In what ways do the stories in The Bloody Chamber challenge patriarchal values in society?
In The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter’s collection of gothic, feminist retellings of classic fairy tales subverts patriarchal values by recasting women as the main protagonists of the stories rather than marginal characters on the periphery of the tales. By foregrounding the experiences of her female protagonists, Carter shows that the fairy tales that inspire her work uphold patriarchal values. Fairy tales often cast women as victims or monsters; she challenges these expectations by placing women in prominent roles in her gothic interpretations.
For instance, in “The Tiger’s Bride,” the young female protagonist is initially presented as a “damsel in distress,” as a victim. However, she shows a strength that is not typical of women in fairy tales. Indeed, when The Beast admits that he values her because she is a virgin, she sardonically thinks
“I wish I’d rolled in the hay with every lad on my father’s farm, to disqualify myself from this humiliating bargain” (61).
She disregards the norms surrounding normative femininity by being in touch with her dormant sexuality, until the sexual, powerful being within her emerges at the end of the text.
Likewise, in “The Werewolf,” Carter’s retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” Little Red is no longer cast as a victim. She instead emerges as a woman who is unafraid of violence, who can handle herself in a violent place. She wounds the titular werewolf in an altercation:
“It went for her throat, as wolves do, but she made a great swipe at it with her father's knife and slashed off its right forepaw” (169).
Thus, Carter’s recasting of fairy tales subverts the patriarchal values lodged in these stories.