“The psychology of Snow White: What does she hope for?” (Donald Barthelme)

The psychology of Snow White: What does she hope for? “Someday my prince will come.” By this Snow White means that she lives her own being as incomplete, pending the arrival of one who will “complete” her. That is, she lives her own being as “not-with” (even though she is in some sense “with” the seven men, Bill, Kevin, Clem, Hubert, Henry, Edward and Dan). But the “not-with” is experienced as stronger, more real, at this particular instant in time, than the “being-with.” The incompleteness is an ache capable of subduing all other data presented by consciousness. I don’t go along with those theories of historical necessity, which suggest that her actions are dictated by “forces” outside of the individual. That doesn’t sound reasonable, in this case. Irruption of the magical in the life of Snow White: Snow White knows a singing bone. The singing bone has told her various stories which have left her troubled and confused: of a bear transformed into a king’s son, of an immense treasure at the bottom of a brook, of a crystal casket in which there is a cap that makes the wearer invisible. This must not continue. The behavior of the bone is unacceptable. The bone must be persuaded to confine itself to events and effects susceptible of confirmation by the instrumentarium of the physical sciences. Someone must reason with the bone.

From Donald Barthelme’s novel Snow White.

3 thoughts on ““The psychology of Snow White: What does she hope for?” (Donald Barthelme)”

  1. Recently read Vidal’s essay ‘American Plastic’, where he proceeds to demolish Barthelme’s work, albeit in his usual silver-tongued style. After reading these recent excerpts, though (especially ‘Wrinkle in the groin’), I’m not sure if Vidal is correct.

    Great post.


    1. I don’t really know Vidal’s work, beyond his battles with Buckley, and a few essays here and there. I’ve heard of the essay before—he basically beats up on the American postmodernists, yes?

      I don’t know. I read Barthelme in college, and I’ve reread lots of him this year, and I think it’s just the finest, finest stuff—holds up much better than John Barth, I think. I mean, if someone doesn’t like what Barthelme’s doing it’s pretty easy to dismiss it I suppose—it’s weird stuff, polyglossic, highly self-aware, aware of the forms and tropes of literature and basically playing with those; it’s stochastic, centerless, self-deconstructing; it’s very funny, often sexy, often overtly terribly written on purpose (DB often has characters or the narrator simply announce the theme or cite a philosopher or historian or something).

      I reread most of 40 Stories and 60 Stories this summer and fall, and I’m not sure if there’s anything better from that generation of postmodernists (including Pynchon). But I’ll admit that I have a weakness for those guys, which is evident, I suppose, on this blog, and that I don’t really much go in for the other guys of that era—Roth, Vidal, Updike, Mailer.

      Snow White is really fun to read though, especially if you like literature. That’s a dumb thing to say, but I think that DB’s work is just this really, really rich response to literary history (and history history, philosophy, etc.)—I get a lot more out of it now than I did at 19 or 20, in large part I think because I’ve read a lot more, get a lot more of the jokes, which often simply have to do with tone.

      I’ll see if I can find the Vidal essay online or maybe in our library. Cheers.


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