Writing Catalog

Noel Ullom

Grade: 12

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Elizabeth Armstrong

Yesterday, Blossoming


Yesterday, Blossoming

Hydrangeas share a history
of tracing my family name.
My grandmother, the keeper
of breathing colors, introduced me once
to permanence: oranges & pinks
weaving tightly around her fingertips.
Her buds mistake green for canvases
and paint ecosystems upon their stems:
reds, blushing for the nearby man
and inheritance ruby rings,
purples, grieving retiring skies
and chipping walls left far behind.
Blue ridges line yellow centers
of tempting nectar or buried stars;
she carved constellations with wooden wands
and arranged bouquets with fallen scars.
Hercules, Aries, Hydra, Orion,
she plucked men among the stems,
snipped and tossed the yellow suns
from aging petal rims.
Look here, she called,
see what trimming can save?
Hydrangeas share a history
of saving my family name.

When Silence Speaks the Most Desirable Words: Examining the Loud Reward for Silence in "Snow White"

Critical Essay

When Silence Speaks the Most Desirable Words: Examining the Loud Reward for Silence in "Snow White"

An individual's voice, no matter how intangible, can become the sole weapon, shield, and armor one slips on to protect oneself in the most silent forests. The voice, no matter how invisible, can become the very reflection one finds in the mirror when searching for a clearer image or more palatable distortion of reality. The voice can become the savior, the saint. The voice can become what one is saved from. Throughout the tale of "Snow White" in the Grimms' collection of fables, the concept of voice quickly becomes the most dangerous and self-destructive trait of a young woman, her fate desiring instead that her beauty speak for itself and save her womanhood from the hunger of being defined by any other aspect of character. The Queen, a character of strong yet unstable power, is portrayed throughout the story as losing all control over her own mind as she yields words of violence to gain control of her position in the kingdom, while Snow White receives continuous reward and praise for her disconnection from her voice. She becomes more easily defined solely by the happenings around her and the words thrown at her: a theme closely related to the overall beauty of a woman that begs for help in silence in the Grimms fairy tales.

Throughout the tale of "Snow White," the Queen's downfall not only becomes part of her own story but an essential piece to the puzzle of a plot endorsing quiet surrender. One of the first moments in which the Queen is introduced describes her relationship to the magic mirror, a relationship based not on examining her reflection but instead on having dialogue with the abnormal object. As a consequence of utilizing this mirror to connect more directly with her voice and intent mind, she falls into a state of manipulation as the mirror threatens and weakens her self-awareness with its own responses, including exaggerated phrases such as "You, my queen, are fair; it is true. But Snow White is a thousand times fairer than you." (Grimm) This harmful and repetitive response, peppered with immaturity and senselessness with the phrase "a thousand times fairer than you," becomes a direct example of how words in themselves serve as their own poison while also developing a much more layered issue. Why, in return for simply asking after validation and truth in a patriarchal and private society, does the Queen deserve to receive offensive words that puncture her perception of self? When considering the fact that she had not yet shown any intentions of violence until this point in the story, the mirror's words suddenly appear just as complacent in the Queen's disdain for and plots against Snow White as her own. Or, rather, the Queen's eagerness to question her position and the state of nature in the first place becomes the culprit, becomes sinful, and becomes worthy of punishment. This punishment at Snow White's wedding comes with its own ironies as well, as Grimm writes, "When [the Queen] arrived and recognized Snow-White, terrorized, she could only stand there without moving. Then they put a pair of shoes into burning coals. They were brought forth with tongs and placed before her. She was forced to step into the red-hot shoes and dance until she fell down dead." (Grimm) Suddenly, after serving as the tale's villain caught in an endless cycle of her own intrusive thoughts and violent words, she is brought down by the sole moment she did not have the words to save herself. She is brought down by silence. The world is put at peace by silence. Perhaps this ending portrays the Queen's first encounter with peace in silence as well, as death is the only one willing enough to take and love her entirely.

The peace and reward of silence maintains its daunting presence in Snow White, assisting the princess with her navigation through childhood and escape from the Queen. One of the earliest moments that foretells the resounding volume of her quietness involves the surrender of the huntsman, for which Grimm writes, "Because she was so beautiful the huntsman took pity on her, and he said, 'Run away, you poor child.'" (Grimm) There remains no mention of Snow White's cries, no mention of her youth, no mention of her character that saves her from brutal assassination; only her beauty proves worth preserving. As a result, she lives on in her hushed nature, and receives identical responses from seven dwarves that become extremely "happy" at the sight of her "beautiful" face and offer her their house as refuge. Not one word is pleaded, not one word is begged, not one word is uttered as Snow White is tossed and turned into various circumstances, with only words of gratitude spilling from her lips when spoken to. Her words quickly become predictable, and in fact, predictability becomes the only trait that characterizes them. Snow White requires no other words or personal thought to indulge in, especially as she learns only to receive and that nature itself will love her for it. Alongside human nature, the nature of the forest also joins in on this odd celebration of silence in a period of mourning: "[The dwarves] put the coffin outside on the mountain, and one of them always stayed with it and watched over her. The animals too came and mourned for Snow-White, first an owl, then a raven, and finally a dove." (Grimm) The birth of Snow White's intimate relationship with nature only in death, as no connection between Snow White and the forest is previously foreshadowed, reveals how her worth is reduced to the piece of her that lives on: not her spirit or mind, but her body. The birds and dwarves suddenly gather to admire and protect Snow White most diligently after her life has passed and only once her beautiful shell remains. The last character to discover Snow White for her silent beauty is the Prince, a character that enters to offer Snow White the ultimate reward of marriage. Upon finding the princess in her glass casket and reading the words etched onto it (words carved by another individual for Snow White, no words articulated or chosen by her yet again), the Prince immediately falls in love. As Grimm describes, "He told her what had happened, and then said, 'I love you more than anything else in the world. Come with me to my father's castle. You shall become my wife.' Snow-White loved him, and she went with him." (Grimm) However unsurprising this may sound, the newest layer to Snow White's relationship with silence becomes her surrender to another's command of love. She now lives both by the promises of her own silence and the promises of another's words targeted at her more blatantly. Her reciprocation to the Prince's passion becomes so utterly expected, in fact, that her response is offered no dialogue in the tale. Snow White has grown to become the echo, the reflection, of the outside world's desires and thus showers in its praise.

The concept of voice in "Snow White" becomes its own insistent question by the end. It inspires the reconsideration of who deserves a voice, who might surrender it, and who might steal it from another. While the Queen and Snow White attempt to answer these questions for themselves, they find themselves caught in a world that tempts with and punishes women for individual contemplation, or relishes in and rewards the silencing of these ideas. The two characters suffocate immensely under the expectations of silent surrender in their own distinct manners, losing all sense of the fact that they are severing ties with their own peace and that they are suffocating at all. They become two lost trains of thought, lingering too loudly in violent words or too softly in responses undeserving of dialogue. Ultimately, the two never meet a sincere connection, as there will never be peace for the voices that question themselves.