Walt Disney’s first animated princess classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the most recognizable and adored Disney films. Initially, the film appears to be merely the tale of a young woman who is ordered to be killed due to her extreme beauty. Once the huntsman attempts to complete his task, he is overcome by her appearance and is unable to terminate the life of such a beautiful young woman. Alone, Snow White runs off into the forest where she makes friends, lives with dwarfs and then is eventually saved by a prince. On the surface, the basic plot line seems to reinforce negative messages regarding the role of women; yet focusing on her relationship with the animals reveals more depth to the piece. In looking at her interactions with the creatures, Snow White clearly exemplifies many characteristics of an influential woman of the late 1930s.
In the film, the princess is closest to the friendly and approachable animals. These critters aid and follow Snow White all around the film and are the only lively characters that do their job and are also the ones always stay by her side. The deer, birds, turtles, and other forest friends consistently advocate for the princess while working for betterment of her situation. They are soft, fluffy, approachable, and hardworking, sharing many of Snow White’s characteristics. These animals are very timid and shy and initially untrusting when meeting strangers; however, once they warm up to an individual they are playful, sweet, and loyal. This is clearly seen with the seven dwarfs. When the animals first come in contact with them they are fearful and very protective of their princess. However, over time, they warm up to the little men and all live harmoniously. Snow White is similar to these creatures in that she too is initially wary of strangers but her pitfall is her trusting and kind hearted nature. This is clearly seen in the opening scenes of the work when she is singing and exuding joy while she completes her outdoor tasks. When she hears or sees the strange man (the prince) nearing, she initially hides and then cautiously warms up to the idea of interacting with him.
While Snow White may come across as a passive, quiet woman who allows men to run her life, she also possesses many qualities that make her a strong individual who is capable of self-determination. Snow White is abandoned in the woods and forced to fight for her survival. Unable to return to civilization for fear of losing her life, the princess knows she must be resourceful and instantly begins to advocate for herself. She finds the dwarfs’ cottage and uses her domestic skills to help the men and establish a refuge site. Immediately, she concludes that her skills are needed and would be helpful in their home and acts. The princess explores the home, organizes their belongings, and contributes her all. She is a fighter who knows she must act to achieve success. These attributes are further demonstrated through the presence of the animals in the piece.
The deer in the work have soft, warm eyes that are similar in shape to the princess’s. They move gracefully through the forest and walk with almost a bounce in their steps. The same characteristics are seen in Snow White as she elegantly floats across the land while walking, has beautiful, welcoming facial features, and is seen as a friendly creature. The birds have a high pitched chip that mirrors the tone of Snow White’s voice, and the miscellaneous other animals share her naivety in many situations, especially in regard to uncomfortable or foreign circumstances. This is clearly seen in the way the animals initially approach the cottage. Like Snow White, they are timid and slightly hesitant to enter the building. Once inside, the group shares confusion as they attempt to discover the inhabitants of the small, dirty home.
Snow White is kind, compassionate, and works to protect and take care of the dwarfs. She serves as an efficacious embodiment who relishes her moments in spite of any situation. This is seen in one of the most memorable and popular scenes from the film when Snow White is seen cleaning the cottage with the assistance of the animals. In this moment, she is doing undesirable and frustrating work in the eyes of many viewers, yet makes light of the situation by finding the silver lining in her situation. She understands her complete rejection from the kingdom and betters her position by establishing a role within the cottage. With the animals’ assistance, she keeps the mood light and quickly yet efficiently finishes all the household chores. This is important as it signifies that Snow White refuses to become a victim to her situation. Yes, she was almost murdered and forced to leave her life behind, but she refuses to let her traumatic experiences define her and instead monopolizes the situation to build relationships and improve her situation. She instantly decides to take matters into her own hands and create a future for herself.
The certainty that Snow White accomplishes housekeeping to begin with seems difficult as she is operating predominantly in a personal space. Although, with all things considered doing chores was awfully usual for women of that time, she clearly is perceived and intertwined with her occupation. Yes, she primarily takes care of traditional tasks but she has a self-starting attitude and work ethic that is admirable and progressive in nature. The animals also share her enthusiasm for household work and share her work ethic. Their eyes impersonate those of the princess and one can simply extract a connection between the two groups. The animals share in her love and compassion for the dwarfs and also advocate for the betterment of the princess’ situation when the evil queen attempts to kill the young woman. The princess is immensely competent and her household capacities are overall astounding; Snow White will profitably lead and generate a positive world.
Due to the era in which the film was made, many of the ideas in this piece may be seen as repressive or in support of a male-dominated society (Leuke, 2014). However, one must also consider that the evil queen is a woman and that she is in a position of ultimate power. Women typically did not hold positions of power in the public sphere and this presence is remarkable, despite the negative connotations associated, and makes a statement about how women in fact can hold positions of power. Also, in the 1930s, Snow White’s positive, hardworking spirit would have been seen as extremely inspirational and even somewhat progressive for this period of time. She picks herself up when times get tough and makes the best of her personal situation. Her perseverance and willingness to work to find a place for survival make her admirable and strong. Snow White, the tale of a beautiful and kind hearted princess may at first appear to be a dated and passive representation of women. Though, upon closer observation, gradual inclinations may simply be originated from the princess’s portrayal. Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario constructs this examination stating, “Behind the poor costume, Snow White is a 1920’s/30’s celebrity with a generic woman haircut, posy mouth, and a loud whistle She matures in the Depression and is happy to pitch in with the working class dwarves in a time of high unemployment and poverty until she is found once again by her prince,” (38) (Do Rozario, 2004). The flapper was the new breed of young Western women in their roaring 20’s who was on the innovative fashion that seized a heretic youth, and provoked to propel gender role stereotypes through fearless outfit choices and common communal manners. The certainty that the visible attributes of Snow White bear a resemblance to the modern women of this time gives the feeling of development and continuous change. Yes, she still fills many of the stereotypical attributes of repressed women, but she also is a clear and important representation of strength and independence. Her hardworking attitude, self-starting drive, and willingness to see the best in any situation resemble that of a woman attempting to navigate and survive the Great Depression. Because Snow White possesses all of these characteristics it easily may be concluded that she in fact advocates for gender equality and freedom as she is a cutting edge representation of a woman of her time.