Donald Barthelme’s Snow White Essay

1300 words - 5 pages

In Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White, the main character Snow White contradicts the traits of a stereotypical 1960’s housewife. These traits, given to her by the author, differ from a typical 1960s housewife in appearance, demeanor, and priorities. The purpose of Barthelme’s presentation of Snow White in this manner is to expose the limitations of society’s gender roles rampant in the 1960s.
In Barthelme’s novel Snow White, the protagonist, Snow White, is a 22 year old woman living with seven men. These men do not perceive her as a person with emotions, but rather as a sexual object to be used whenever they want and a housewife to tend to their every need. Snow White has unsatisfying sex in the shower with these seven men and also tends to their other physical needs. She is also expected to clean the house from top to bottom. “Snow White was cleaning. Book lice do not bite people, she said to herself. She sprayed the books with a five percent solution of DDT. Then she dusted them with the dusting brush of the vacuum cleaner. She did not band the books together, for that injures the bindings. Then she mended some torn pages using the strips cut from rice paper” (Barthelme 43). Snow White is well educated in women’s studies, as well
as, the basic elements of becoming a housewife, however, her longing for something better causes her to look and behave like anything but.
The first way Snow White differs from the stereotypical 1960s housewife is by her appearance. The appearance of a 1960s housewife was very important. She was expected to dress in a particular fashion that “consisted of, touched up make up and a ribbon in their hair to look fresh” (The Good Wife’s Guide,1). Barthelme demonstrates this throughout the novel when he describes Snow White as a woman with “hair as dark as ebony, and skin as white as snow” (Barthelme 1). However, Snow White does not keep her hair neatly in a ribbon like a traditional housewife, but allows her long hair to freely dangle.
Another way Snow White differs from the 1960s stereotypical housewife is her publicized dissatisfaction and complaint about her life. Frustrated with her situation, Snow White complains, “I am tired of being just a housewife!” (Barthelme 49). “The Good Wife’s Guide”, an article published in The Good House Keeping magazine in the 1960s, emphasizes the specific traits of a traditional housewife. A traditional 1960’s housewife has a strong work ethic that involved, “planning ahead, preparing dinner, aiming to please her husband, and always maintaining a pleasant mood” (The Good Wife’s Guide 1). These traits are not reflected in Snow White’s demeanor. She does not plan ahead or put the men’s happiness before herself. Everything she does is with the hope that one day her Prince Charming will come and rescue her from her unfulfilling life.
Furthermore, Snow White demonstrates her rebellion against the 1960s housewife by having an opinion. At one point, Snow White...

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