Angela Carter’s Reworking of the Helpless and Passive Little Red Riding Hood
“We need to know the writing of the past and know it differently than we have ever known it; not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us,” writes Adrienne Rich in her essay “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” As a feminist and magical realist novelist, Angela Carter rewrites Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood in a subversive and oppositional manner. Carter recreates Perrault’s classic fairytale by parting with the notion of the delicate, vulnerable and innocent young lady. Through her short story “The Company of Wolves,” Carter “advocates a radical break with tradition, a dissonant and dissident rupturing of its value-systems and hierarchies” by deconstructing this ancient, patriarchal construction of the helpless, passive female victim (Sanders 9).
Though her short story is a drastic departure from Perrault’s 17th century version, Carter does still preserve some details of the old French fairytale and leaves certain elements untouched. For example, at the beginning of her short story, Carter paints a picture of a chaste, spoiled and pretty young girl similar to Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood. Carter retains the idea of a young, naïve little girl who “had been indulged by her mother and the grandmother” (113). Carter like Perrault initially depicts the young woman as an innocent virgin: “Her breasts have just begun to swell; her hair is like lint so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white and she has just started her woman’s bleeding” (113). Though Carter pays homage to Perrault’s Little Red Ridding Hood who is “an unbroken egg” and “a sealed vessel” at the start of the short story, this does not hold true throughout the entire fairytale.
The setting of a harsh, primitive countryside in which “children do not stay young for long” signals to the reader that this is will not be a light-hearted “once-upon- time” story. From the start of the short story, signs do not bode well for this pretty young girl. When she puts her beautiful red cape on that suited her “so extremely well that everybody called her Little Red Ridding Hood” as told by Perrault, Carter writes that it had “the ominous brilliant look of blood on snow” (113). Thus, Carter’s fairytale transitions into a far more sinister, darker story than Perrault’s.
In Carter’s rendition of Little Red Ridding Hood, the young girl has audacity, agency, and autonomy that Perrault’s helpless little virgin is lacking. Carter makes it explicit that her main character, though young and pretty, is not without the ability to defend herself. This young girl who grew up in a “savage country” “has her knife and is afraid of nothing” and has a “practised hand” (114). Not only does Carter’s Little Red Riding Hood have agency in terms of knowing how to physically fight back with manmade weapons, she has agency in terms of using her sexual powers as a woman to have dominance over her predator. Carter reverses the binary of the helpless, passive female victim and the dominating male aggressor by making Little Red Hoods sexuality explicit. Little Red Riding Hood, who is more of a young woman than a pretty little girl, embraces her sexuality and initiates the sexual encounter between her and her perceived aggressor. For instance, Carter’s empowered Little Red Riding Hood gains dominance over her predator as she “ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing” (118).
One of the most pivotal quotes from Carter’s piece is: “The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat” (118). This quote is of central importance to the entire work because it lies at the foundation of dissembling the binary of the passive female victim and the dominating male perpetrator. Carter’s Little Red Ridding Hood is no longer a fearful, passive girl as in Perrault’s 17th century Little Red Ridding Hood, but is a bold female heroine who acquires a sense of autonomy, gains control, and harnesses her sexuality to fight back.
Angela Carter. ‘The Company of Wolves’ in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. Vintage Books. London ,1995.
Perrault, Charles. Little Red Reading Hood. France. 17th century.
Sanders, Julie. “Adaptation and Appropriation” Routledge Tayler & Francis Group. London.