Snow White and Its Symbols

by Tolovaj

Snow White is a classic fairy tale with one of the richest symbolism in literature. Which symbols are used and what do they mean?

What symbols are used in Snow White? What do they mean? Why there are seven dwarfs? How about the famous white, red, and black colors mean?

The 'original' (version by the Brothers Grimm from 1812) story of Snow White is probably the most complex (looking from a symbolic view) classic fairy tale of all. It's my intention to point out the most important symbols in the story and explain their meanings. Interpretations may, of course, differ, yet the article should present faithful representations as they are known in art in general and specifically in literature.

So here it is - the top 10 symbols in Snow White (often titled Snow White and Seven Dwarfs)!

1. Colors

In the beginning, the queen makes a wish. She yearns for a child with skin white as snow, cheeks, red as blood, and hair, black as the frame through which she sees the drops of blood in the snow.


These three colors (apart from gold) are by far the most used in fairy tales and may in these case represent three stages of life: white for birth, red for life, and black for death. We can also see them as the three stages of being a woman: white for the girl, red for the adult woman, and black for the crone (old woman).

Less known is a fact that three colors are used later as well: when the evil queen brings decorative ribbons to Snow White. Yellow represents the soul, red stays for the body, and blue for the intellect.


2. Numbers

None of the classic fairy tales use the fairy numbers three and seven so abundantly. Three is a divine number, representing heaven (Grimms were devoted Christians). Seven means perfection (made of heavenly three and earthly four) or completeness (seven days of the week, seven deadly sins, seven wonders of the world).

In the story number three is used as a pattern (three drops of blood), repetition (the evil queen repeatedly tries to kill Snow White), and escalation (three messages of the mirror).

Number seven is used as the symbol of abundance. It simply means 'a lot'. Yet seven dwarfs were not enough to guarantee a safe shelter for her. Some scholars see the dwarfs as symbols of seven deadly sins, mostly connected to the evil Queen. We can also apply their counterpart, the seven virtues, to Snow White.

3. Mirror

Mirrors were in fairy tales often used as a symbol of wealth (Snow White comes from a rich environment, just like Bluebeard, for instance) and also represent the margin between the real and the imaginary world (all-knowing talking mirror clearly represents both, like the mirror in the sequel of Alice in Wonderland.


4. Organs

In earlier versions of Snow White huntsman has to bring liver and lung to the evil queen to prove the death of the girl. Numerous ancient cultures treated the liver as the seat of life and erotic desire. Some also believe the fate of one's person is written in the liver. Lungs, intertwined with breath, of course, represent life force.

Similarly, but not exactly the same, we should perceive the heart with the same role in later versions of the fairy tale. While it's a symbol of life, it also represents passion and love. Both emotions are absent at the evil queen who symbolically destroys them at her stepdaughter by eating the heart (this cannibalistic detail is lost in later variations).


5. Stay-laces and Poisoned Comb

Stay-laces represent Snow White's vanity. Despite warnings from the dwarfs, she could not resist the temptation of colorful accessories brought by the evil queen in disguise. So she is punished with death.

The comb is intertwined with hair, a symbol of feminity and fertility. The comb is able to control hair but Snow White is not able to control herself. So she dies again.



6. Apple

The poisonous apple is the most notorious symbol in Snow White. Apples are seen as a symbol of desire and, being closely associated with the goddess of love Venus made their way as the graphic representation of forbidden fruit in the Bible (the Bible originally mention only 'forbidden fruit', while the painters decided to portray it as an apple).

It's a symbol of beauty, hope, and sweetness, both characteristics the evil witch tries to take away from Snow White. Apple symbolizes feminity, another characteristic of young Snow White which is vanishing from the evil queen, as well. The apple kills Snow White for the third and seemingly final time.

7. Glass Coffin

A coffin is the last place where somebody rests. It is a clear sign of death but in this case, being made of glass means more. Glass is, like the mirror, a material that divides two worlds and a glass coffin can be seen as the place where a resurrection can happen. The theme of long sleep or resurrection is pretty popular in fairy tales (think about Sleeping Beauty or Little Red Riding Hood).


Indeed, the glass coffin offers one more chance to Snow White. Thanks to its transparency, her beauty is revealed to Mr. Right - the prince who became her husband, protector, and avenger. We should not be surprised that her body was in the coffin for three days, just like Jesus stayed dead before the resurrection.

8. Birds

An owl, a raven, and a dove joined the dwarfs in mourning. Owl stands for fortune and prosperity, raven for intelligence and prophecy (read more), and dove for spirituality and renewal. When birds came, the transformation of Snow White, this time for good, is implied.

If she wants to finally grow up and become able to confront her ultimate enemy, she needs all these characteristics. Or at least, she needs somebody who can compensate for her shortcomings. Yes, this is Mr. Right.

9. Shoes

Shoes are traditionally a sign of maturity (think Cinderella who needs shoes to resist her family and find a husband). Kids in most cases didn't wear shoes. They were too expensive and short-lived for fast-growing feet. A certain level of responsibility came with a first pair of shoes.

In this fairy tale, the evil queen took responsibility for her wickedness by being forced to dance in hot iron shoes until he dies. Obviously, just death is not enough. Her actions demand extremely cruel death in public.


10. Iron

Shoes for the evil queen are made of iron. Iron is not only suitable for torturing because it could be warmed up to very high temperatures, but it's traditionally also metal associated with evicting evil spirits.

Shoes for the evil queen are made of iron. Iron is not only suitable for torturing because it could be warmed up to very high temperatures, but it's traditionally also metal associated with evicting evil spirits.

Image credits:

Updated: 07/20/2023, Tolovaj
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

Did you expect so many symbols in Snow White?

Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
Tolovaj 15 days ago

No, this is new to me, DerdriuMarriner. Never heard of pomegranate.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

A sword, for instance. A horse too.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

Depends on the fairy tale, DerdriuMarriner. Most stepmothers from classic fairy tales can be seen as queens if they have enough power.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

Mirrors can symbolize a lot of things. They were for centuries reserved for reach people only, in Alice Through the Looking Glass (and several other stories) a mirror is used as a gate to a parallel world, we have a saying about the broken mirror bringing seven years of bad luck (probably thanks to their prices and wish for being careful around them), etc.

Tolovaj 15 days ago

Well, DerdriuMarriner, number one can be seen as the number of protagonists or antagonists. It's too universal to be a fairy number, in my opinion.

DerdriuMarriner 26 days ago

The fairy tale of Snow White always calls to my mind the fairy tale of Rose Red and Snow White.

Is the above the only instance within fairy tale-telling of fairy tales about two different heroines who share the same name?

DerdriuMarriner 27 days ago

Your third symbol, Mirror, caused me to mull the fate of the magic mirror.

Is the mirror destroyed by the Evil Queen in all versions of the fairy tale?

DerdriuMarriner 28 days ago

The last sentence in your introductory paragraph adds the title Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an oftentime rendition of the fairy-tale name.

Is it known when and where that alternate title began to be used? What might the Grimm Brothers' reaction have been to that longer title and to Snow White's shared-plot honors with the Seven Dwarfs?

DerdriuMarriner on 09/01/2023

Your first symbol, Colors, causes me to ponder the three commonest colors in fairy tales.

Black, red and white apparently draw first-come, first-served places as the three commonest. Blue and gold nevertheless have their roles to play.

Where might blue and gold fit in life and womanly stages?

DerdriuMarriner on 08/31/2023

Your fifth fact, Stay-laces and Poisoned combs, keeps on inspiring me to ponder character flaws and weaknesses. That fact lets us in on her form of the vanity flaw that she shares with the mirror-worshipping Evil Queen.

Is vanity the downfall of other heroines? But might Cinderella be considered a materialistic, vain heroine who survives because of her vanity? Might it not be vanity about ever more sumptuous clothes, hairstyles and jewelry that pushes her toward attending the ball?

This week I read a Spanish version of Cinderella. Cinderella shares her good fortune with her step family, even rooming them in the palace and selecting high-class husbands. Everything between her crying over not going to the ball and marrying her prince suggests a love for nice things that don't stay at a certain level of niceness but keep getting nicer and nicer (undoubtedly more and more expensive even as hunger and poverty and suffering undoubtedly survive somewhere in the kingdom).

You might also like

10 Symbols in Goose Girl

The Goose Girl is packed with symbols and hidden meanings as every classic fa...

Hop o' My Thumb: 10 facts to know

Hop o' My Thumb by Charles Perrault is also known as Little Thumb (Le Petit P...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...