Essay, Research Paper
In the poem, “Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins” (reprinted in Thomas R. Arp, Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 7th ed. [Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1998] 854), author R.S. Gwynn presents the reader with an account of a woman’s struggle to stay faithful to both her husband and to God. The poem openly alludes to the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, the Snow White in this poem is living anything but a fairy tale existence. The first two stanzas of the poem discuss the woman’s initial reactions to her relationship with her husband. The woman began the marriage with faith, and she rarely questioned her husband’s sinful nature, acting like the “Good Catholic girl” that she was brought up to be. Yet, as time passes and her husband’s abuse becomes more frequent and more destructive, doubts and confusion emerge in her mind and she begins to lose a little faith and hope. The woman confesses her worries to a priest who, instead of directing her to a place where she could get help, directs her to “texts in Romans / And Peter’s First Epistle, chapter III”. These are Biblical writings that preach that a woman should remain subordinate to her husband as a servant to his master, and that suffering for sake of goodness is better than doing evil. This causes the woman to push her doubts aside, and her duty to her husband prevails. The sins of the woman’s husband started off as somewhat small, however as years pass, his sins become more aligned with the Seven Deadly Sins and the woman find herself directly involved in his sins. The sin of Pride is the first sin mentioned in the poem. The woman’s husband is extremely vain and because of his vanity she must keep herself beautified. This is obvious because of the “smeared prints of lips” upon the mirror. Gwynn’s use of the word “ogled” personifies the mirror, implying that it is taunting the woman, forcing her to gaze upon the sins of herself and her husband. The superficiality of the man is further evident in his feelings of Envy. He tells his wife to sew a designer label into a generic shirt, just for sake of appearance and image. The man engages in activities of Lust, and forces his wife to be a part of his warped sexual fantasies. She does not protest, because once again, she feels obligated to fulfill her duties as a wife. In addition, the man is guilty of Gluttony, Avarice, and Sloth, sins apparent due to the empty alcohol bottles, cards, and chips on the table, and the dirty clothes in the bathroom. Surrounded by the remnants of her husband’s sins which have become her own as well, the woman reflects upon each of them, and becomes more and more desperate as she realizes the gravity of what she has been enduring for so long. There is no salvation from these sins, and woman has completely lost hope. In the sixth and seventh stanzas, however, she finally realizes the need for true salvation. The inclusion of the lines “She knelt to the cold master bathroom floor as / If a petitioner before the Pope” fully exemplifies the woman’s increasing want of redemption. As she wipes the mirror clean, the woman notices how haggard and aged her marriage has made her appear. This observation causes her to truly recognize that she should not have to tolerate the Wrath of her husband, and that she truly needs to be saved: “”How much she’d grayed and paled, and how much clearer / Festered the bruise of Wrath beneath her eye.”
The woman goes on to parallel herself to Snow White, alluding to the way in which the princess was poisoned by an apple which was supposed to have killed her. The woman thinks that there is seemingly no hope in her situation; her marriage is killing her slowly. She proceeds to make X’s upon the mirror with her thumb, as though trying to erase the horrid image that is before her, and consequently, herself. At this point, the magic mirror of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would hardly call the woman of this poem ‘the fairest of them all.’ The allusions to the fairy tale continue when her husband returns home: “Ho-hum. Ho-hum. It’s home from work we come.” The man is introduced into the ninth stanza as a “Handsome Prince,” making a grand entrance to save the damsel in distress. The lines “Who, spying her distressed beckoned / For her to mount (What else?) his snow-white horse” obviously indicate that the man feels he can eliminate her agony with sex. For a moment, the woman hesitates, almost falling back into the ’safety’ of the man whom she has been seeking refuge with for so long. However, she realizes that her husband is a false savior, and she flees to a convent to find her true salvation in faith.The central theme in this poem is stated in line four of the first stanza: “One’s duty was one’s refuge, after all.” Throughout the poem, the woman struggles to fulfill all her ‘duties, whether those duties be as a wife or as a servant of the Lord. Her conflict arises when she cannot reconcile the two. The woman takes refuge as the good wife to the bad husband, but she only achieve her true refuge or salvation when she is a bride, not in the conventional sense, but to the Lord, as a nun.