Angela Carter, the Snow Child Symbolism Essay
Some readers may suggest that ‘The Snow Child’ is a simple one dimensional Gothic narrative, whilst others might argue that it is a complex allegory. What is your response to the text?
Carter expresses many aspects of the gothic genre in her short story ‘The Snow Child’. However the play doesn’t merely consist of gothic themes such as the supernatural, incest or the sublime, like many critics may suggest, but relies on an allegory which by definition can make the narrative much more than what is perceived as being ‘one dimensional’ “Carter says of her stories in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ that allegory is intended1, but also that she keeps ‘an entertaining surface2’ , that you ‘Don’t have to read them as a system of signification if you don’t want to3’” It incorporates values of intertextuality, Freudian theory, untypical genre conventions, absurd genre roles and explores the fine line of where paternal desire becomes much more than that.
The gothic elements of the story make the narrative appear one dimensional as these are foregrounded and apply an “Entertaining surface”4 which the audience have the benefit of.
The protagonists of the narrative are suggested as being particularly gothic in their appearance. “He wrapped in the glittering pelts of black foxes; and she wore high, black, shining boots with scarlet heels, and spurs.”5 This makes the characters appear malevolent in depiction, even more so when juxtaposed with “the child of his desire.”6 The ‘black foxes’ not only is suggestive of the cunning nature of the character but the colour black connotes death, foreshadowing coming events. The Countess appears even more malicious than the count, “she on a black”7 mare, insinuating the colour black symbolising death again, in conjunction with the “scarlet heels” the colour red also symbolises death, and blood, but also can imply compassion, for whom we can assume is the Count. The characters aren’t the only gothic features of the narrative. Symbols of foreshadowing appear throughout the text, which are predominant features of the gothic. “Here is a raven, perched on a bare bough.”8 The raven symbolises death, subsequently foreshadowing the forthcoming event of the death of the Snow Child.
This is a convention of gothic tales, made popular by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem ‘The Raven’9. Additionally, there is the element of taboo and incest in the story, where the count thrusts “his virile member”10 into the girl. This is principally gothic and mirrors that of The Monk, by Mathew Lewis11. Moreover, there is an innate principle of the sublime which is presented in the tale. The crossing of the threshold and the pivotal point in the story is the point where the paternal love for the Snow Child transforms into sexual desire. These factors are suggestive of the gothic nature of the tale, presenting its entertaining, one dimensional surface.
‘The Snow Child’ can be argued as containing elements of both the gothic genre and also, the fairy-tale genre. From the outset, the author alludes to this contrasting genre when carter writes “Midwinter–invincible, immaculate.” This creates the same impression as the conventional “once upon a time” traditional opening sentence. This however, is not the only insinuation to the genre. Stereotypically of the gothic genre, authors reinterpret old ‘fairytales’ and make them appear gothic and appeal to an older audience. In this case, the story alludes to the tale of ‘Snow White’, signified not only by the title ‘Snow Child’ but the evil mother, whose only thought she has of the child is “how shall I be rid of her?”12 It is a tale of desire, which is similar to that of the original and is often a common theme of fairy tales. The desire that the father has for the Snow Child is assumed to be paternal desire, he cares for the child in the same way that a father would a daughter, caring about her well being and choosing her over the countess. He asks “Is she a fish, to swim in such cold weather?”13 This presents the Counts paternal compassion for the Snow Child, and also presents the Count as being superior to the Countess. Subsequently, the count appears a much more powerful figure in the story, predominantly because of the gender of the character. Rowe states that “fairy-tales perpetuate the patriarchal status quo by making female subordination seem a romantic desirable, indeed an inescapable fate”14 This implies that the females in fairytales are often created to ‘appear’ in control due to the dramatizing of the ‘fairytale’ genre, where in fact it is simply superficial and the truth of the matter is that the male will always be in power.
Because of the magical fairytale genre and the supernatural elements to the tale such as when “her boots leapt off the Countess’s feet and on to the girl’s legs”15 it presents Carter with the opportunity to “Explore the theme of psychic transformation, liberating her protagonists from conventional gender roles”16 This suggests that because of the magical sensations that a fairytale brings to a narrative then traditional gender roles are dismissed. This allows Carter to make the countess appear more masculine at the end of the narrative, looking down on the Count while she “reined in her stamping mare and watched him narrowly”17 and the Count appear inferior and more feminine; “Weeping, the Count got off his horse.”18 This is stereotypical in many other tales, The Evil Stepmothers in both Snow White and Cinderella and the men below them are presented as being more feminine.
She presents the women in the story as “other than other”19 The countess is defined by a “Patriarchal power structure”20 Despite the fact that the Snow Child melts, the Countess is reinstalled in her position of the autonomous subject. “Now the Countess had all her clothes on again with her long hands she stoked her fur”21 This amplifies the resubmission of the woman’s role. She is once again in power, even over that of the Count. This contradicts what we would assume a ‘one dimensional’ narrative to consist of.
If ‘The Snow Child’ didn’t seem complex enough already, it could be insinuated that ‘The Snow Child’ contains elements of Freudian Theory. The Oedipal Conflict22 suggests that there is an innate desire for sexual involvement with a parent of the opposite sex which is apparent from birth. Consequently, there is an innate rivalry with the parent of the same sex. Freud also believed that Fathers have a sexual desire for their daughters and this is all very natural. This resembles the triangular relationship between the Count, the Countess and the Snow child. The Count has a sexual attraction to his “Child of his desire”23 or in this case, his daughter. This is apparent when he “unfastened his breeches and thrust his virile member into the dead girl.”24 This proves the attraction to his ‘daughter’ by the gothic theme of necrophilia.
Many would declare that ‘The Snow Child’ is a simple linear narrative presenting elements of a gothic nature. However, there are many perspectives that suggest that the narrative is allegorical. One perspective is that the narrative is a comprehensive metaphor for the desire of sex from a male. This is insinuated by the fact that the child ‘appeared’ (“there she stood”25) and “began to melt.”26 This suggests that the Snow Child is a fragment of the imagination as she is not concretely present and is an implication that the Snow Child is what the Count has always longed for. The repetition of the words “I wish”27 emphasises the longing desire that the Count has for the Snow Child. This could also be represented as being a feminist argument. The credibility of this is heightened as Angela Carter is often perceived as being a ‘feminist’ writer. The “bloodstain, like the trace of a fox’s kill on the snow” signifies the loss of the Snow Childs virginity taken not only by who “thrust his virile member” but also who was “wrapped in the glittering pelts of black foxes.”28 This places the blame on the Count and the Countess, rather than the obvious Count who did the physical deed. The Rose that kills the Snow Child is another acknowledgment to the theme of the feminist argument as this indicates again, the loss of innocence.
Essentially, ‘The Snow Child’ is what many would coin a ‘one dimensional’ text. Indeed, it contains many a gothic element that an audience would assume to describe as a gothic, linear narrative. This creates an “Entertaining surface”29 that the audience can enjoy. However, this is not the only interpretation of the text. The text can be read as a “system of signification”30 therefore making the tale appear more than simply ‘one dimensional’ and appearing a complex and intricate narrative involving ideologies and conventions that are unconventional of a typical ‘gothic short story.’ Angela Carter’s ‘The Snow Child’ is a short story that is more deserving than the simple ‘one dimensional’ description that many people give it.
Word Count: 1,774 (including quotes)
Angela Carter, “The Bloody Chamber”, The Snow Child
ROWE, K. E. “Feminism and Fairy-Tales”. Women Studies, n. 6, p. 237, 1978-79.
PALMER, P. “From ‘Coded Mannequin’ to Bird Woman: Angela Carter’s Magic Flight”. In: ROE, Sue (ed). Women Reading Women’s Writing. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1987. p. 179-205 SIEGEL, C. “Postmodern Women Novelists Review Victorian Male Masochism”. Genders, n. 11, p. 1-16, 1991. Sigmund Freud, Interpretation of Dreams (1899), On the Universal Tendency to Debasement in the Sphere of Love and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 1977 Ray Cluely, Emagazine and author: Published in the emagazine subscription website September 2009