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What are the themes in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood?

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There are several themes in the tale "Little Red Riding Hood," such as the importance of treating strangers with caution. We cannot know who has good intentions and who has bad, and so we must safeguard ourselves. This is especially true because the real world outside the safety of our families' homes is a dangerous place and there are people who will do us harm. However, we can learn from our experiences and become more clever in future.

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Certainly, one theme of the story is that we must be wary of strangers. Little Red Riding Hood meets the wolf in the forest, "but as she did not know what a bad sort of animal she was, she did not feel frightened." The wolf, of course, appears to be friendly, if inquisitive, and so Red openly describes where she's going and why. However, if Red had been more circumspect, then the wolf would not have known which home was her grandmother's. She revealed a lot of information to him. Red is not to blame, as she and her grandmother are the victims of the wolf's malice and manipulation, but it never hurts to be cautious.

This leads to a related theme: there are evil people in the world who will do us harm if they can. Red and her grandmother have done nothing to invite the wolf's attack other than to be trusting; they are not at fault. However, just because we are kind and friendly to others does not mean that we are safe. There are terrible people who will hurt us out there, and the world is full of dangers. It's as though we might read the forest as a symbol of "the real world" beyond the safety of our homes and families. It presents myriad dangers.

Optimistically, though, the story also conveys the ideas that anyone can be clever and smart and that anyone can learn from their past experiences. The next time Red goes into the forest, she meets with yet another wolf; however, she is much more cautious this time. Nonetheless, he still makes it to her grandmother's house after she does, and the grandmother and Red manage to trick him into drowning himself (in the Grimm version of the tale, at least).

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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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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.

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What is the theme of "Little Red Riding Hood?"

The themes we identify in this text will depend, to some extent, on how literally we understand the story (as compared to how metaphorically we might read it). Taking the story as an allegory, the theme seems to be one of social deviance. However, if we look at the story on a literal level, the themes would seem to relate more to ideas of trust and the folly of innocence in certain situations.

Seen as an allegory, the wolf represents a socially deviant impulse. Spying the child in the forest, the wold "had a very great mind to eat her up, but he dared not, because of some woodcutters working nearby in the forest." There is an indication here, in Charles Perrault's version of the tale, that the wolf's cunning is coupled with a full awareness of the nature of his actions. He wants to do something that society does not approve of. 

On a literal level, the tale suggests that innocence does not always function as a shield and those who are naive may be subjected to the will of those who prey upon the trusting nature of others. 

In both cases, the story deals with ideas of deception and purposeful guile. The generosity of the girl, who is going to visit her sick grandmother to deliver some food and comfort, is overwhelmed by the devious avarice of the wolf. 

Another perspective available is one that interprets the tale as an assertion of wisdom as a recognition of the truths of nature. No matter what clothes a wolf may wear, it is still a dangerous, wild animal. Children (and adults) should understand that to survive in nature one must see things for what they are. Red Riding Hood projects her sense of innocence onto the natural world and suffers the consequences. 

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