‘The Snow Child’ By Angela Carter

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Reviews & Commentaries

The short story of ‘The Snow Child’ by Angela Carter, a seemingly graphic narrator, is a tale about how a count wishes he had a child ‘as white as snow’, ‘as red as blood, and ‘as black as that birds feather’. He subsequently gets his wish and a child with white skin, red lips and black hair appears at the side of the road naked. The jealous countess who is with the count plots on how she can be rid of the girl. After trying to get the girl to freeze in the snow to pick up her purposely dropped glove, she then throws a diamond brooch into a frozen pond, hoping the worth of the brooch will force the count to send the girl to a certain death but, he does not do so.  However, when the countess asks for a rose, the Count says ‘I cannot deny you that’ and allows the girl to pick one. The result is that she is pricked on a thorn and dies. The Count then rapes her dead body and takes the rose to his wife; she drops it proclaiming ‘it bites!’

I was attracted to the snow child as it is an incredibly short story and I was intrigued into how so much information and plot could be fitted into what is a page and a half’s worth of text. I was also interested in the title. The title, ‘The Snow Child’, seems to ensue something of purity and beauty, however, although this story does have those qualities in it, it has some morbid and many deeply meaningful messages within it. Sexuality is obviously one of the main themes within the writing, and the ‘Snow child’ can represent many different things depending on who read it. It seems that some the writing is aimed at how the masculine character, the Count, views and idealises women.  The count is very powerful in the story, as we see him take the clothes away from his countess and give them to the child, we see what power he has over the females as she wants the girl dead and does not concentrate her anger on him.  The two females cannot exist together, so one has to die for the other to continue existing.  This idea is also shown when the count creates and rapes the snow child. The countess does (and can do) nothing to stop him, showing how women have to endure and compete for the fickle attention of men. She could be seen as a Sadeian woman, a woman who is constantly abused, humiliated and degraded but never acts on it. The story could also be about how women are viewed as a sexual object. When the snow child bleeds, it could symbolise her ‘coming of age’ and the ability to have sexual intercourse. When the child dies, the count rapes her, this could symbolise the fact that women are not suppose or expected to enjoy sex in this time, it is purely for the male’s enjoyment so she can die. Many of these ideas point to a feminist theme, which would not be inconceivable in the slightest.  It should also be noted that Carter has often been recognised for writing from a feminist perspective, which seems evident in this piece of work. Carter’s feminist perspective has often been seen as strange and unorthodox. This seems evident in the description of the countess. Many feminists would portray there heroine as innocent, however, Carter shows her to be wearing dark clothing, which suggests she is not innocent, and possibly even a bad character. It could be argued that she is wearing the clothes because she is morning her life as a woman, thus Carter gives us a Feminist theme that we have to recognise by looking deeper into the text.

The story ‘the snow child’ has a very gothic feel to it from the start. This is enforced by the setting and the description of the characters. The setting is Midwinter, a typically cold time of the year, often used in gothic fiction, however, the main reason this story could be described as gothic is the vivid description of the Countess. She is described as wearing ‘glittering pelts of black foxes’. The colour plays a large role in the identifying of the theme, and also the fact that she is wearing dead animals, Gothic fiction is often very morbid.  She also described as wearing ‘high. Black, shining boots with scarlet heals, and spurs.’ Here again the colour black is used, also along with the colour ‘scarlet’ which could be described as the rather gothic orientated colour of blood red.  This introduction of the one of the main protagonists is not very subtle. Angela carter makes a point of describing her in this way to give the reader an idea of the characteristic of this woman before she has acted. The description of the Count is far more subtle, in fact, very little is describe of his person, although we do learn his sinister fascinations towards the end of the text. The main description of the count is that he is travelling on a ‘grey mare’. The image of him on a ‘grey mare’ could mean many things. It could be used as a contrast to his wife, as she has a black mare, showing her dark side, the Counts is not so dark in colour, possibly reflecting his personality. It could also represent his importance over his wife, as in history shows, powerful men often ride white horses.  We could even look at the fact that the counts horse is not white, yet grey, possibly showing again how he is not pure and wholly good.

The plot itself develops quickly, and has an almost fairy tale tone to it.  Within the starting 10 lined paragraph, we are introduced to both main characters, made aware of their position in society, what they are doing at that moment in time and also what the count desires, which sets the rest of the plot going.  Within the second paragraph we see how the countess wants rid of this girl who has just appeared. The plot develops very quickly so that within the next two paragraphs, the countess has managed to almost be rid of the child. The last paragraph describes the ‘Snow Child’ melting into nothingness, with all that is left being a rose, a feather and a small blood stain in the snow.

Within the story there is a lot of dialogue used to help the plot along.  The main plot is conveyed to us using the speech from the count who says out loud, either to himself or the countess about how he wished he had a ‘girl as white as snow’ etc.  This is effective in helping the narrative along as the text is in 3rd person omniscient form, and although this obviously gives the author the ability to let us see what the character is thinking, it is far more effective when he says it out loud, especially as it is in front of his wife. However, the fact that the narrator of the story is all knowing, lets us see what the countess is thinking, which helps  us to understand why she acts in certain ways, like dropping her glove etc. The dialogue used at the start when the count is describing this child is very interesting. As I stated earlier, the story has many fairy tale qualities, and this is one of them. The fact that the count is very repetitive in what he wants, and they way he describes it, is not unlike many other fairy tales that people have been brought up on. There are other aspects of fairy tales in the story, in the forefront is the title, which bears echoes of ‘Snow white’. Also, when the child is pricked by the thorn this has elements of the fairy tale ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in it. It could be suggested Angela Carter has attempted to write her own fairy tale, and, not unlike many of the originals of the now watered down fairy tales children are read today it is graphic and morbid with a moral to match.

The story ‘The snow child’ is set out over a very short period on one day.  Although no time is mentioned in the piece, time is also not mentioned passing, so it could be assume that the events in the story happened almost directly after each other.  The beginning of the story is effective in bringing in the two major characters in the story, the Count and the Countess. We are given a perspective of them by what they are wearing, for example the ‘glittering pelts of black foxes’ and what they are doing. These two things give the audience a good view of the characters. From it we can depict they are well off, the fact they both ride a horse shows there grandeur.  This part of the writing is good as we are not told that the couple are well off and of high society, we are shown in the text. The setting in the beginning of the story is also set very well. We are given a time of year and two powerful adjectives that sum up the time of year very well. ‘Midwinter’ is described as ‘Invincible, Immaculate’. These two describing words help the reader paint a picture in their minds of the layers of white snow that the count and countess ride in. The opening line of the story reflects the style of writing Carter uses at many points during the story. For example when she writes, ‘Midwinter- Invincible, Immaculate’ she uses short sharp descriptive words to portray what is happening, or in this instance, where the characters are. This style is used again when the ‘Snow child’ dies after pricking her finger on a rose. The whole action is described as ‘so she picks up a rose; pricks her finger on the thorn; bleeds; screams; falls’.  This style of writing helps the text flow quickly, moreover, as so much information is given in this one sentence it seems to suit the short story style, it is very precise.

It seems that ‘The snow Child’ is a very well written piece, which hides many deeper ideas on feminism, sex and the idea of masculinity. Carter writes a short story that is precise in its telling with nothing added in that should not be. It is a short story that others should aspire to.

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