The story opens in the dead of winter. A Count and Countess are riding horses through freshly-fallen snow when the Count wishes, "I wish I had a girl as white as snow." Then they come upon a hole in the snow that is filled with blood and the Count wishes, "I wish I had a girl as red as blood." Seeing a raven, he wishes again, "I wish I had a girl as black as that bird's feather." Just then, "the child of his desire" appears at the roadside. She has white skin, a red mouth, and black hair, and she is totally naked. He takes her onto his horse. The jealous Countess begins to plot how she will get rid of the girl.
First, the Countess tries to trick the girl into dismounting so that she can desert her in the snow. She drops her glove and tells the girl to fetch it, but the Count says, "I'll buy you new gloves." Suddenly, the Countess's furs jump from her shoulders onto the girl's. Next, the Countess tries to make the girl drown in a pond. She throws her diamond brooch into the pond and tells the girl to fetch it, but the Count defends the girl. Then the Countess's boots jump from her feet onto the girl's feet. The Count pities his unclothed wife but does nothing. Then they come to a flowering rose bush and the Countess orders the girl to pick a flower for her. The Count says, "I can't deny you that," so the girl picks a rose. She pricks her finger and falls down dead.
The Count dismounts rapes the girl's corpse as the Countess watches. When he is finished, the corpse melts away. All that remains of the girl are a raven feather, a bloodstain on the snow, and the rose. The Countess reclaims her clothing. The Count retrieves the rose and, bowing, hands it to his wife. She drops it, proclaiming, "It bites!"
Carter adapted "The Snow Child" from a Grimm Brothers version of the story, in which the father and not the mother wishes for the child. Carter uses this fact to her advantage, in order to portray masculine control of female identity. The Snow Child is not only "the child of [the Count's] desire"; she is the product of his physical desires. He wishes for her to be beautiful and nothing else, so it is clear that he is interested only in her appearance and her value as a sexual object. Cristina Bacchilega calls the Snow Child "a masculine fantasy," a frozen image without a real life of her own. From a literary perspective, the Count is in the position of author; he has the power to say something and make it so. The girl is a helpless character, unable to control her destiny. Bacchilega goes father to state that, like the Marquis in "The Bloody Chamber," the Count is a pornographer. He, clothed, imagines and then creates a sexual image of a naked woman that he can deflower and in fact defile.
Mary Kaiser writes that the Countess is also a pornographic image in relation to the Count. She belongs to him because she has significance as Countess only in relation to him as Count. He not only buys the clothing she wears, but can dress and undress her at will. Clothes associate the Count with civilization while nakedness associates the Snow Child with nature-a cultural cliche. So as the Count dresses and undresses the Countess, he bestows and withdraws her power or "cultural status." Even though the Countess is as subject to the Count's whims as the Snow Child, she sees the girl as an enemy and sets out to kill her. Ozum calls the Countess "a female aristocratic voyeur" because although it is the Count who creates and rapes the Snow Child, she does (and can do) nothing to stop him. Bacchilega explains that because the woman can coexist only as rivals, having no power independent of the Count, they cannot advance themselves. In fact, one of them must die in order for the other to continue existing. Even though the Countess triumphs in the end by winning back the Count's attention and her clothing, the rose pricks her. The rose is a symbol of femininity or the vagina, so the "bite" symbolizes the suffering that accompanies being female, with or without socioeconomic privilege.
When the Snow Child dies, she leaves behind only a rose, a feather, and a bloodstain; she amounts to a small collection of objects. It is obvious from the Snow Child's 'remains' that she was never real to begin with; she was only a figment of the Count's libido. Bacchilega explains why the prick of the rose destroys the Snow Child. The Count created the Snow Child as a sexual object, but when she appears, she is still a girl. When the rose pricks her and she bleeds, symbolizing menstruation, the Snow Child "comes of age" as a being capable of sexual intercourse. Once she has fulfilled her purpose of becoming a sexual object, she can die. Because she was not expected to receive pleasure in having sex or otherwise being alive, it is sufficient for him to rape her corpse. OzÃ¼m, referencing Elaine Jordan, explains that the Snow Child's death is not "a killing of women," but rather a "killing of masculine representations." The Snow child is not weak because she is a woman; she is weak because she fits the un-maintainable masculine idea of female perfection, "good, loyal, and submissive" Just as in "The Erl-King" and "The Bloody Chamber," in "The Snow Child," becoming a reflection of male idealization is a death sentence for the heroine.