Themes and Meanings
A feminist revision of the folktale of Bluebeard, “The Bloody Chamber” emphasizes a woman’s new awareness of female power, her own sexuality, and her responsibility for her own fate. One of the most significant changes that Angela Carter makes in the story is its ending. In most versions, Bluebeard’s last bride is rescued by her brothers. The narrator of “The Bloody Chamber” is rescued, at the last possible moment, by her strong mother. The narrator apparently arouses her mother’s concern when they speak on the telephone. In another sense, however, she grows more like her mother as the story progresses. When she finds herself in the bloody chamber, she remarks, “Until that moment, this spoiled child did not know she had inherited nerves and a will from [her] mother.”
If the narrator discovers a new sense of women’s power, she also discovers her own sexuality. From the beginning, her relationship to her husband is shaped by his sadistic voyeuristic desires and her arousal in response to them. (The imagery of the bloody key and secret chamber symbolically emphasizes the theme of sexual discovery.) Gradually, however, she learns to distinguish between her husband’s desire and her own. Indeed, instead of seeing her body—as manifested in mirrors, images, and paintings—through her husband’s eyes, she inaugurates a romance with the gentle piano tuner who cannot see her at all.
The ending of Carter’s story makes it clear that the narrator should accept some responsibility for her situation. The Marquis may be an ogre, but she is partly complicit in their relationship because of her avarice, vanity, and own masochistic desires. The story’s disturbing last lines reveal the narrator’s sense of guilt: “No paint nor powder, no matter how thick or white, can mask that red mark on my forehead; I am glad he cannot see it—not for fear of his revulsion, since I know he sees me clearly with his heart—but, because it spares my shame.” The lines also suggest, ironically, that she still identifies with her physical appearance, that she still tries to change it, and that she still evaluates it in terms of how a man might see her.