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R. S. Gwynn's "Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

R. S. Gwynn

R. S. Gwynn

Introduction and Text of "Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins"

R. S. Gwynn's conflation of several sources—the Snow White story, the seven deadly ("capital") sins, biblical allusion, along with a tortured take on Catholicism—purports to portray a dysfunctional marriage. Placing all seven deadly sins in one husband, the poem lampoons the judgment of a wife whose sense of duty becomes perverted by tolerating the uncouth behavior of her husband.

Then, of course, the pièce de résistance, the poor wife after enduring a lifetime of suffering at the hands of brute husband escapes into further bondage by "Beat[ing] it to St. Anne's where she took the veil." The snark in the language demonstrates the contempt that the speaker holds for the religious convictions of the woman. From designating her a "good Catholic girl" to her "confessing" her doubts "to the Father," to her "kne[eling] to the cold master bathroom floor" to her "taking the veil," speaker accumulates the features of postmodern, secular humanism that disparages religious conviction.

The clever uses of irony of this piece get lost in the off-putting bitterness displayed in the jaunty language. Whenever one encounters the phrase "good Catholic girl" in a postmodern poem, one should suspect that the speaker likely means a vacuous, featherbrained female, incapable of enjoying life. Similarly, terms such as "duty" remain highly suspect and likely indicate an attempt at irony.

Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins

Good Catholic girl, she didn't mind the cleaning.
All of her household chores, at first, were small
And hardly labors one could find demeaning.
One's duty was one's refuge, after all.

And if she had her doubts at certain moments
And once confessed them to the Father, she
Was instantly referred to texts in Romans
And Peter's First Epistle, chapter III.

Years passed. More sinful every day, the Seven
Breakfasted, grabbed their pitchforks, donned their horns,
And sped to contravene the hopes of heaven,
Sowing the neighbors' lawns with tares and thorns.

She set to work. Pride's wall of looking glasses
Ogled her dimly, smeared with prints of lips;
Lust's magazines lay strewn, bare tits and asses
Weighted by his "devices" - chains, cuffs, whips.

Gluttony's empties covered half the table,
Mingling with Avarice's cards and chips,
And she'd been told to sew a Bill Blass label
Inside the blazer Envy'd bought at Gyps.

She knelt to the cold master bathroom floor as
If a petitioner before the Pope,
Retrieving several pairs of Sloths's soiled drawers,
A sweat-sock and a cake of hairy soap.

Then, as she wiped the Windex from the mirror
She noticed, and the vision made her cry,
How much she'd grayed and paled, and how much clearer
Festered the bruise of Wrath beneath her eye.

"No poisoned apple needed for this Princess,"
She murmured making X's with her thumb.
A car door slammed, bringing her to her senses:
Ho-hum. Ho-hum. It's home from work we come.

And she was out the window in a second,
In time to see a Handsome Prince, of course,
Who, in spying her distressed condition, beckoned
For her to mount (What else?) his snow-white horse.

Impeccably he spoke. His smile was glowing.
So debonair! So charming! And so Male.
She took a step, reversed and without slowing
Beat it to St. Anne's where she took the veil.

Reading of "Snow White and the Seven Deadly Sins"

Commentary

This conflated effort spews forth what is unmistakably the speaker's bigoted view of religion, especially Catholicism. A "good Catholic girl" endures a dysfunctional marriage to a brute, and what does she do? How does a good Catholic girl remedy her miserable life situation? She becomes a nun, of course!

First Stanza: A Ditzy Female

Good Catholic girl, she didn't mind the cleaning.
All of her household chores, at first, were small
And hardly labors one could find demeaning.
One's duty was one's refuge, after all.

The speaker describes the woman as a "Good Catholic girl." At the outset of her marriage, she did not revolt against "cleaning" and other "household chores," because she believed the precept that clean is divine, and "One’s duty [is] one’s refuge."

This poem functions to denigrate the Catholic religion. To the mindset that produces the language and narrative of this piece, a "good Catholic girl" is a brainwashed female who believes in duty and responsibility to the point of enduring suffering in vain.

Second Stanza: Doing Good Brings Suffering

And if she had her doubts at certain moments
And once confessed them to the Father, she
Was instantly referred to texts in Romans
And Peter's First Epistle, chapter III.

At times, this woman professed doubts about her marriage, but her priest suggested she read "Romans / And Peter’s First Epistle, chapter III." Romans explicitly points out the commandments and makes it clear that doing good is better than doing evil, while Peter’s chapter three further supports that position, "For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing."

For this mindset, just as the literal, innocuous phrase, "good Catholic girl," heralds a handmaid, any scripture referred to by a priest would automatically become suspect. "If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it" becomes the postmodern rule for behavior.

Third Stanza: Heaven as Irony

Years passed. More sinful every day, the Seven
Breakfasted, grabbed their pitchforks, donned their horns,
And sped to contravene the hopes of heaven,
Sowing the neighbors' lawns with tares and thorns.

The woman’s life continues in the same vain as "years passed"; all the while the husband’s behavior grows "more sinful every day." The speaker describes his activities; [he] "Breakfasted, grabbed [his] pitchfork] . . . sped to contravene the hopes of heaven."

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The husband’s job is not identified, but it is clear that he is not a productive member of society. He symbolically spreads "tares (weeds) and thorns" throughout the neighborhood; thus, he not only mistreats his wife but also his environment.

Fourth Stanza: Male Messes Up, Female Cleans Up"

She set to work. Pride's wall of looking glasses
Ogled her dimly, smeared with prints of lips;
Lust's magazines lay strewn, bare tits and asses
Weighted by his "devices" - chains, cuffs, whips.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker begins to address each sin, beginning with "pride," indicated by keeping several mirrors covered metaphorically with kisses. Magazines of "lust" portray unsavory sexual practices. Metaphorically and allegorically, the speaker dramatizes the husband as a vain, sex obsessed individual. And the wife has to clean up after his mess.

The wife is now portrayed as the suffering receptacle for her husbands engaging in the seven deadly sins. Thus the focus remains on the husband’s behavior, instead of her reaction to it.

Fifth Stanza: Making Irony of Sin

Gluttony's empties covered half the table,
Mingling with Avarice's cards and chips,
And she'd been told to sew a Bill Blass label
Inside the blazer Envy'd bought at Gyps.

The husband’s deadly sin of "gluttony" leaves empty food/beverage containers strewn over the table along with the signs of his "avarice," revealed by "cards and chips." His "envy" is on display; he had her sew "a Bill Blass label" into his inexpensive blazer.

The husband’s complete degenerate personality is coming into focus through his indulgences. Still, the wife’s response now remains held in abeyance, foreshadowing a dramatic conclusion.

Sixth Stanza: Faith Demeaning to Women

She knelt to the cold master bathroom floor as
If a petitioner before the Pope,
Retrieving several pairs of Sloths's soiled drawers,
A sweat-sock and a cake of hairy soap.

In the sixth stanza, the husband’s sin of "sloth" is dramatized as the wife has to kneel to pull his "soiled drawers, / A sweat-sock and cake of hairy soap" from the "cold master bathroom floor."

The image of the woman picking up her husband’s dirty laundry from the bathroom floor brings back into focus her faith as the speaker describes her kneeling as if petitioning "the Pope." Again, the juxtaposition of kneeling and "soiled drawers" simply show the clever disdain that the speaker is imposing on his characters.

Seventh Stanza: Faith Continues to Demean Women

Then, as she wiped the Windex from the mirror
She noticed, and the vision made her cry,
How much she'd grayed and paled, and how much clearer
Festered the bruise of Wrath beneath her eye.

Cleaning the bathroom mirror with "Windex," the wife notices how gray her hair has become and that she is looking rather gaunt. Most significantly, she sees the result of physical abuse, "the bruise of Wrath beneath her eye." Not only does her husband defile their neighborhood and their home with his disgusting behavior, he also turns out to be a wife beater.

Eighth Stanza: Xs on the Mirror

"No poisoned apple needed for this Princess,"
She murmured making X's with her thumb.
A car door slammed, bringing her to her senses:
Ho-hum. Ho-hum. It's home from work we come.

The woman finally wakes up from her nightmare, claiming that she did not need a poisoned apple to put her into a death-sleep. She marks "X’s" on the mirror with her thumb, signaling that this is the end. She will no longer live under the spell of the "seven deadly sins." Then she hears her husband coming home.

Ninth Stanza: The Well-Appointed Fairy Tale

And she was out the window in a second,
In time to see a Handsome Prince, of course,
Who, in spying her distressed condition, beckoned
For her to mount (What else?) his snow-white horse.

The wife has made up her mind to put an end to her worthless marriage: "she [is] out the window in a second." Her husband tries to assuage her "distressed condition," promising that he will be her "Handsome Prince," on a "snow-white horse."

The ridiculous image of the woman fleeing through a window demonstrates the impulsiveness of her newly found determination. Nevertheless, that her bursting out through window apparently alerted the husband that something was afoot seems a bit contrived but does offer the opportunity for him to offer up the stereotypical, if worthless, claim that he will change, that from now on he will be her knight in shining armor. He is sorry and he will never do it again.

Tenth Stanza: Trashing Monastics

Impeccably he spoke. His smile was glowing.
So debonair! So charming! And so Male.
She took a step, reversed and without slowing
Beat it to St. Anne's where she took the veil.

Like the typical abusive husband who promises to change and never do those bad things again, "Impeccable he spoke. His smile was glowing." But she had been through enough. Living with a man who embodied all of the "seven deadly sins" had convinced her that the best path to take from thence forward was to "beat it to St. Anne’s where she took the veil." She decides to follow the advice from Peter, "Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it."

However, the phrasing that she decided to "[b]eat it to St. Anne’s where she took the veil" not only conveys the message that she has decided to leave her miserable marriage and enter a convent, but that the speaker now holds even more contempt for the "good Catholic girl." The term "beat it" meaning simply "to go to" demonstrates the speaker’s judgment that the woman’s choice is not only unserious but typically dangerous to the secular way of solving problems. After all nuns, monks, and other celibates inhabit the lowest rung of society for hard-core secular humanists.

Thus, this poem takes a "good Catholic girl" (deluded dame) through the poison of wretchedly unhappy marriage to which she felt a duty and responsibility (because she was deluded by Catholicism, of course) to ending up in the worse situation of all (a sexless monastic in a bland monastery).

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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