How are stereotypical roles broken down in "The Bloody Chamber?"

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber," is a more modern version of the old "Bluebeard" tales with a similar plot. The story loses none of the suspense of earlier versions, but indeed breaks with the stereotypical roles of the rescuers of the young wife.

In the story, the narrator is arriving at her new home with her new husband, who has mysteriously lost three previous wives. He is not the man she expects; she does not know him well, as she discovers, for instance, when she finds he has pornography in the library. Soon a phone call requires that her husband leave France to travel to New York. The young wife is left alone in the house with only one rule from her husband: Do Not Open THAT Door!"

Bored and lonely, the wife is eventually drawn to that door. Curiosity gets the best of her and she enters, only to find her husband's previous three wives, all murdered. She drops the key, a traditional part of the tale, which becomes stained with blood that will not be removed. Horrified, she tries to call her mother, but the lines are down. She speaks to the blind piano tuner who wishes to help, but she does not want him harmed.

Her husband returns early—the trip has been cancelled—and he realizes what she has done; he prepares to kill her as he has the others. He presses the key to her forehead with leaves a mark—of her "betrayal." He demands that she meet him in the courtyard.

Whereas brothers or other men have traditionally arrived on horseback at the last minute to save the woman, the greatest stereotype to be broken is that the woman's savior is NOT a man, but her mother, a woman with great spirit. She had been described earlier in the story:

...what other student at the Conservatoire could boast that her mother had outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand...

These details were too rich not to come into play later in the story, and her mother does not disappoint, arriving in the nick of time to save her daughter from the hands of her murderous husband. After her husband's death, inheriting his wealth, the young widow, her mother, and the blind piano tuner turn the estate into a school for the blind.

The connection between the piano tuner and the "widow" also breaks a stereotype. First, he agrees to leave her so he will not be harmed. She insists that he leave her for his safety—a juxtaposition of traditional roles. Then he still comes out to comfort her, though with his blindness, he cannot save her. Being blind is not a traditional characteristic of a romantic figure in story of this kind. His blindness is even a blessing to our widow: as he cannot see the sign of the key on her forehead, which she perceives with a sense of shame.

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