don’t, she represents an unreachable ideal. We can’t be as trusting as she is, even though we maybe should be. It is still an ideal worthy of admiration.


We are living in a time in which cynicism is often celebrated, and kindness is scorned as stupidity. Some would even argue that too much kindness is a good way to support your own suppression. There is certainly some truth in this. The kind and caring woman as ideal can become quite toxic if it is used to pressure women into untenable situations. At the same time, I do consider kindness a good virtue to teach, to both girls and boys. And hence I will always be ready to defend Snow White.

I wouln’t say that Disney’s take on the character is necessarily the best one out there. But it was certainly a good start.

Quote: “Come on, perk up. Won’t you smile for me?”

I think that this movie is required watching for every film fan. While it wasn’t the first movie-length animated feature by a long shot, it was the first one which used this style of animation, which then dominated the 20th century. But it is also very different from most movies which are made nowadays due to its emphasis on the emotional experience over everything else. I somewhat miss this kind of movie.









8 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Snow White

  1. I’ve always loved the character of Snow White and think she gets unfair criticism from Disney fans, so I’m always ready to defend her as well. I will say though, that one great improvement Disney’s version has over the original story is Snow White’s age. Her being 7 years old makes no sense. No one would ever compare a child’s beauty to a grown woman’s – it’s like apples and oranges. A child is beautiful in a cute, little-girl way, whereas a grown woman is beautiful in a mature, sexy way. You would never put a 7-year-old and an adult woman in the SAME beauty pageant, for example. It’s just such a weird comparison. That’s why I think it makes much more sense for Snow White to be older, a girl just at the point of entering womanhood (in my mind, she’s 16 or 17 not 14). I think THAT’S when her beauty would become an actual threat to the Queen, something to be jealous of, because that’s the age when her beauty would start to attract the attention of men. It just makes more sense to me.

    • Well, Snow White is most likely based (very loosely) on a true story, but I guess the age is mostly about he general obsession of the fairy tale with numbers…three and seven being the ones which turn up constantly.

  2. Nice article! Not that I ever would consider Snow White to be my favorite Disney princess, it is important to remember her good qualities. Yeah yeah, people will never stop complaining about Snow cleaning up after seven men. But when does this story take place again? Everybody was expected to conform to traditional gender for a long time, including a big part of the 20th century. And she did get a job, despite being a naive fourteen-year-old. Ö

    • Well, the movie is shown to children today, so one has to consider that, too. But since it comes in tandem with more modern Disney movies, I think the good aspects outweight the bad ones.

  3. I recommend this video to you, it explains exactly what I feel for Snow White as well as for her film, in short I can say that she is still one of the best Disney characters to date, if you watch it you can tell me do you agree or disagree?

    • That was an excellent watch. Thank you for the link.
      “The Best” is a loaded title. I don’t think that any Disney Princess is necessarily the best. But I pretty much appreciate about Snow White the same things mentioned in the video. My blog just as a little different focus. Thus said, I never doubted that Disney’s Snow White WOULD get an article. There are other princesses which I might skip, because I know that I would never end up with a positive article when I would really discuss their merits.

      • exactly, some of them did not have a possible final result, but it can be said that most of them were very well written. Something in the story intrigued me, as soon as I read about the necessary mistrust towards others, I remembered the movie Raya and the last dragon, it seems that the message he wants to pass on is exactly the opposite of that, mistrust will always cause the end of the world even if you suspect someone who has never given you reason to trust, I didn’t like the message in that movie, did you watch it?

      • No, not yet. I will eventually, but I am still sitting in lockdown over here in Germany and I am not ready to pay extra for something I can experience in a few months for free. I actually don’t want to know anything about Raya beforehand, I want to judge it without prior influences.

        Thus said, the mistrust against others wouldn’t be necessary if all people were like Snow white 😉

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