The death of the witch within the fairy tale has been interpreted by scholars like Maria Tatar as the psychological purpose of the tale. Tatar sees the silencing of the witch as an attempt to silence the “sinful parts” of the self or of society in order to restore order. Indeed, the manner in which the witch dies at the end of the Snow White tales, provides great insight into society’s need to suppress the threat posed by the witch. In a way, the happy ever after seems to be possible only after the brutal end of the witch.
In the revisions of the Snow White tale, whether it be in European texts of the 19th and 20th centuries or more recently, the poem by Anne Sexton, the fate of the evil queen/ wicked stepmother/witch at the end, offers new understanding of the role of the witch and the position of women in society. Gilbert and Gubar have argued against “the acceptance and perpetuation of female repression” as Snow White is silenced, imprisoned and displayed in the casket, awaiting marriage and maternity. Many feminist revisions of the Snow White tale have focused on the “wicked stepmother’s” role in revising this usual trajectory as a way of opposing social mores.
More recently, attempts have been made to see Snow White’s desire for the forbidden apple as being comparable to that of the evil queen’s hunger. Both Snow White and the queen have been inextricably linked, thus questioning the dichotomy between the good woman and the bad woman.
Based on these changes in the portrayal of witches over the years, this assignment asks you to analyze the role of the witch in Grimm’s and/or Sexton’s version (or any of the others provided under readings) of Snow White and present a convincing argument about what the tale is trying to convey about witches and why.
The goal of this assignment is to teach you to engage in critical reading in order to identify the underlying themes of literary texts, and to understand the relevance of those themes in society.
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