Just like the child that began to grow in Frida Kahlo’s womb that never came to fruition, Angela Carter’s The Snow Child creates a child that returns to the earth from which it came. The Count in Carter’s story goes on a journey stating over and over again, “I wish I had a girl…” followed by various attributes he desired in this girl. Kahlo tried several times to have a child with the love of her life Diego Rivera, but each time miscarried the child. Carter used literature as a medium to express her idea regarding depiction of women in fantasy literature, while Kahlo used painting as her medium to express her ideas about the depiction of women struggling with the human experience of being a woman. Both works illustrate and define that the desire for a child will take a person through great pain, by either choice or infliction, in order to achieve the birth of a child, sometimes to a tragic end.
Kahlo painted with raw honesty that revealed the horrors in her human experiences. Carter took fairy tale stories, which are intended to appeal to sweet, innocent, children and reconstructed them to show the horrific underbelly of those stories. Carter wrote, “there she stood, beside the road, white skin, red mouth, black hair and stark naked; she was the child of his desire and the Countess hated her” (Carter, 115). While Kahlo painted an image of a child standing alone on a road, barefoot, yellow sunflower in hand, snow covered mountains in the background. Both images depict a child in need of care, love, and parents to take her in and show her love. Then both images take a twisted turn. The narrative adds another layer to these young girls. Carter writes, “the girl picks a rose; pricks her finger on the thorn; bleeds; screams; falls” (Carter, 116). The girl is now dead on the road, the Count rapes her lifeless body as the Countess watches without intervening. Kahlo adorns her little girl with a skeleton mask or sorts and places on the road next to her the evil mask of a demon, blood splashed mouth, tongue hanging out. Both artists depict little girls killed and violated in some context variation or another, which speaks to a larger point of view on desire of females. Carter adds an additional layer to the desire, by including the Countess who desires the child to be dead and who loses pieces of herself along the journey as the child grows.
In Carter’s depiction of gender, The Countess views herself as superior to the girl and as she loses pieces of herself to the girl she feels herself becoming less than and before she becomes the subordinate she finds a way to kill the girl. At no point does The Countess view The Count as subordinate to her, but arguably superior since she does not stop any of his actions, including the rape, but instead just challenges the girls existence having only one thought, “how shall I be rid of her” (Carter, 116). Carter describes a woman of high born status comfortable in her place below a man, yet above another female, not because she is a child, but a female because of how the man desired that girl, creating a jealousy driven motive for her death instead of a justified death of the man for his actions. Gender is slotted placements in the hierarchy of that society and it is just accepted. Kahlo seems to take the idea of gender and remove the beauty to see the death of every child she has tried to bring to conception.
Kahlo’s desire for a child is manifested into a female child born with a pretty dress and a pretty flower, masked for maybe a game to play, but at any moment that mask could become reality. It was as if she was saying the child is already dead and she is trying to give life to her, but it may be too late. It is possible Kahlo was trying to appeal to her own inner little girl, the female within her that felt dead, blood gnashed teeth, tongue exposed and left for dead on the side of the road. For Kahlo, gender may be her punishment, because in real life Diego Rivera, the love of her life could come and go as he pleased, void of consequence for his actions, and she kept going back to him trying to conceive another child.
Kate Millett said, “it can be said scientifically that women are inherently subservient, and males dominant, more strongly sexed and therefore entitled to sexually subjugate the female, who enjoys her oppression and deserves it, for she is by her very nature, vain, stupid, and hardly better than barbarian, if she is human at all” (Moi, 27-28). It is easy to accept a male is making all the right choices and a woman mistake after mistake if she views herself the way a patriarchal society would want her to view herself, less than all males, but barely a meter above the lowest rungs of humanity in this hierarchy that exists to establish permission and punishment. Carter and Kahlo pinpoint those moments in their lives that place them in the mindset of acceptance of this established order. Both women tell stories that beg for discussion in order to break down the system that holds back and oppresses women without permission and without regard for how it makes women feel. Regardless of the medium, genre, literary device, brush stroke, or photograph, art gives women an outlet to express what is socially taboo to talk about in social circles where men feel entitled to tell women what to say and do.
Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber. Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. 1979.
Kahlo, Frida. Girl With Death Mask. Image retrieved from web.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics. Routledge, 2002.