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The main theme of the story is to listen to what your parents tell you and not to talk to strangers. Essentially, she is sent on a specific journey, told not to leave the path, and yet because she does she finds herself in a dangerous situation. The key purpose of folklore and fairy tales (much like their earlier incarnartion, myths) was to teach a lesson or to guide people to make the right choices.
Moving beyond the simplistic answer an looking to critical interpretations of various versions of the tale, the essential element of childhood fears is revealed. One critical analysis forms a version of the tale that revolves around the fear of the cannibalistic or overpowering mother and the latent expression of nubile sexuality:
when discussing LRRH it is also necessary to chart its journey from oral tale clearly connected with cannibalism, abjection and sexuality, to Perrault's French version whose Royal audience necessitated serious alteration of content, to the Grimm version which extends the Perrault alterations and significantly changes the moral point of the tale by changing the ending (twice).
This particular essay examines a number of themes present in the work at great length and may prove valuable to you.
Three themes we can recognize in the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood" are the importance of obeying parents, the wisdom of being cautious with strangers, and the reliability of one's internal early warning system. Considering the most familiar version of the tale among American readers, the Brothers Grimm version, we know that at the beginning of the story, the mother tells Little Red Riding Hood (or Little Red Cap) that she must stay on the path all the way to her grandmother's house. The girl forgets her promise to "do everything just right" and allows the wolf to tempt her to stray from her mission. The story ends with Little Red Cap vowing to never leave the path again and to always obey her mother. Thus the theme of always obeying one's parents is perhaps the strongest theme and the one best supported by the ending of the story.
Another theme that comes through and that the story is often most remembered for is the warning it gives about talking to strangers. Many of us remember a version of the story in which the mother warns, "Do not talk to strangers on the way." Clearly the story is meant to show that strangers are not always trustworthy, and a person, especially a child, should not give their suggestions and commands credence. Little Red Riding Hood learned that people (wolves) are not always as they seem; people with evil motives can masquerade as friendly advisers.
A third strong theme in the story comes through when we consider the misgivings Red Riding Hood experiences when she enters her grandmother's house and how she fails to act on those instincts. When she finds the door ajar, she is afraid, but instead of paying attention to that fear and running away, she enters and finds her "grandmother" in the bed. Then she questions what she sees, noticing her grandmother's over-sized ears, eyes, hands, and mouth. Despite being so close to recognizing the wolf's charade, she remains there until she gets eaten. Certainly the story teaches children to pay attention to those internal warnings and to act on them.
One of the reasons we remember this fairy tale so vividly into adulthood is that it teaches these three helpful lessons that every child can benefit from as they grow up.
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