Snow White and Postpartum Depression—Evelyn Alva Hidalgo, Guest Blogger
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Today, we share a post by a student in our Fall 2020 Introduction to the Fairy Tale course.
My name is Evelyn Alva Hidalgo. I have a B.A. in Anthropology, and I am a new mom who became a stay-at-home mom. I have a love-hate relationship with fairy tale and mythology, which I write about in my blogs (linked here in my bio).
Snow White is a young girl who is pursued and almost killed by a jealous woman. In different versions, the antagonist is represented by a mother figure who is an evil queen, an aunt, an older woman, or a witch who resents Snow White’s youth and beauty. As Maria Tatar explains in The Classic Fairy Tales, “Early versions of the Grimms’ ‘Little Snow White’ pit a biological mother against her daughter” (84). This early story portrays a woman turned evil, whose change in character I attribute to her suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). As a biological mother with PPD, she could have resentful feelings toward her own daughter. This character was later split into two to preserve a positive image of mothers. However, this splitting is a failure to recognize the changes a young, beautiful, and benevolent woman can have after giving birth, and dealing with PPD.
Women are expected to recover from birth and go “back to normal” in about six weeks, keep up their work and home, and quickly regain a nice body. The reality is many struggle with their newfound identity as mothers and develop PPD, and those who cannot keep up with the standards face lots of criticism. PPD symptoms include fatigue, fear, anger, difficulty bonding with the baby, and even unwanted and intrusive thoughts.
The story of Snow White starts with her mother who is shown reaching maturity at the start of the story. In the Grimms' version, “she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow,” which represents sex and the blood that indicates she is a woman. “After that she had a little daughter… and the Queen died.” The queen has sex, gives birth, and the young-virgin girl she was dies and becomes a mature woman, the mother.
The mother figure is in conflict with Snow White because Snow White is a girl who grows in beauty and provokes jealousy. However, outside forces create this resentment in the mother. A new mom gets visitors, but they only come to see the new baby. Many people shower the baby with endearments, gifts, and attention, which can make a mother a little jealous and lonely. These actions are represented in the story as the magic mirror. The mirror reflects the changed queen as well as society telling her how beautiful Snow White is. Also, the father is not around in the story. This is not questioned since the father figure used to be the provider for the home, and he would be away working while the mother tended the home and the children.
A young mother, alone with a newborn, an absent father, and the society pressing her to be the beautiful young queen she was before pregnancy, creates a perfect scenario for PPD. The child gets admiration, grows older, and blooms in beauty and intelligence. On the other hand, the mother is isolated, growing old and tired.
In the end, it is the apple that “kills” Snow White. The apple, forbidden fruit, red, plump, and full of seeds, represents the womb of a woman ready for children. Because of this apple, Snow White is finally the beautiful, quiet, motionless woman ready for society and for a prince.
The queen finally got rid of the little girl, Snow White became a woman and married her prince to become an evil queen herself… I mean a mother.