The Queen’s Looking Glass

The following writing is my final paper for English 3060J with Dr. Koonce.

The first time I read The Queen’s Looking Glass by Gilbert and Gubar, I was astounded by the points it made when reflecting on the fairytale, Snow White. It’s clearly a touchstone for feminist theory and describes how literature can work to assign roles to women that might not be accurate. Yet, it still follows through on its main purpose – it tells a story; Gilbert and Gubar also clearly tell a story with their interpretation of it. The paper is very strong in its logic. It gives concrete examples of other stories and words from psychoanalysts, yet much of its evidence just isn’t there. There is just as much a lack of scholarly sources and citations. Another thing I enjoyed while reading the piece is recognizing the significance it holds from readers. It’s almost like having an epiphany when it comes to understanding feminist ideas. Yet, I worry that the wording and the explanation of their interpretation might be too complex for readers under a certain comprehension level. Assuming the knowledge of a group is dangerous because it makes the piece less utilizable in classrooms. In this paper, I’m going to explore the strengths and the weaknesses I just laid out, and if the paper can get its point across.

The Queen’s Looking Glass is a clear analysis of the Grimm Brothers’ classic fairytale, Snow White. The authors make a well-defined thesis statement: “the Grimm tale of ‘Little Snow White’ dramatizes the essential but equivocal relationship between the angel-woman and the monster-woman” (201). They go on to grab parts of the fairytale and analyze them. This includes the transition of the Queen from looking outward to looking inward, and how the patriarchal voice of the King drives this. While the King is clearly not that involved physically in the original fairytale, they talk about how he is involved through his presence in the Queen’s mind. They also explore the cyclical and dangerous relationship between Snow White and the Queen as evidenced in their thesis statement. This goes much more in depth into how the two women are categorized – submissive and dominant.

Part of understanding a piece is considering the background of the author(s). This helps to determine if there is unfair bias and if their word is scholarly enough to be trustworthy. Sandra M. Gilbert is one of the authors cited for the piece. On her own website, she is described as a “Distinguished Professor of English Emerita at the University of California”, and the author of eight collections of poetry (“Sandra M. Gilbert.”). She is also recognized as a published author in the fields of “feminist literary criticism, feminist theory, and psychoanalytic criticism” (“Sandra Gilbert.”). The other author, Susan Gubar, is also widely recognized as an influential author on feminist theory. It should be noted too, that the piece The Queen’s Looking Glass comes from Gilbert and Gubar’s co-authored book, The Madwoman in the Attic. After researching it, I found that the book is extremely important in feminist theory and is considered a foundational text for feminist work (“The Madwoman in the Attic.”).

In order to understand how this piece works, and if it works well, we must first understand what it is. Ironically enough, the paper is a critique of the old fairytale. Therefore, it must have evidence to support why they disagree with what they are critiquing. In The Queen’s Looking Glass, Gilbert and Gubar they start of their piece with a strong, supportive sentence; “As the legend of Lilith shows, and as psychoanalysts from Freud and Jung onward have observed, myths and fairytales often both state and enforce culture’s sentences with greater accuracy than more sophisticated literary texts” (201). But that’s where the evidence seems to end. For the rest of the piece, they periodically mention other literary fictional texts, but only to make interpretation easier to understand. And if you think about it, these texts could be used as scholarly evidence, but they are also being used in a way that is interpreted solely by the authors. The strongest piece used as evidence is The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim, which is cited in the notes section. Is that enough to fulfill a claim of sufficient evidence? In the end, the thing that determines this is the type of piece that is being written. Since it is a critique, a large part of the paper is determined by the opinion and thesis of the person(s) writing it. The logic behind Gilbert and Gubar’s thesis is strong, but it could be a lot stronger if they used non-biased pieces and incorporated more evidence that isn’t up for interpretation or juxtaposition of the piece. For example, the authors compare Snow White and the story ‘The Juniper Tree’, which is about a boy in the same situation as Snow White. Except, he’s a boy so the way he acts in the situation is completely different from how Snow White does.

As said before, the piece is taken from the book The Madwoman in the Attic. Research shows just how important this book is to feminist theory, and this piece about Snow White only reinforces that. The significance of it is tremendous. It helps to explain ideas, like how “female bonding is extraordinarily difficult in patriarchy” (203) and the recurrent struggle between the women that men want us to be, and the women that men don’t want us to be. These are ideas that are not often taught in the classroom, so to put it in a form that is easily accessible to students is important for forming a base for understanding feminist theory. Yet, one problem I find with this is the assumption Gilbert and Gubar have of the comprehension level of the reader. I am a third-year college student and reading the piece was slightly difficult for me to read. Not because of the wording, but because of how the ideas are outlined. For example, Gilbert and Gubar write, “But the girl child must learn the arts of silence either as herself a silent image invented and defined by the magic looking glass of the male-authored text, or as a silent dancer of her own woes, a dancer who enacts rather than articulates” (207).  The way they describe certain ideas can be dense and take time to dissect. This isn’t exactly plausible for certain students, especially those at a level lower than a college education. Clearly, the authors are distinguished writers and professors in English, so they are writing for people close to their level. Yet, if this paper is a foundational piece for feminist theory, it should be more accessible and easier to understand to younger students, where foundational ideas should take their root earlier.

Overall, the piece is extraordinarily written. The substance, significance, and tone behind it are life-altering. It creates a path for new thought in feminist theory, which is very important because it’s not as widely taught as it should be. Yet it lacks in scholarly evidence, which is very important when trying to make a credible point, especially in such a criticized topic. The two authors have very distinguished backgrounds which make their opinion very trustworthy, but in my opinion, it’s not enough. It’s also ambiguous about who they are trying to reach out to. The book the piece is pulled from is praised as a foundational tool for understanding feminist ideas, but in my opinion, it’s not accessible to those under a certain high comprehension level. The foundation is something that needs to be built first, not later, so it should be something that all levels of readers can understand.
Works Cited


Gilbert, Sandra. “Sandra M. Gilbert.” Biography – Sandra M. Gilbert, 31 Aug. 2011, Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.


Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. “The Queen’s Looking Glass.” The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven: Yale U Press, 2006. 201-08. Print.


“Sandra Gilbert.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2017, Gilbert. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
“The Madwoman in the Attic.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Jan. 2017, Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.

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