This week’s blog post should be about vanity. You may post an analysis of a single fairy tale, in which a character displays vanity, or you may post a piece about how fairy tale step-mothers in general are vain. Be sure to include CITED references to actual fairy tales.
Snowdrop and the Narcissist
Narcissism is a personality disorder recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA, 2000). Narcissism is marked by grandiose thoughts of oneself, self-absorption and a lack of empathy for others. Evidence of this personality disorder can be found in some fairy tale characters. In particular, the evil queen step-mother in the fairy tale Snow Drop (also known as Snow White) could be classified as a narcissist.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) usually is diagnosed in early adulthood, and persists through the individual’s life (APA, 2000). Drawing upon the material presented in the story of Snow Drop, we have no evidence of the onset of this disorder in the evil queen, as we do not meet her until she is already well into adulthood (Grimm & Grimm, 2011). However, given that the evil queen is an adult when she is first presented, the reader can assume that her character has been persistent.
In order to be diagnosed with NPD, an individual must display at least five of the following symptoms: (1) an exaggerated sense of self-importance, (2) preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love, (3) belief that the individual is “special,” and can only be understood by others similarly special, (4) requires excessive admiration, (5) has a sense of entitlement, (6) selfishly takes advantage of others to fulfill their own desires, (7) lacks empathy, (8) is envious of others or believes that others are envious of them, (9) shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes (APA, 2000). The evil queen of Snow Drop does demonstrate enough of the diagnostic criteria to be diagnosed with NPD.
The evil queen was certainly preoccupied with fantasies of beauty. According to the Gutenberg’s project version of Snow Drop (Grimm & Grimm, 2011), “She had a magic looking-glass, and when she stood before it and looked at herself she used to say: ‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Who is fairest of us all?’ then the Glass answered, ‘Queen, thou’rt fairest of them all.’” Given that this story is set in a time in which mirrors were uncommon, it demonstrates the level of the queen’s preoccupation with her looks. Additionally, it is also stated that “…she could not endure that any one should surpass her in beauty” (Grimm & Grimm, 2011). Indeed, within the ten pages of the story of Snow Drop, the queen asks the mirror about her appearance seven times.
This also speaks to the queen’s need for admiration. In asking the mirror so often to tell her how beautiful she was, she was seeking out admiration, even if just from the mirror and herself.
The queen also shows a great deal of selfishness in getting what she wants. Because she wants to be the “fairest in the land,” she eventually calls on a huntsman into her employ. She said ‘Take the child out into the wood; I will not set eyes on her again; you must kill her and bring me her lungs and liver as tokens.’” Her selfish desire to be the most beautiful woman drives her to take another’s life. In fact, later in the story, when the queen discovers that Snow Drop is still alive, she is even willing to sacrifice her own life in order to meet her ends. ‘Snowdrop shall die,’ she said, ‘even if it cost me my own life’ (Grimm & Grimm, 2011).
Empathy is the ability to experience another’s emotional state. The queen’s desire to have Snow Drop dead shows a lack of empathy as well. When the huntsman was sent to kill the child in the forest, the queen instructed him not only to slaughter her, but also to bring back her lungs and liver as evidence of the deed. The queen did not simply want these organs as evidence, but also as her dinner. When the huntsman returned with the lungs and liver of a fawn, the queen has them cooked and eats them, “thinking that they were Snowdrop’s” (Grimm & Grimm, 2011).
Envy is the desire to have what another has. When Snowdrop’s growing beauty eventually takes over that of the queen, she “was horror-struck, and turned green and yellow with jealousy” and “The pride and envy of her heart grew like a weed, so that she had no rest day nor night” (Grimm & Grimm, 2011). The evil queen’s motivation through the entire story is to possess what Snowdrop has, ultimate beauty.
In Snow Drop, the evil queen who becomes Snowdrop’s step-mother is preoccupied with her appearance, had a great need for admiration, was selfish and lacked empathy. Additionally, she is displayed as being motivated solely by envy of Snowdrop’s beauty. Thus, she meets five of the eight criteria for a diagnosis of NPD. Guidelines for a diagnosis of NPD go further than this, however. In order to be diagnosed with any mental disorder, the symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the person’s ability to work, or get along with others, or cause severe distress to the individual (APA, 2000).
Being a queen, narcissism was quite unlikely to interfere with this character’s occupation. Also, she was likely not distressed by her own behavior. Those suffering from personality disorders seldom see their conditions as something to be concerned about (Miller, Campbell, & Pilkonis, 2007). However, the queen’s symptoms were certainly severe enough to interfere with her ability to get along with others, in particular Snowdrop. Her repeated abusive treatment of Snowdrop is evidence of her inability to get along with others.
Taking the queen’s actions against Snowdrop as a whole, as well as a persistent lack of ability to get along with Snowdrop, there is certainly evidence of narcissism. Unfortunately for those who suffer from personality disorders, the prognosis isn’t good. Typically, these individuals are unable to overcome their mental illnesses without intensive psychotherapy. Through this process, they can become aware of their maladaptive patterns, and thus begin to change them. Given that psychotherapies did not exist in the “once upon time” of Snowdrop, the queen would have been very unlikely to change her ways. Thus, the fate of stepping into red-hot iron shoes and dancing until she fell dead (Grimm & Grimm, 2011) is likely the only way that Snowdrop could end the narcissism of her step-mother.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC.
Grimm, W. & Grimm, J. (2011). Snow Drop and Other Tales. Project Gutenberg e-book #37381; accessed 6/26/12 at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37381/37381-h/37381-h.htm.
Miller, J.D., Campbell, W.K., Pilkonis, P.A. (2007). Narcissistic personality disorder: Relations with distress and functional impairment. Comparative Psychiatry, 48, 170-177.