Little Red Riding Hood: Angela Carter

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1st Jun 2017 English Literature Reference this

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All fairy tales, both old and new that exist today can be said to have a long history that lies beneath them. However, some aspects of the fairy-tale history are somewhat hard to trace because it’s only the literary forms that can obviously survive. Furthermore, what we do know is that the majority of them have been around and retold for many years. Most, if not all of the famous fairy tales that we know have been adapted into various new versions as products of new challenging ideas around the society in which we live. Bonner states that fairy tales are ‘the usual subjects of adaptation because of their massive appeal to both adults and children worldwide.’ [1] The story ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ arguably offers a very interesting and challenging tale for enhancements through the application of the chosen contemporary theories in literary criticism that some critics have noticed throughout the years of its existence. Furthermore, in this essay I intend to compare Perrault’s version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ with Angela Carters version ‘Company of Wolves’.

‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Little Red Cap’ or simply ‘Red Riding Hood’ is a European fairy-tale about a young innocent girl and a wolf. The tale was first published by Charles Perrault in 1697, which in fact was an adaptation of an older tale still. Thus, Perrault’s version ever since has been adapted and criticised throughout its history. Zipes holds ‘the genre is relevant to contemporary culture as it holds issues that exist within gender and its society. [2] ‘ Perrault’s version was named ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’ The red hood is seen as a popular symbol in Europe and North America. In the 19th century young daughters of wealthy families were painted in red caps or hoods. Erich Fromm considers the hood to ‘symbolise menstruation and the approaching puberty that lingers upon the young person that wears it.’ [3] 

Perrault’s version can be described as a much more descriptive fairytale than many others. It begins with ‘once upon a time’ [4] which the traditional way to start a fairy-tale and also gives the image of timelessness throughout the tale. This relates to the narration and the structure within the fairy-tale of which certainly precedes the middle class’s existence within. It portrays the image of the little girl being highly attractive ‘the prettiest creature who was ever seen.’ [5] She is also said to be extremely naïve, ‘the poor child who did not know it was dangerous to stay and hear the wolf talk.’ [6] This shows her innocence and that she isn’t aware of the bad happenings in the outside world due to her controlled life at home and within her society, this relates to Trimmers view that ‘ both children and children’s tales should be kept away from such happenings within society that are out of the norm.’ [7] 

In Perrault’s version of the tale the little girl’s mother simply instructs her to take some food for her grandmother: never mentioning danger or anything that she should avoid on her journey, thus showing how safe society was perceived throughout the time. Tater argues ‘it resembles a somewhat cautious tale to society, a wakeup call.’ [8] 

Moreover, the existence of the wolf within the tale gives the audience an image of a villain being portrayed. The wolf is seen as a popular image of danger in fairy tales as it is seen in this and other stories such as ‘The Three Little Pigs.’ It is an obvious predator that exists within the forest and thus relates to a natural choice for the story rather than witches etc. it can also be portrayed as a metaphor for a sexually predatory man. He is of course the only male gender within the tale thus is portrayed as a powerful and strong figure, seen in the phrase ‘gaffer wolf’ [9] personifying the wolf as the boss within the tale. He shows a strong influence upon the naïve country girl as he persuades her to divert from the safe path in which she was on after foolishly telling him exactly where she was going. This clearly portrays to the audience a somewhat clear contrast between the village and it’s surrounding in which the girl lives, which is seen as safe and the dangers that are withheld in the wide world past what the little girl is used to. Hence, holding a strong morality message throughout the fairytale, warning people to stick to what they know.

Tater identifies the tale as a place to ‘work through people thoughts and anxieties about sexuality, gender and sometimes violence.’ [10] When Little Red Riding Hood makes it to the house, she has no sense of anything wrong and states ‘What big arms you have!’ [11] Exclamation can be argued to be the favourite story element for tales, being seen as a story building tool that creates the anticipation and horror for the reader as they know that she isn’t talking to her grandmother. Warner considers her initial failure to distinguish the wolf from her grandma as a crucial element within the story, as it creates the tension before the horrific ending of the fairy-tale.

Furthermore, critics that exist such as Freud argue that there is evidence of underlying sexual motivations and tensions, evidence of this is the Hungry wolf simply not just eating the poor old grandmother, but ‘he fell upon the good woman.’ [12] Feminist critics portray this as an image of rape and sexual tension. In addition, before he sadly digests the young girl he invites her to bed, ‘come and lie down with me.’ [13] This can be seen as another sexual connotation within the tale, and also a disturbing image for its older audience. Thus being an innocent, clueless little girl she climbs into bed with him. Therefore by disobeying her mother’s instructions and talking to strangers Freud dramatically insinuates that this struggle can only lead to her death which is the exact fate of Little Red Riding Hood, as ‘he ate her up too.’ [14] The terrifying ending makes the tale seems more realistic leading to the moral at the end of the story of not talking to strangers and staying to paths in life you are familiar with; Bettelheim says it ‘deliberately threatens the child with its anxiety producing ending.’ [15] 

Moreover, the tale of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ has been seen to undergo adaptation in relation to society of the time. Hence, in comparison to Perrault’s version, ‘The Company of Wolves’ by Angela Carter. This can be found in her selection of short stories within ‘Bloody Chamber’.

Throughout the short story Carter retells the famous fairytale in a somewhat gothic light. It is said to convey the ‘completeness of corruption and unconventional ideas of sexuality and an ability to defend one using characteristics which are usually conveyed through a male such as slyness and confidence.’ [16] However, unlike the Perrault’s version, it takes place in a mountainous country on Christmas Eve in the dead of winter. Thus, in comparison to Perrault there are no flowers or sunshine present for the little girl to get distracted by on her walk to Grandma.

Angela spends the first part of the story telling the reader terrifying folk tales of wolfs and werewolves that bombard society and proceed to do ruthless and evil deeds that live to kill. Clearly it adapts with the time within the story when food would be scarce and these creatures are said to lack the ability to ‘listen to reason.’ [17] They are portrayed as ‘forest assassins, grey members of a nightmare.’ [18] They were feared so great that children carried knifes around with them, seen as different to the original Little Red Riding Hood who isn’t even warned of the dangers that she could encounter on her journey. In Carters version, the wolves are disguised as men and have to become naked to become a werewolf within the tale, ‘If you spy a naked man in the forest run as if the devil were after you.’ [19] Moreover this can be seen to link to Perrault’s version, as it holds the notion of sexual tension and desires and involves the wolf as a sexual predator, a symbol of both danger and desire. However, Carters version holds a twist within the tale in that the young girl is able to triumph, by adapting her new found sexual desires and power and thus, gives in to notions of somewhat carnal desire, unlike Perrault’s characters that are seen to be weak and unable to fend for themselves.

Furthermore, similar to Perrault’s version we see Little Red Riding Hood again to be all innocent as she is described as an ‘unbroken egg, a sealed vessel’ [20] and also beautiful with pale skin and dark hair. In addition, as before she is taking food to her sick grandmother; however we see a sense of time and self-defence within this tale as she ‘takes a large knife for her 2 hour trip,’ [21] and we are told its Christmas Eve again portraying that sense of time and place. However, due to her naivety and the way she has been brought up se doesn’t think she is in danger as she is ‘too loved to ever feel scared.’ [22] She is portrayed as the most beautiful and young girl in the family thus they want to keep her young. However, the difference between this girl and Perrault’s version is that she has a notion of menstruation and sexual readiness about her evidence of this is, ‘the child’s cheeks are an emblematic and scarlet white.’ [23] This portrays the young girl as being on the verge of puberty and menstruation, thus adding to the idea of her vulnerability. This is further shown when she bumps into the wolf in the forest who is in fact a hunter and finds him immediately attractive. Compared to Perrault’s version of events Little Red Riding Hood makes friends with this stranger and foolishly lets him carry her basket which has her knife in. After a long walk, and when she has told him were she is going, he bribes her with a kiss for the winner of whoever gets to grandma’s house first. Liking this idea she agrees and allows him to leave with her basket, this gives the image of bargaining with the notion of seduction. Unlike before little red riding hood shows her adolescence and sticks to the path she’s on. However, she walks slowly to ensure he gets his kiss again showing her sexuality and desires.

The wolf arrives at the grandmother’s house as a completely different person that we have just witnessed before; he is chewing meat of his catch like a savage. Carter then links in the sexual connotations as he strips naked revealing a ‘naked, hairy, lie covered body,’ [24] and his ‘nipples that are as red as poison fruit.’ [25] He then devours her. However disgusting this image, it is portrayed as somewhat attractive and sexually arousing. The grandmother within the tale is old and feeble as in Perrault’s version also, however, she lives alone with her dog and bible. In the past she has lived her life as a devoted Christian and wife. She throws the bible at him showing some self-defence which the original grandmother doesn’t even attempt in Perrault’s version, sadly though this isn’t enough to help her against the wolf that is upon her. He then disposes all evidence and waits for the girl to arrive.

Unlike the little girl in Perrault’s version upon her arrival in Carters short story she immediately realises that something isn’t right and senses danger in grandmother’s house, ‘fear does her no good so she refuses to be afraid.’ [26] When she arrives there are uses of the same rhymes within the Perrault’s version, thus showing connections within the adapted version. However, in this tale the girl sees the wolf as strange, unknown creature and thus gives him his owed kiss and starts to undress herself. It is argued by Bettelheim that we can see Little Red Riding Hood wear her desires and sexuality literally on her sleeve. This is seen through her cape, as it portrays a sexual readiness and again symbolising menstruation and blood that she will shed when she loses her virginity. She shows a somewhat sexual power that allows her to intoxicate the lustful creature, ‘small breasts gleamed as if snow had entered the room.’ [27] Evidently, the seduction gets reversed and we see the power shift as the girl becomes the sexual creature within the tale. This can be seen as the reason why grandma and the original little red riding hood didn’t survive, she was old and lacked wit and tactfulness, Little Red Riding hood refuses to be weak and vulnerable as she survives and sacrifices her virginity to save her life, showing that self-defence that the original girl didn’t have. She comments on the wolves teeth as in the original but when the wolf says ‘all the better to eat you with’ [28] instead of screaming and having her fate decided, she laughs and says im ‘nobody’s meat’ [29] , Bacchilega interprets this meaning as acting out sexual desires offering her flesh not meat, hence sacrificing her body to him sexually then burning her cape in order to become one of the werewolves herself and adapt to his kind. The cottage is then surrounded by wolves howling a marriage song and the girl engages in a marriage ceremony conducted by the choir. Thus feminists state that she does not call upon god or scream or get eaten. She ‘freely exercises her own sexual power, trusting her own nature.’ [30] This then leads to ‘sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of her tender wolf.’ [31] A disturbing image towards its audience.

It is also interesting to see that Carter uses a werewolf instead of a wolf that is used in Perrault’s version. Timmer states that this produces a moral message to its audience, whether that be children or adults that people should not judge others, people aren’t always what they seem.’ [32] Thus using a half wolf half human villain within the story allows us to identify with the wolf as people and maybe realise that we all have a little beast in us at some point.

In conclusion, one of the many adapted versions of Perrault’s implies that sexuality is not something within our society that should be something we loath, fear or runaway from and a bad end, which we see within the Perrault’s version comes only form those in servile situations. Through Carter, we see the young girl take the power into her own hands and use it without fear or shame in order to survive unscathed unlike Perrault’s version, what ends in tragedy from both the grandma and Little Red Riding Hood. However, both versions are heavily criticised by many, especially feminists as they say it is full on female liberation that implies the view to the reader that nothing else in the world will save you against such horror and the only way to survive is through temptation, desire and the ability to fight fire with fire.

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