How does Angela Carter evoke feminisim in "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Company of Wolves" to re-tell fairy-tales?

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angelcann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Angela Carter's short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, is often viewed as a feminist re-telling of Charles Perrault's fairy tales, even though Carter herself denied that she was attempting to add feminism or make the stories particularly adult.

In "The Company of Wolves" the feminist theme is most obvious in the werewolf motif. The narrator suggests that all men at some point become werewolves, making the indirect statement that all men are beasts, predators. The women in the story are largely stereotypical -- the mother, the housewife -- and often fall victim to the wolves.  The protagonist -- the young girl in the red cloak -- is on the cusp of womanhood. We know that she has begun to menstruate, but that she is also a virgin. Carter describes her as being an "unbroken egg." Like the traditional version of "Little Red Riding Hood," the young girl is approached by the wolf while she is on her way to her grandmother's house, but unlike the traditional story, Carter's traveler displays characteristics that are traditionally masculine -- she is daring, confident, and predatory. When she is trapped in her grandmother's house with the werewolf, she does not go through the "what big eyes you have" routine of the traditional heroine, but takes control of the situation, removing both her clothes and the wolf's. Furthermore, she is taking control of her sexuality, choosing her own partner in a society that prizes a woman's virginity and uses her sexuality as a commodity in the marriage market.

Similarly, Carter's version of "Bluebeard," "The Bloody Chamber," also takes place in a society in which women are traditionally victims and the men are animals. Here, though, the animal is a lion instead of a wolf, and his sexual agression is demonstrated not just though the bodies of his former wives, but in the vast collection of pornography in his library. Like the heroine of "The Company of Wolves," the narrator begins the story as a virgin, but after her marriage is consummated, she becomes curious about sex, a curiosity furthered when she discovers her husband's collection of pornography. Although the heroine does require saving from her husband, her savior is not her brother, as in the traditional fairy tale, but her mother. The mother herself is a feminist figure, as she grew up not in frilly dresses, learning to embroider, but fighting pirates on a tea plantation in China. She is tough and fearless, taking on tasks that are traditionally given to men in fairy tales.

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The Bloody Chamber

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