The Death Drive: Psychoanalysis in Snow White
Freud Lacan Fairy Tales Children’s Story Stories

The traditional story of Snow White, first penned by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, isn’t a far cry from the Disney interpretation. At the end of the tale, a Prince purchases Snow White’s body from the seven dwarves, having fallen for the Princess when he first lays eyes on her – despite the fact that she is, in fact, already dead, or at the very least, comatose. This often marginalised aspect of the fairy tale demonstrates necrophilial desire as well as Freud’s theory of the death drive.

Elizabeth Bronfen argues that in ‘Snow White,’ the prince desires the dead princess because through her corpse, he is able to validate his own life:

‘By embalming a beautiful woman she is idealised in a way that obscures the possibility of decay and the possibility of the survivor’s death,’ – Bronfen

The male identity must define itself through the female. In gazing at Snow White’s corpse, the Prince’s lifeforce grows stronger. Even more unusual, the Prince actually buys the corpse from the seven dwarves, encased in its casket. It is pertinent that he wants the body to remain in its transparent coffin, preserved like a centre-piece or an ornament. Snow White’s body would not hold the same value to him were it not encased in gold, a collector’s edition.

Rediscovering the ‘Other’ in Snow White

In the original Snow White story, the Queen is perceived as purely evil, jealousy smiting Snow White for her beauty. Upon further analysis, however, the story shifts, becoming a tale of psychological fragmentation and confusion. The Queen sees Snow White as a ‘bad, destructive double that causes the mirror to speak its ambivalent, contradictory message – ‘you are most beautiful,’ and ‘you are mortal,’ [Bronfen.] By placing such heavy emphasis on her beauty, the Queen’s life falls under threat when her status as ‘most beautiful’ does. Redefining herself as ‘the fairest of them all’ becomes a matter of life and death.

In aligning herself with Snow White, the Queen becomes ‘othered’ in postcolonial terms, and must reassert her independence.

‘If you say that one thing is the opposite of another, you are at the same time asserting their mutual dependence,’ – Bennett and Royal

She is the uncanny counterpart to Snow White, and vice-versa. Ultimately, ‘a person can never finally be singular, there is always a multiplicity, ambiguity, otherness and unconsciousness,’ [Bennett and Royal.]

Pick up your copy of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm to read the original fairy tales.