Snow White is actually an ancient fairy tale, which was documented by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. It has variations in other cultures, but the most well-known version today is probably the Disney version.
Many fairy tales appear to be a simple children’s story on the surface, but there are messages, morals, and symbolism contained within the story. A closer look at Snow White will reveal some messages you may not have noticed before. Much of the symbolism has a Christian basis and there are several parallels with the stories in the Bible. Other aspects of the symbolism are tied to common plot lines in traditional fairy tales.
The colors White, Red and Black:
The colors introduced at the beginning of the story (skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony) provide a direct indication that Snow White is a “coming of age” story. White represents innocence (birth), red represents life and passion, while black represents death. Snow White’s story begins with Snow White being a young girl in the original versions and a rather naive young woman in the Disney version (the white phase). She experiences maturity through the movie (the red phase) and experiences death (in her dream state, the black phase).
The absence of the biological mother makes it possible for the narrators to introduce the role of the evil stepmother. The evil stepmother is a common element of many fairy tales: Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel. The lack of a mother is also common, because if a mother were present, the series of events would not unfold as they do in stories where there is no maternal influence. People have often accused Walt Disney of being a proponent of motherless stories (it’s true that many Disney movies don’t have mothers), but Disney recreated classic stories where the death of the mother was already part of the story’s development. . This element of the narrative is meant to garner sympathy from the readers and it does so very well.
The poison apple:
This would seem to point all the way back to the biblical reference to the apple that the serpent (evil/Satan) offered to Eve. The evil queen offers Snow White the apple in the same way. Snow White knows that she shouldn’t talk to strangers, but she does anyway and she pays for that mistake by falling under the spell herself.
The meaning of seven:
The number seven was used many times in the Bible to signify perfection. The book of Revelation contains numerous groups of sevens such as angels, churches, trumpets, crowns, mountains, stars, and kings. It is one of the most significant numbers in Christianity in the sense that “God created the world in seven days”, or rather, he created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
The names of the dwarfs:
Some people have thought of correlating the seven dwarfs with the seven deadly sins, but that correlation doesn’t hold up. In the Grimm version of Snow White, the seven dwarfs are nameless. In Disney’s version of Snow White, the dwarfs have names, but those names were chosen from sixty possible names and do not correspond to the seven deadly sins. The names of the seven dwarfs are: Silly, Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Shy, Sneezy and Sleepy. These names are more aptly “the seven moods of man” rather than sins.
The seven capital sins:
The Seven Deadly Sins are represented in the Snow White story, but not in the form of the seven dwarfs.
Pride/Vanity: Clearly the Evil Queen’s vanity. The mirror is clearly a direct reference to vanity.
Lust/Extravagance: Again, the Queen as royalty is extravagant.
Gluttony: The seven dwarfs eating (perhaps a stretch). Or in the original tale, the Queen eats Snow White’s heart.
Greed: The Queen Again
Sloth: Originally it meant sadness, melancholy, apathy, depression and lack of joy that would distract attention from God. This applies to the dwarfs after Snow White’s death, and laziness in the form of carelessness certainly applies to the seven dwarfs in their way of running the house.
Anger: The seven dwarfs’ anger at the witch after discovering Snow White dead.
Envy: The Queen (again)
The seven deadly sins have opposites in the seven holy virtues: Humility, Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness. These are all characteristics of Snow White.
Snow White “dies” and comes back to life. This certainly parallels the death and resurrection of Jesus from the Bible.
The part of the story where Snow White demands that the dwarfs wash themselves could be related to the cleanliness of baptism. After the dwarfs have washed, they turn into people who seem to have a new purpose in life, except for Grumpy, who protests more. However, Grumpy undergoes a transformation throughout the film, from a skeptical dwarf to one very devoted to Snow White.
The work ethic:
Snow White cleans the house without being asked and cooks without being asked. The seven dwarfs are also hard at work in the mines (Hey Ho…).
These are some of the most visible symbols in Snow White’s story, and there are probably a few more!