How does Angela Carter explore patriarchal dominance in "The Bloody Chamber"?

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In the story "The Bloody Chamber," a retelling of the "Bluebeard" tale, Carter explores patriarchal dominance both by revealing how it works and then showing how women can challenge and overcome it by sticking together. As with other stories in this volume, Carter has rewritten a familiar fairytale to add a feminist twist. 

Though set in more modern times, Carter's story tracks closely to the original tale. We watch as a wealthy and domineering patriarchal male marries a young, innocent bride. She is seventeen and poor; he is far older, has been married three times since she was born, and is "the richest man in France." He shows his dominance by taking her to his home, "a castle" with "turrets of misty blue," of which he has total control. The housekeeper owes her loyalty to this master, not to the new young wife. The husband strips this young wife as if she were his possession: she refers to herself as a "artichoke," something he will consume for his own pleasure. When he has to leave the house on business almost immediately, she has no say in the decision. While he leaves her in charge of the keys to the various rooms of his castle, he has the power to dictate to her that there is one key she must not use, one room she must not enter. When she does enter it, he feels it is within his rights to kill her for her disobedience.

All of this indicates the unequal relationship between a husband and wife in a classical patriarchal relationship: he has the money and the power. He sets the rules and enforces penalties.

The story differs from the original, however, in that the girl's mother--a woman--saves her from her death. This shows female solidarity and female empowerment. The young wife, a damsel in distress, doesn't need a man to save her: she can rely on her powerful mother. In Carter's retelling, women are capable of batting patriarchy and winning. 

Read the study guide:
The Bloody Chamber

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