The Bloody Chamber
The Female Gaze: Desire as a Source of Power to the Objectified Female
As a subversion of what we understand today as the “male gaze”, Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves, and The Courtship of Mr Lyon exercises postmodern parody in order to both expose and destabilize gender stereotypes through the use of desire as a propelling force to action by the objectified female, and by telling the stories from the female perspective. Carter skillfully knits themes of rites-of-passage, sex and death through the retelling of well-known traditional fairy tales in order to describe the imbalanced relationships contained therein. The female protagonists all undergo a mental transformation which allows them agency and prevents them from becoming one of the many women preceding them who have succumbed to the fate designated to women in a patriarchal society. Carter overthrows traditional gender positions by allowing her female characters a subjectivity gained through their own narration of the stories (Renfroe 89)– stories which in the past have been dominated by the masculine voice.
In The Bloody Chamber it is this subjectivity that stresses the importance of the girl’s journey to self-discovery through the Bloody Chamber. Thus, in the same way that the narrator is introduced to a new way of thinking through her exposure to the bloody chamber, so the reader is forced to re-examine the dominant ideologies that surround the original fairy tales that Carter reimagines (Renfroe 91). Rites-of-passage, sex and death become interlinking themes in these stories through the female characters exploring their sexualities in a manner that allows them to become more cognizant of their own positions and their relation to a masculine world.
What is interesting is that this metamorphosis is accompanied by the theme of death. According to Cheryl Renfroe in her article Initiation and Disobedience, in The Bloody Chamber, the protagonist’s probe into the forbidden chamber is her rite-of-passage and defines the chamber as a liminal space. As defined by Arnold van Gennep’s The Rites of Passage (1909), a liminal space is one in which the initiand is removed from the ordinary life to a place of isolation where s/he experiences an tribulation that causes him/her to return to the normal life with a transformed standpoint. This space is then the indeterminate middle phase when the initiand is exposed to an ordeal in order to be able to leave one life stage behind in order to arrive at another (Renfroe 92). It is in this moment that the protagonist undergoes a realization of her character: “Until that moment, this spoiled child did not know she had inherited nerves and a will from the mother who had defied the yellow outlaws of Indo-China” (Carter 26). This is a moment of female empowerment as the daughter grasps the true strength that she has been taught by the primary female figure in her life. Her power thus comes from being able to appreciate her mother’s power and channel that strength into her own situation.
Furthermore, the emphasis on the woman as savior is a clear subversion of gender roles and encourages a new perception of women as being capable of significant action in a patriarchal society. Here, the imbalanced relationships between genders in traditional stories are toppled and the readers come face to face with the fact that a female lead can have as much importance and sway as a male one. It is in this room that she comes face to face with the intimate relationship between sex and death. Her sexual initiation becomes inextricable from the death of the women who came before her. She realizes that once she had sexually satisfied her husband, she became disposable. It is in this way then that the term “le petit mort” for sexual orgasm gains literal meaning as “a little death”. The orgasm of her husband means death for her. Desire, power and death intertwine in this moment of confrontation with the implicit truth of what her husband is, and the protagonist cannot help but think of a quote by her husband’s favorite poet: “There is a striking similarity between the act of love and the ministrations of a torturer” (Carter 26). The power gained through sexual dominance is thus explored, and the sexually dominant partner is able to control the submissive partner – roles which have conventionally been attributed to males for the former and to females for the latter.
Carter’s re-exploration of the classic folk tale allows a partiality to be given to a female voice, as well as an empowerment of the female characters. This is most clearly seen by how the protagonist attempts to use her own sexuality in order to prevent the fate decided for her by the dominant male character: “I forced myself to be seductive, I saw myself, pale, pliant as a plant that begs to be trampled underfoot, a dozen vulnerable appealing girls reflected in as many mirrors, and I saw how he almost failed to resist me” (Carter 36). In this moment there is both an inversion of traditional gender roles and a subversion of power dynamics. Sex and death become even more intricately involved as the protagonist states that: “If he had come to me in bed, I would have strangled him, then” (Carter 36). She is willing to take control in a sexual situation and exert any power that she might have gained. Furthermore, power is afforded the female especially through the twist that makes the mother the savior and not a male. Even after the moment of release from her husband, the protagonist further defies tradition by living with a man outside the sanctity of marriage – an act which both defies societal expectations of women as well as affirming her own changed perceptions of the world and her part in it.
In The Company of Wolves, desire, gender and power are important in the retelling as the role of the innocent Red Riding Hood is destabilized. In Carter’s re-exploration, the protagonist is a girl on the cusp of womanhood willing to explore her own sexuality. She has a sexual curiosity that is awakened when she meets a handsome man in the forest. The wager then becomes an opportunity for her to experience her own sexuality: “…for she wanted to dawdle on her way to make sure the handsome gentleman would win his wager” (Carter 140). What makes her interest so important is that it allows her to experience sexuality in a manner normally only afforded to males. Her curiosity comes to fruition when, even faced with the realization of what he had done to her grandmother, she “freely gave him the kiss she owed him” (Carter 144). Her choice thus becomes what sets her apart from her traditional counterpart. She is not saved by her father or a male figure as in the original story, instead, she saves herself by recognizing her own power – power found in her sexuality. It is in this moment that power dynamics are overthrown by both allowing the female voice subjectivity and portraying sexual desire as being natural to females, as well as males. Furthermore, the use of sexuality in attempting to escape patriarchal oppression is blatantly obvious when the protagonist laughs at the apparent threats of the werewolf: “She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing” (Carter 144). By laughing and proclaiming that she is “nobody’s meat” she detaches herself from patriarchal pornography and grants herself sexual license as a strong female (Lau 87). Furthermore, by burning the clothes of the wolf-man she chooses to accept his beastiality and thus decides to accept a concept of sexual liberation (Lau 87). This use of sexuality in order to lead the males away from their original destructive paths make Carter’s female protagonists more interesting than the traditional virginal perception of the female character. Lorna Sage in Angela carter: The Fairy Tale encapsulates this wonderfully by stating that “The blameless woman is for Carter also the unimaginative woman” (Sage 58).
Once more, the virginal qualities that make the traditional fairy tale female so attractive to the male protagonist is undermined, and the female gains agency by moving beyond the constructs of what is expected of her. Her very natural sexual desire serves to separate her from the unrealistic expectations placed upon her. In terms of sexual conquest, the female re-informs traditional views by making Little Red Riding Hood a sexual agent (Lau 86). While Little Red Riding Hood has been changed primarily in her character, Carter retains some of the narrative techniques of the original story as Little Red Riding Hood follows the dialogue set for her, before utterly destroying its historical power. After dictating the physical prowess afforded the male by saying the celebrated “What big arms you have” (Carter 144), Carter excellently sabotages its significance by following it with “All the better to hug you with” (Carter 144). In this moment, the wolf is no longer as threatening and Little Red Riding Hood gains agency by freely indulging her desire for the kiss they wagered upon. The Courtship of Mr Lyon as a postmodern parody of the Beauty and the Beast is powerful one because of Carter’s unique ability to subvert traditional power dynamics through the appropriation of fresh gender roles focussing on the expression of latent female desire and sexuality.
This subversion of gender roles is most evident by the Beast’s reaction to Beauty leaving him to meet her father: “The Beast sunk his great head on to his paws. You will come back to me? It will be lonely here, without you” (Carter 53). His response is that of a man in love who is easily directed by Beauty (Brooke 73). Beauty too is far removed from the innocent Beauty in the traditional folk tale who fails to recognize her own beauty; Beauty in Carter’s tale becomes vain with the attention bestowed upon her. She finds herself looking into mirrors often and “She smiled at herself with satisfaction. She was learning, at the end of her adolescence, how to be a spoiled child and that pearly skin of hers was plumping out, a little, with high living and compliments” (Carter 54). This image is far removed from the Beauty in the traditional story who asked only for a single rose when her father travelled. This Beauty “could sometimes turn a mite petulant when things went not quite as she wanted them to go” (Carter 54). It is this moment that Carter’s use of parody becomes obvious as when the story begins, the reader is exposed to a Beauty that fulfills the expectations set by the traditional folk tale, but this perceived innocence becomes less attractive when stated by Beauty herself: “And such a one she felt herself to be, Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial” (Brooke 73). Carter’s takes this parody one step further by having Beauty take on the role of a subservient female, but only because of the appearance that she thinks this will create as herself as a virtuous female (Brooke 74). This amplification of gender stereotypes draws attention to the perilous discrepancy between manifestation and true being (Brooke 74). As such, Carter also exposes the extent to which women will silence their own voices in order to become what they think will be most attractive and what will serve to please most the men who are primarily in control of their lives. Carter expertly weaves this into the storyline in order to highlight that the subjugation of women is not only sustained by the dominant male voice, but also by the female perpetuation of the norms which serve to demean them.
It is clear that Angela Carter is expert at clawing at the gender norms that permeate every inch of society in such a way that the reader is left unable but to come to understand better the subtle inundation of female submissiveness which serve to inform the female function. By using well-known folk tales that most people have encountered, Carter manages to subvert the expectations placed upon genders by proficiently retelling the story in such a way as to grant the female voice agency through her wonderful linking of the significant relationship between desire, gender and power. The females in her story gain their power through the acceptance of their own sexual desires and their knowledge of how this sexual desire may be used by them against the male figures who often attempt to govern them.
Works Cited Brooke, P. (2004). Lyons and Tigers and Wolves – Oh My! Revisionary Fairy Tales in the Work of Angela Carter. Critical Survey, 16(1), 67-88. Carter, A. (1979). The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. New York: Penguin . Lau, K. J. (2008). Erotic Infidelities: Angela Carter’s Wolf Trilogy. Marvels and Tales, 22(1), 77-94. Renfroe, C. (1998). Initiation and Disobedience: Liminal Experience in Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber”. Marvels and Tales, 12(1), 82-94. Sage, L. (1998). Angela Carter: The Fairy Tale. Marvels and Tales, 12(1), 52-69.
The concept of transformation is a key element of Carter’s text and of Gothic writing in general. Explore how Carter presents this concept in two or more of her stories
Throughout The Bloody Chamber, Carter uses traditional fairytales as a template for discussion on gender and sexual politics. Therefore, although her short stories contain conventional forms of transformation – men turn into wolves in The Company of Wolves, at the end of The Courtship of Mr Lyon Mr Lyon turns back into a man, and in the conclusion of The Tiger’s Bride the protagonist changes into a beast as well – they also include a deeper, metaphorical notion of change. At the time of writing, the Second Wave Feminism movement had reached its peak; this shift in attitudes may have influenced Carter’s frequent use of symbolic imagery to denote a character’s emotional and psychological transformation.
Carter advocates an accommodation between the tiger and lamb binary opposites of human nature as a means of achieving wholeness. The titles of both The Courtship of Mr Lyon (TCoML) and The Tiger’s Bride (TTB) have a clear male emphasis; the fact that the protagonist is described as ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ suggests his ownership of her, an obviously unequal power dynamic. However, by the end of the stories (both of which involve a physical metamorphosis) the relationship between the male and female figures has also changed, conveying Carter’s desire for socially constructed notions of gender to be discarded. The final line of TCoML – ‘Mr and Mrs Lyon walk in the garden…’ – is symbolic of the two opposing forces conforming to meet the needs of each other. This links to the key concepts of the 1970s feminist movement, which put forward ideas concerning gender as a social construct. This notion was presented in Simone de Beauvoir’s, the famous French feminist, book The Second Sex (1949); the author famously wrote, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’. This reflects both de Beauvoir’s and Carter’s belief that femininity does not arise from differences in biology, but that it is a construct of civilisation; someone’s situation determines their character. People are gradually shaped by their upbringing, and biology does not determine what makes a woman a woman – women learn their roles (or have them forced upon them) by the male dominated society they inhabit. They are not born passive, secondary, and nonessential, just as men are not born dominant, superior, and authoritarian, but external forces have conspired to make them so. Lawrence Phillips, on Carter, wrote, ‘change, [her work] seems to suggest, is an extremely difficult business to come about’. These forces are hard to overcome, and will inevitably take a long time, but this is within reach. Glimpses of this optimistic attitude are apparent throughout the stories of The Bloody Chamber (TBC), but especially in The Company of Wolves (TCoW), the last line of which reads, ‘See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf’. This highly symbolic physical accommodation not only resembles the biblical image of the lamb lying down with the lion, but it also reinforces Carter’s claim that ‘I am all for putting new wine in old bottles’, the ‘new wine’ in this case being the wholeness achieved from the merging of two previously conflicting halves, and the ‘old bottle’ being ‘granny’s bed’, which is a symbol of the patriarchy – old, irrelevant, and outdated. Carter’s use of allegorical symbolism as a means of promoting her views of equality and unity goes hand in hand with her aim to transform classic fairytales from a form of literature which inherently reinforces the socially constructed nature of female identity and sexuality, to a feminist political rewriting of the genre.
Carter’s stories deal with the objectification of women in a phallocentric order and the way traditional fairytales reinforce the perception of women as merely objects. For instance, in The Snow Child (TSC), the defining feature of the woman is that she’s the Count’s wife, and her appearance reflects this; ‘wrapped in the glittering pelts of black foxes’ and other glamorous items, her identity is based entirely on materiality. The Count himself also regards women as objects, the repetition of ‘I wish’ is a symbol of the patriarchy shaping and moulding women to fit male desires and expectations. The nature of these expectations is inherently linked to the treatment of women as disposable commodities; the Count’s yearning for ‘a girl as white as snow’, and ‘as red as blood’ brings to mind images of corpses, suggesting that women are more attractive when they are dead, and therefore completely submissive to male figures. Helen Simpson wrote, ‘Menace is located not in the darker side of heterosexuality, in sadomasochism and the idea of fatal passion’. This notion is reinforced when the Count ‘thrust his virile member into the dead girl’; she doesn’t have to be autonomous for the Count to view her as a sexual object, in fact he, a symbol of the patriarchy, prefers her in a state in which she is absolutely passive. The rivalry between the two female figures is also evidence of the materiality by which women are valued – as the Count rebuffs the Countess’ demands, ‘the furs sprang off [her] shoulders and twined round the naked girl’, symbolising the shifting of the Count’s affection. The Countess’ dependence on the Count is made obvious as she is ‘left bare as a bone’, her nakedness a metaphor for her vulnerability and disempowerment in a male dominated society. The treatment of women as mere objects is prevalent throughout the title story of TBC; the Marquis gleefully asserts his dominance over the nameless protagonist as he seeks, like the Count in TSC, to transform her from an autonomous, free-thinking individual into a submissive sexual object. The Marquis strips the heroine of her clothes (again bringing to mind the connotations of disempowerment that accompany nudity) ‘as if he were stripping the leaves off an artichoke’ – Carter’s choice to liken the narrator to a vegetable emphasises the Marquis’ desire for her to enter a vegetative state, passive and unresisting. When the Marquis is about to execute her he remarks, ‘Such a pretty neck, […] A neck like the stem of a young plant’. Rosemary Moore wrote, ‘In the late seventeenth century it was deemed natural that husbands should master their wives. The Marquis is the paradigmatic Western man whose attitudes to sexuality are feudal and who believes that a woman is his slave’. However, it seems as though he aims to reduce the protagonist further than the status of slavery, down to just a piece of meat, regarding her as a ‘lamb chop’. Carter’s unrelenting and visceral handling of objectification demonstrates the aims of the patriarchal society to deprecate and undermine women’s autonomy in order to maintain the unequal power dynamics already in place, and prevent any transgression or transformation.
Carter’s use of settings underline the repressive nature and imbalance of power in patriarchal society. The harsh and unforgiving landscapes that several of the stories take place in reflect the vulnerability of the female characters – in TSC, the first line reads, ‘Midwinter – invincible, immaculate’. The concise sentence evokes an atmosphere of hostility, echoed in the demeanour of the Countess, who is filled with hate and devoid of emotion. This hate is a product of her oppression, but rather than being directed towards her oppressors (the Count among them), it is directed towards her fellow woman, the young girl the Count wishes into existence. This female rivalry prevents the female figures from toppling their oppressors, keeping them subjugated. Similarly, the castle in TBC is an extension of the Marquis’ wealth, domination, and power over the heroine, serving as a symbol of the patriarchy. Described as possessing a ‘faery solitude’ and ‘cut off by the tide from land’, it physically entraps the protagonist, preventing her escape and thus aiding the Marquis’ attempts to prevent her from transgressing and gaining any form of autonomy. To reinforce this notion, Carter likens the castle to a prison, describing the Marquis’ key ring as being ‘as crowded as that of a prison warder’; the idea that she is being held captive emphasises the imbalanced power dynamic between the two. The concept of entrapment appears in The Erl-King (TEK) as well, in which Carter’s description of the ‘autumn wood’ evokes an air of claustrophobia; the unnerving conciseness of ‘the woods enclose’ immediately brings to mind the notion of the woods being alive, and this is further strengthened when Carter writes ‘once you are inside it, you must stay there until it lets you out again’. The protagonist is trapped by the sentient woods, left hunting ’round hopelessly for the way out’ as she wanders through the ‘house of nets’. However, the woods possess yet another symbolic layer, as traditionally in literary histories and discourses concerning women, forests are the setting for the heroine losing her way, navigating and negotiating through the woods, and emerging to achieve a new identity. Indeed, at the end of TEK, the narrator forges her own destiny by killing the Erl-King, replacing male power with female domination. This conclusion is similar to that of TBC, in which the castle, previously a symbol of male dominance and female entrapment, is turned into a ‘school for the blind’, literally and metaphorically opening the eyes of people to the ways of society, while simultaneously suggesting a new way forward.
In conclusion, Carter’s use of imagery, both to attack an inherently unbalanced society, and advocate equality between genders, serves as a call to arms for women, encouraging them not to follow in the footsteps of those before them and continue to be passive, unyielding figures. The author’s stories, while being brutally viscera in their depiction of power dynamics and gender politics is also subtly optimistic. The endings of many of her short stories involve women taking matters into their own hands and defying conventional narrative conclusions, which usually involve men solving the problem. For instance, in her rewriting of Bluebeard, which was originally written by Charles Perrault in 1697, it is the protagonist’s mother who saves her, rather than the two brothers of the original. Perrault’s version was intended to be a cautionary tale, warning women against being too curious (and advising them subliminally to remain submissive and accepting of society’s ways) – rather than simply penning a completely new narrative, Carter’s version of Bluebeard achieves not only in exposing the domination and oppression of women, but also in showing how society can change to accommodate both previously opposing genders.
The Liminal Experience in Angela Carter’s The Erl King
Liminality pervades Angela Carter’s short story collection, entitled The Bloody Chamber, in her characters, physical settings and even her narrative voice. The bloody chamber, as a physical ‘chamber’ can refer to a room where violence and enlightenment occur simultaneously. It is a space of transformation for the heroine that changes her irrevocably. Bloody chambers are often connected with not only the blood of violence, but also with the bloodshed when a woman loses her virginity and when she menstruates. The concept “bloody chamber” can also refer to the vagina or womb, and Carter uses this fact to underscore the connection between women’s sexuality and the violence they experience. Carter creates an atmosphere that possesses elements of the ‘bloody chamber’, both power and torment simultaneously, particularly in ‘The Erl King’, a story in which all aspects exist liminally. The narrator in the Erl-King describes the sensation of liminality as “vertigo.” When the Erl-King, a liminal creature who is half-human, half-woods, draws her into his “gravity” of in-betweenness, she is unpleasantly disoriented. This disorient translates to the ambiguity of the King’s identity and the narrator’s intentions. In literature, liminal spaces traditionally give the occupant both power and torment. By existing in two states or being two things simultaneously, the occupant has qualities of both. At the same time, he or she is condemned to never live in either state. The two halves of the liminal being’s experience do not seem to make a satisfying whole. Her more radical statement, however, is that all women are forced to live life as a liminal experience. Carter’s liminal experience in the text works to deconstruct and reposition female sexuality in a male-dominated space. The narrator, a female, lives subconsciously on the threshold of the ‘virgin’ and the ‘sexual being’, unable to identity fully with either; Carter is suggesting that women who use their sexuality as empowerment are isolated from society and those who neglect it are oppressed by patriarchal figures, particularly, the Erl King.Carter begins the text in a relatively conventional way; her narrative voice is easily accessible. However, at first mention of the forest and the King, who are eventually revealed to be the same being, Carter manipulates the reality planes in the story, indicating the effects that the forest has physically and mentally; “The woods enclose and then enclose again, like a system of Chinese boxes opening one into another…it is easy to lose yourself in these woods.”(Carter 85) The narrator is aware of the demystifying effects of her surroundings, but seeks out the dangers anyway, representing the naivety in young women. She discloses in her winding sentences that the woods and the object of her desire, the Erl King, are the same being; he exists in the state of forest and man simultaneously; “When he combs his hair that is the color of dead leaves, dead leaves fall out of it; they rustle and drift to the ground as though he were a tree and he can stand as still as a tree…”(Carter 87) She makes mention of his physical body as well; “…because his flesh is of the same substance as those leaves that are slowly turning into earth.”(Carter 88) The Erl King is neither man nor woods, and his seducing tendencies prove successful upon the ‘virginal/highly sexual’ female narrator. The narrator must not be portrayed as a victim; instead, Carter is propping her up as an independent, sexual being. She confesses that it is only the ‘imprisoning’ effect that the King possesses that inspires fear in her: “I am not afraid of him; only, afraid of vertigo, of the vertigo with which he seizes me. Afraid of falling down.”(Carter 87) Vertigo is a type of dizziness, where there is a feeling of motion when one is stationary. The narrator is experiencing the King ‘liminally’ in a physical sense, and in a mental state, as well as in a sexually liberating way and entrapping way.The relationship between the King and the narrator is highly romanticized by the latter. The erotic language and artful images of nature are characteristic of the Romantic Era, one that Carter is utilizing in a contemporary way. However, while the Romantics looked to nature as a source of spiritual enlightenment and life, in The Erl-King, it is a source of confinement and death. The narrator’s initial description of the woods already foreshadows her entrapment; she depicts the light filtering through the trees as “these vertical bars of a brass-coloured distillation of light coming down from sulphur-yellow interstices in a sky hunkered with grey clouds.”(Carter 86) Since the narrator is complicit in her imprisoning, she knows that she is “caged” or trapped from the moment she enters the woods. She is subject to their power; because everything in the woods “is exactly as it seems,”(Carter 86) any person who steps into them imprints her own desires on them. On one level, the narrator desires to be caught, and the cage-like patterns of light are reflections of this desire. She admits her knowledge by stating, “this light admits of no ambiguities.”(Carter 87) The narrator even details her impending punishment before she comes into contact with the King, “The two notes of the song of a bird rose on the still air, as if my girlish and delicious loneliness had made me into a sound.”(Carter 85) Carter characterizes the song of birds as “girlish and delicious”, commenting on the vulnerability of women in sexual situations. However, the narrator matures quickly in response to the ‘marriage-like’ proposal that the King has in store for her.The narrator herself begins to convey liminal elements, as she falls subject to her virginal side as well as her sexually independent nature. This is characterized when he explains the King’s effect on her; “ Your touch both consoles and devastates me.”(Carter 89) She encourages the Erl-King’s domination because she is caught in the “vertigo” between her erotic desire for the Erl-King and her desire to be independent. Summarizing her dilemma in two words, she calls him a “tender butcher”; she knows that he is both her lover and destroyer. Carter cleverly manipulates setting as character, as the narrator becomes an active figure within the thematic ‘bloody chamber’. The King is her source of pleasure and punishment, as he strips her of her virginity and of her sexual appetite; her identity is highly ambiguous. She believes that the Erl-King can enlighten her by consuming her; she wishes, “I should like to grow enormously small, so that you could swallow me … Then I could lodge inside your body and you would bear me.”(Carter 89) In the end, the narrator’s extreme solution is to kill the Erl-King and supplant male domination with female domination. While other heroines in Carter’s stories find happiness in relationships with men, the narrator of The Erl-King rejects them entirely. She must kill the male figure in order to substitute him as creator. The narrator admits she was conscious of the dangers of ‘subjugation’ all along, and confesses, “…I loved him with all my heart and yet I had no wish to join the whistling congregation he kept in his cages although he looked after them very affectionately…”(Carter 90) Carter is ultimately commenting on the ‘imprisoning’ effects of marriage. The narrator equates a marital bond with that of a ‘caged’ bird and it’s owner, she rejects surrender by liberating herself through sexual violence.The narrator and Erl King both exhibit liminal tendencies; the King exist in a physical realm of the liminal experience, living in a state of man and forest simultaneously, meanwhile, the narrator exists mentally on the threshold between vulnerable virgin and independent sexual body. There is a connection to the liminal space in Carter’s thematic symbol of the ‘bloody chamber’, in which the narrator is stripped of her virginity but commits violence as well, in order to expel herself from the forest’s abusing grasp. Carter romanticizes the concepts of sado-masochism and erotic violence in order to artfully convey the oppression women experience in heir surrender to marriage. The narrator, a female, lives subconsciously on the threshold of the ‘virgin’ and the ‘sexual being’, unable to identity fully with either; Carter is suggesting that women who use their sexuality as empowerment are isolated from society and those who neglect it are oppressed by patriarchal figures, particularly the Erl King.Works CitedCharter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories. Harmondsworth [u.a.: Penguin, 1986. Print.]
Objects As Abstractions in “The Bloody Chamber” and “The Erl-King”
Angela Carter’s work in the short story collection “The Bloody Chamber,” makes frequent use of concrete objects as expressions of abstract concepts, among them freedom, bondage, and death in multiple forms, not only physical.In the short story “The Bloody Chamber,” the world the protagonist lives in is archaic. Although timeless in technicality, the reader gets the idea that it is set in the Victorian era or a little after. This idea is reinforced by the dress of the characters, the behavior of the majority of the women, and the use of wagons and horses as transportation, with the “motorcar” as a luxury item. The reader is shocked by the presence of the telephone, first revealed while the protagonist and her new husband are having sex for the first time, “A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside. I was brought to my senses by the insistent shrilling of the telephone” (TBC 17). Carter’s use of anachronism highlights the significance of the telephone in the story. In this instance, the telephone seems to symbolize safety or freedom. It is with the telephone that she is able to call her mother. That maternal bond between mother and daughter, via the telephone wire, ends up being stronger than her bond to her husband in marriage. Carter’s use of concrete objects in place of abstract concepts is not limited to anachronisms. “The Bloody Chamber” and “O Belo Adormecido” use intertextuality as an effective strategy to subvert conventions. Ana Raquel Fernandes argues that Carter hinges “The Bloody Chamber” on multiple objects, relevant to the setting, which escalate in meaning throughout the story. Among them are the lilies in the bedchamber and the ruby choker. The liles, she says, are an illusion to death. She also makes note of the association the protagonist makes between the lilies and her husband: “In this first part of the story, the first person narrator, the young girl who tells her story retrospectively, describes the Marquis focusing on the stillness of his face and comparing him with a lily” (Fernandes 3). The section of text Fernandes refers to is the protagonist’s initial description of her lover. “He was older than I… And sometimes that face, in stillness when he listened to me playing, with the heavy eyelids folded over eyes that always disturbed me by their absolute absence of light, seemed to me like a mask… Even when he asked me to marry him, and I said: ‘Yes,’ still he did not lose that heavy, fleshy composure of his. I know it must seem a curious analogy, a man with a flower, but sometimes he seemed to me like a lily” (TBC 8-9). The Marquis himself, then, by this comparison to a lily, becomes an object in the story representing death. Fernandes goes on to explain the recurrence of the lilies throughout the story as foreshadowing impending death on multiple levels: “The lilies appear again in the description of the matrimonial chamber …although the lilies are white, they stain the narrator, their perfume confuses her senses and later in the short story, the stems become: ‘dismembered arms, drifting drowned in greenish water’ (TBC 22), an explicit reference to death. Indeed, from its first description, the bedroom is a death chamber” (Fernandes 4).The choker carries potent symbolism of both death and the bondage of marriage. As a symbol of death, it references both the impending physical beheading of the protagonist and the death of self when the protagonist enters into marriage. Bondage, then, is death. This symbolism is alluded to when the choker is described: “A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat” ( TBC 11). The symbolism of death is further exemplified in the detailing of the tradition the choker comes from: “After the Terror, in the early days of the Directory, the aristos who’d escaped the guillotine had an ironic fad of tying a red ribbon round their necks at just the point where the blade would have sliced it through…That night at the opera comes back to me even now… the white dress; the frail child within it; and the flashing crimson jewels round her throat, bright as arterial blood” ( TBC 11).In “The Erl-King,” Carter uses the bird’s cages to overtly symbolize bondage and the broken fiddle to symbolize the absence of freedom. While the Erl-King has possession of the maidens, transformed by magic into birds, his music is their cries of sorrow. When the protagonist kills the Erl-King at the end and frees the birds, she strings the fiddle with the Erl-King’s hair, thereby restoring freedom as a concept and the fiddle’s song replaces the song of the birds. The fiddle’s less than joyous music brings our awareness to an uncustomary message. “Then it (the fiddle) will play discordant music without a hand touching it. The bow will dance over the new strings of its own accord and they will cry out ‘Mother, mother, you have murdered me!’” This notes the responsibility and sacrifice that comes with freedom of any kind. The symbols of freedom in “The Bloody Chamber” are less overt and exist more in terms of negative argument than on its own. In other words, freedom is exhibited through the death of death (the Marquis) instead of being given its own object to live through. This is fitting since “The Bloody Chamber” seems to speak more about marriage as death and submission as bondage. The Erl-King, on the other hand, seems to speak more about feminism, and the dilemmas of sexuality and equality. Carter’s use of concrete objects as abstractions is central to postmodernism. In the past, many works have used items to symbolize abstractions but in Carter’s work, the items are not props but actual characters in the work. The telephone, for example, is central in the plot of “The Bloody Chamber.” The choker becomes more of a character than some of the real people, for example, the piano teacher. The fiddle in “The Erl-King” even has lines of dialogue at the end of the piece, which puts it on full level with living characters. In this way, Carter makes abstractions like bondage, death, and freedom more than simple morals or behind-the-scenes concepts in her work. They take on lives of their own through the objects they inhabit and become central characters, speaking louder than the human characters with which they coexist. Works CitedCarter, Angela (1995), The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. London: Vintage .Fernandes, Ana Raquel (2010), “The Bloody Chamber” and “O Belo Adormecido”: intertextuality as an effective strategy to subvert conventions. Lisbon. The Sixth Congress of the National Portuguese Association of Comparative Literature.
Blood as Femininity
Blood is an important aspect in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ due to its connotations with many different elements, specifically to do with the human body. Blood is shown as impure and something that stains women and objects. This is symbolic of the thinking of the time that blood is something that corrupts people and especially women, due to their first menstruation cycle being when they transform from a girl to a woman, this blood corrupts the girl and changes her to a woman. This reinforces the beliefs of the era as the change from religious to scientific beliefs were still undergoing in the form of the Enlightenment.
Blood is an essential substance and is used to power life but the key aspect of it is that it stays in the body most of the time. This is significant as without any outside influences, the blood of males does not leave the body. This is in contrast with the blood of females which does leaves the body during the act of menstruation each month and also when the hymen is ruptured. In context, the rupturing of the hymen was an important aspect in those days and to some extent, is still an important aspect when judging the purity of a female. This idea is seen in the Bloody Chamber but due to the decrease in cultural norms because of the Enlightenment, the idea of displaying a virginity for innocence is not needed. The Marquis conveys to the narrator that there is no need to drape her sheets out of the window to prove that she is a virgin, perhaps because the times have changed or because he has done that previously for his other wives.
This disruption of innocence by blood is also shown in ‘The Tiger’s Bridge.’ When the narrator is picking a rose for her father after being betrayed by him, she accidentally pricks her finger on the rose and presents him a rose “all smeared with blood.” This is telling of the relationship between the two and also the overall use of flowers within the novel. The rose is smeared with the blood and thus, is not a pure emblem that a rose is displayed as. This is another subversion of stereotypes as the pure white rose is corrupted, much like a pure white girl can be corrupted by her menstruation or the breaking of virginity.
The name of the book is telling as it displays a euphemism to allude to the experiences of the first short story as well as the staple aspects of femininity. Carter uses the first literal meaning of the Bloody Chamber that the narrator sees in the first story, but then also uses the aforementioned euphemism in that a bloody chamber could also be the vaginal cavity of a woman after the rupturing of a hymen or the menstruation of a woman. These are two very important aspects of femininity and foreshadow the contents of the book as it subverts gender stereotypes in a way that was becoming popular at the time of publishing. Women in Carter’s time were becoming more influential and having more rights awarded to them, Margaret Thatcher became the first female leader of the Conservative Party in the UK and then the first female Prime Minister which was certainly a subversion of gender stereotypes. The circumstances of the world at the time allowed for Carter to express herself more freely in a way that she felt comfortable to write about the role of women in stereotypical ‘fairy tales,’ albeit with a different approach. The importance of blood with a specific outlook on women allowed her to subvert tropes in her novel.
Throughout the first story, an emphasis is placed on the “choker of rubies…bright as arterial blood” that is gifted to the narrator from the Marquis. The Marquis explains the background of the piece, escaping execution in the French Revolution and eventually being passed down to her which alludes to her impending execution by the Marquis. The choker is described as being “bright as arterial blood” which is significant as the carotid artery is located around where the choker is placed and is thus another element of foreshadowing being seen. This is an instance of where Carter uses blood, or a blood associated object to further the story or add elements to it. The ruby choker foreshadows the attempt at decapitation in her execution as it is described as “an extraordinary precious slit throat.”
The Marquis is shown to be obsessed with this choker as he is said to have “kissed them before he kissed my mouth” which illustrates an unhealthy obsession with this item. One theory as to why the Marquis makes the narrator wear this is to its connotations with a collar as worn by an animal. This further reinforces the notion within the novel that women are objects and owned by the husband or father, a philosophy held up till recently in modern societies and still held in some countries. This connects with the overshadowing moral of the novel, with the position of women being examined and subverted.
In the same story, prior to the discovery of the bloody chamber within the castle, the narrator drops the key inside the hidden chamber and later discovers it is stained with blood. The blood has corrupted the key and although she tries hard to be rid of it, it will not come off. This stain symbolizes the stain of the loss of virginity for a girl, no matter how she tries to regain the virginity, it cannot be done and is a symbol of impurity if unmarried. This is evidence of a patriarchal society as men can have as many partners as they want without punishment or care.
This stain is then seen by the Marquis, who sees this as a symbol of her defiance of his will. This can be seen as a microcosm of the real world and the punishment of losing innocence without permission. In context, many a woman have been killed in honor killings and still are in the world due to losing their virginity before marriage and Carter is attempting to allude to this with this corrupting stain. The “heart shaped stain” is also seen as ironic as their relationship is devout of real love and so this is one of the only hearts he gives her, a mark of love.
The stain also has a biblical allusion due to the context of the stain being described as the “mark of Cain” which was placed by God on Cain. This alludes to the fact that the Marquis is seen as God as well as Satan in this novel, convincing her to eat from the poison tree while also banishing her by sentencing her to death. The mark of Cain was used as a protection for Cain but did not prevent him from dying, however his attackers would be punished severely. This is presented as ironic in the novel as this mark of Cain protects the narrator in the form of a rescue by her mother while also punishing the Marquis; killing him. However, as the mark is described as being a punishment to Cain as well, the narrator is presented as the offender rather than the Marquis which ties into Bluebeard as the moral of Bluebeard is that ‘curiosity costs dearly.’ This trope is subverted in the novel, with the narrator surviving and thus the blood represents her growth as a woman rather than shame.
In conclusion, Carter uses blood in many of the stories to assist her in the writing of the novel as blood epitomizes femininity in particular, which is itself an allusion to a patriarchal society; although blood is the lifeline of all, it stains women.
Gothic Conventions of Women in The Bloody Chamber
The corruption of innocence and the gaining of experience are common aspects of Carter’s stories in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, which are applied to many themes such as sexuality in The Tiger’s Bride and The Bloody Chamber, self-awareness in Wolf-Alice and horror in the collection’s namesake. This loss of innocence aids in the development of the protagonist, since new experiences allow them to reclaim their freedom from the shackles of the patriarchy. This idea links to Carter’s desire to subvert the Gothic conventions of women in literature, who are often given the passive role of the victim, with the intent of transforming them into powerful figures who are in control of their own identities.
Innocence and experience is a key theme in the first story, The Bloody Chamber. From the beginning, it is evident that the heroine is not entirely innocent: ‘‘I’m sure I want to marry him’, I said’. This shows that despite knowing that the Marquis is dangerous, the heroine is intrigued and excited by the danger, which presents a female character who controls her own fate. This decisiveness opposes classic Gothic literature, where many women are forced to do as male characters say, with Carter already beginning to introduce feminist ideas at the beginning of the story. Furthermore, her mother does not stop her daughter from marrying the Marquis; it is unclear whether the mother is initially aware of the dangerous nature of the Marquis, but her decision to remain quiet shows that the heroine is being given the freedom to do as she pleases. Carter also questions the traditional perceptions of corruption: ‘I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away’. Traditionally, women are taught to be afraid of corruption, which is subverted by Carter who creates a female character who is unafraid of the consequences of her desires. If anything, this excites and arouses the heroine, which implies that some women take pleasure in submitting to the desires of men. This reveals the complexity of the female psyche, because the heroine’s independent and decisive nature is juxtaposed with a desire to be corrupted. However, by the end of the story, the heroine’s experience with the Marquis has clearly scarred her: ‘I am glad he cannot see [the red mark] …because it spares my shame’. This is a permanent reminder for the heroine that desire and temptation can terrorize her as much as it can empower her, showing that not all experiences are pleasant. In this context, the heroine is not empowered by her loss of innocence, suggesting that she feels unfulfilled because she did not complete the final act of consummation, which was to be ‘penetrated’ by the Marquis’ sword. Despite her character being considered unusual compared with women in Gothic literature, her desire to sacrifice herself for the Marquis suggests that she is not as independent as she is initially thought to be. It is clear that she will be unable to fulfill this desire in her life with the piano-tuner, which implies that she will feel incomplete due to the lack of excitement in her later life.
The idea of becoming experienced is also explored in The Tiger’s Bride. At the start of the story, the relationship between the heroine and La Bestia is transactional, since her father lost her to him in a card game: ‘You must not think my father valued me at less than a king’s ransom; but at no more than a king’s ransom’. This presents the reader with a heroine who is instantly being objectified at the start of the story, but a heroine who is also incredibly perceptive of the actions of male characters. This shows that the heroine’s innocence is being overestimated by the male characters and changes the reader’s perception of her, since women are typically depicted as being coy and naïve in Gothic literature. As the heroine spends more time with La Bestia, her intrigue for him grows: ‘I felt my breast ripped apart as if I suffered a marvellous wound’. In the context of the story, this highlights the heroine’s observant nature, since she is suspicious of La Bestia’s unnatural beauty. It is evident that La Bestia is not all that he seems and the oxymoron, ‘marvellous wound’, shows that while the heroine feels betrayed, she is also aroused by his true nature. This also shows that sex and violence are inextricably linked and fetishizes the idea of inflicting pain or being subject to pain, again revealing the complexity of female sexuality and suggesting that sadomasochism is not shameful. At the end of the story, the relationship between the heroine and La Bestia becomes consensual, with the heroine revealing herself to be a tiger: ‘I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur’. This shows that the heroine has gained experience by sexually freeing herself. In the story, sexuality is embodied by the tiger and so the heroine has achieved freedom by embracing her animalistic side; in freeing herself, it causes her to become the ‘Sadeian Woman’ because she is now in control of her own sexuality. The transition from a transactional to a consensual relationship shows that there is now equality between the heroine and La Bestia, because she has been encouraged to embrace her true nature and live, metaphorically and literally, like a tiger.
The loss of innocence is also a major aspect of Wolf-Alice, but for different reasons. Wolf-Alice is described as a feral child who ‘grew up with wild beasts’, which captures her innocence because she does not see the danger in these wild animals that others would be able to. This animalistic nature is all that Wolf-Alice has ever known because she has not yet been introduced to humanity. As a result, she finds comfort in wild animals as opposed to humans, because she has only been able to learn from them and is therefore unaware of what human nature is, despite being a human. Wolf-Alice begins to lose her innocence once she starts menstruating: ‘Her first blood bewildered her’. This shows that her journey to self-awareness is focalized through puberty, because menstruation indicates that she is now becoming more feminine and is now able to be corrupted by male desire. Puberty also teaches Wolf-Alice about the concept of time: ‘The moon vanished; but, little by little, reappeared’. The discovery of time enables Wolf-Alice to become more self-aware, because she now realizes that she has lived in the past and will live in the future, as opposed to just occupying the present. The moon is also symbolic of femininity, again showing how puberty aids in her character development. The lunar cycle also teaches Wolf-Alice to prepare for menstruation instead of being repulsed or confused by it. As a result of this, Wolf-Alice is made more humane by the fact that she is learning more about herself and her surroundings. Mirrors also serve to educate Wolf-Alice and allow her to become more self-aware: ‘She saw with irritation, then amusement, how it mimicked every gesture of hers’. It is clear that Wolf-Alice is still very innocent when she first examines the mirror, because she does not realize that the reflection is of her. Wolf-Alice’s reaction to her reflection is similar to that of wild animals, who are very defensive towards others, but her amusement emphasizes her naivety and shows that she has not yet discovered herself. Mirrors also have connotations of vanity and since Wolf-Alice is not yet aware that the reflection is of her, it can be argued that she is unknowingly objectifying herself. This links to the idea that as she becomes more human, she also becomes more narcissistic, implying that human culture revolves around materialism. The objectification of her reflection creates sexual vanity and suggests that it is humanity’s obsession with beauty that has corrupted Wolf-Alice.
In conclusion, Carter’s stories prove that women do not need to rely on men to sexually liberate themselves and become more self-aware. The implication of the stories in The Bloody Chamber, is that no-one – except Wolf-Alice, who is atypical in her behavior as a human – is completely innocent, showing that women have the potential to free themselves from oppression and take control of their fate, which would not be considered achievable without questioning the conventions of traditional Gothic literature.
Deflowering of the Christmas Rose: Monstrosity and Perspective in “The Tiger’s Bride”
What attributes qualify someone, or something, as a monster? Despite the fact that the answer to this subjective query fluctuates immensely among individual persons, for centuries we have attempted to construct a universal definition of the word ‘monster’. The Oxford English Dictionary (1884) illustrates man’s inability to produce such a designation through its inclusion of a variety of descriptions derived from those previously established and changes in cultural and societal standards. One entry, for example, defines a monster as “a mythical creature which is part animal and part human, or combines elements of two or more animal forms, and is frequently of great size and ferocious appearance.” Within this same entry, it continues by adapting this description in an effort to make it more general: “Any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening.”
In literature, however, we are exposed to figures of all backgrounds, appearances, and temperaments that are presented as monsters, some of which do not embody the more conventional qualities that have come to accompany this distinction. One such case is manifested in fiction author Angela Carter’s “The Tiger’s Bride”, an altered version of Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast”. The characteristics that she chooses to prioritize in shaping her monster, the tiger Milord, extend beyond the physical classifications presented in the preceding definitions and earlier versions of the fairy tale. Carter proceeds to argue that it is an abuse of power that makes a monster, and illustrates this claim through her beast’s treatment of the heroine, Rose, as well as his ability to break her strength and sense of identity. In order to adequately defend this claim and identify the additional attributes of a monster Carter presents in her tale, an analysis of her descriptions, narrative style, and tone will be performed. Furthermore, the relationship between “The Tiger’s Bride” and the theories of Julia Kristeva’s abject will be explored.
It is clear that Carter wanted to incorporate specific physical qualities as a basis for generating a monster within her tale, perhaps using the initial mental images produced by many upon mention of ‘monster’ as a launching point for the proposal of her argument. As the plot unfolds, she consistently supplies audiences with details of Milord’s intimidating form, reminding us that he is of “great size and ferocious appearance” (Oxford English Dictionary). The “annihilating vehemence of his eyes” (Carter, 63), his “excoriating claws” (60), and his “savage geometry” (63) suggest that the extent of intensity and control the tiger is capable of possessing is one to be dreaded.
What accompanies these rich descriptions of Milord’s frightful features is one of the more underlying “stipulations” Carter considers necessary for the label of monster: deceitfulness. The beast takes every measure to disguise his true form. The speaker describes the overpowering scent of perfume radiating from Milord’s lavish purple gown, as well as the male face painted on his mask: “Oh yes, a beautiful face; but one with too much formal symmetry of feature to be entirely human…too perfect, uncanny”(53). Furthermore, Milord utilizes emotional deception to catalyze the deterioration of the heroine’s identity, an argument that will be evaluated more thoroughly later in this analysis. The tiger feigns weakness through tears and perceived shame following the expression of his expectation to see Rose’s unclothed body. By doing so, he provides Rose with a false sense of having control of the situation, ultimately pushing her to see herself as the monster and fall to his demands. Until Rose succumbs to the Milord’s barbaric desire, however, he continues to maintain the physical façade used to convince others of his humanity within his private quarters, as if attempting to overcome personal denial that he is an animal: “In his rarely disturbed privacy, the Beast wears…a dull purple gown with gold embroidery round the neck that falls from his shoulders to conceal his feet” (57).
By including these more familiar attributes of a monster in her tale, Carter essentially “warms up” her audience and prepares us to receive her proposed criterion. She offers this insight to her opinions primarily through the narrative style of “The Tiger’s Bride”. Establishing Rose as the speaker aids Carter in demonstrating that to her, the extent of a monster’s existence is dependent upon its effects on and reactions from an individual, as well as its behavior. Rose’s defiant, disturbed tone constructed as a result of her interaction with Milord clearly articulates the author’s ideas of a monster, carrying it beyond the text and ensuring a connection with readers.
Consider the initial setting, mood, and events of the tale. As a chancy game of cards comes to close, Rose feels her freedom ripped away as she becomes one of the last items to be gambled. Carter uses this opening scene to present oppressiveness as a quality of a monster. She introduces Milord as a daunting figure that abuses his tyrannical stature: “Everyone who comes to this city must play a hand with the grand seigneur; few come” (51)—Milord willingly takes one’s precious belongings as a means of payment for residence in his town. As the candles dwindle down and her father’s perspiration increases, Rose is guided into developing feelings of repugnance and impertinence for Milord as his yellow eyes routinely break from his hand to watch her as if she were his prize—or his prey. The evocation of these emotions was certainly intended—there are strong feminist undertones in this piece, as will be described in the following paragraph. However, Carter strategized for Milord to illicit these same sentiments within her audience as well: There is a sense of outrage as we witness the tiger’s assessment of Rose as a mere possession to add to his collection: “…If you are so careless of your treasures, you should expect them to be taken from you” (54). His failure to acknowledge Carter’s heroine as an individual with emotions and dignity immediately cultures disapproving attitudes that prevent us from associating Milord with any human-like qualities.
When exploring Carter’s proposal of misuse of power as an attribute of Milord, it is possible to contend that misogynistic qualities are also included within her criterion for a monster. The tiger’s animalistic request to see the body of a virgin works to stir up an array of emotions. Rose, initially, was struck by the ridiculousness and almost predictableness of his desire, later commenting how men had never taken her seriously because of her gender. For me, I reacted to his request with revulsion—to be seen merely as an object with all value stripped away is heartbreaking. Milord’s lusting, almost obsessive desire to deflower a woman with his eyes is successful in evoking the type of reaction Carter insists can be also produced as an effect of a monster—one that is much different from fear.
Although these particular instances illustrate some of Rose’s emotional and physical responses that were not rooted in terror, others that do address the ability of a monster to produce such a reaction are included in the tale. When Milord sends his valet to collect his winnings, Rose describes the carriage being “as black as a hearse” (54). This comment provides significant insight regarding Rose’s composure as the time comes for her to be taken to Milord. A sense of dread, an awareness of an impending doom, is embodied in this description, and we begin to get an idea of how intimidating Milord is to a woman of such confidence. As the valet leads Rose to the tiger’s dark, stifling chamber, the heroine’s reflection offers a similar connotation: “I held my head high and followed him; but, for all my pride, my heart was heavy” (57).
Julia Kristeva’s “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection” can be used to understand the main and final attribute of Milord that classifies him as a monster within this text: his ruthless attempts to erode Rose’s resilience and self-worth, and his eventual success in doing so. In her essay, Kristeva considers Sigmund Freud’s theories of the uncanny and writes to redefine the word ‘abject’ by describing it as a sort of “limbo”—the middle ground between something that is a part of someone as an individual, and something that is embodied within a separate entity. The abject pushes someone to react with uncertainty and uneasiness by essentially relating the individual to something they do not wish to have a connection with, either because it instills fear within them, or because they have developed a set of negative feelings towards it.
Carter works to produce the abject through Milord’s manipulative behavior, and it becomes more evident once his victim Rose’s tone, thoughts, and actions are considered. Initially, the heroine is admirably self-respecting and firm, refusing to allow her captor the satisfaction of having complete dominance over her. Upon entering the tiger’s chamber for the first time, Rose conveys that she will not easily be made submissive: “I remained standing. During this interview, my eyes were level with those inside the mask…” (57). It is while the tiger’s yellow eyes bore into Rose’s, however, that connections between herself and the monster first began to make themselves known. Being separated from mankind and thrown into a world of beasts forces the heroine to become more aware of her animalistic qualities, disassembling every trace of humanity.
The more time Rose spends at the palace, the more obvious it becomes that she is losing her sense of identity. She acknowledges the apparent power struggle between herself and Milord, and neither are willing to stand down. On the winter day that she, Milord, and the valet go riding, we see Rose come to a climactic realization: “A profound sense of strangeness slowly began to possess me…then the six of us—mount and riders, both—could boast amongst us not one soul, either, since all the best religions in the world state categorically that not beasts or women were equipped with [them]…” (62). At this moment, Rose inadvertently recognizes that a part of Milord is referenced within herself, and vice versa. In their society, neither of them are considered to have an opinion, a soul—any remote sense of worth. It is here that the abject is officially established, and it is here that the heroine loses herself to Carter’s monster. Shortly before revealing her breasts to the tiger, Rose grants insight into the newfound fear instilled in her by Milord: “My composure deserted me; all at once I was on the brink of panic” (62). The tiger exploits this abjection and strips his prize of more than her clothing. He maintained a sort of patience, waiting for Rose to recognize her inner beastliness and disassemble herself one piece at a time. Ultimately, his actions push her to deterioration, and Rose wilts in the tiger’s chamber as Milord’s rough, licking tongue “ripped off skin after successive skin” (66).
I have analyzed Carter’s argument and identified the attributes she considers to be essential for the existence of a monster through her use of Milord: deceitfulness, abusive with power, capable of generating the abject, and willingness to inflict harm on another to satisfy selfish desires. After doing so, it becomes possible to refute the notion that the creature described previously in the Oxford English Dictionary is a monster based on solely the definition.
This exploration can now be applied to Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” to examine an additional case in which the definition of a monster presented in the introduction lacks relevance and accuracy as a result of the evolution of time. Beaumont’s tale, published in 1756, addresses a popular notion of the era that a hideous physical appearance is a domineering characteristic of a monster. The narrator and characters even refer to the Beast (initially) with this distinction: “…and the monster having asked her if she came willingly; ‘ye—e—es,’ said she, trembling”. Clearly, Beaumont’s Beauty is afraid; however, this reaction does not stem from Beast’s behavior or attitude toward her—it is rooted it his appearance alone. In “The Tiger’s Bride”, published over 200 years later, Carter argues that a monster’s existence is more reliant upon the creature’s conduct. When taking the attributes proposed by Carter under consideration, then, it becomes clear that Beaumont’s ‘monster’ actually proves to be the exact opposite. Take for example the manner in which Beast treats his female counterpart. He sacrifices his happiness and well-being for that of the woman he loves and treats with value, which nearly results in his death. This selflessness evokes a set of reactions from Beauty that greatly contrasts with that of Carter’s heroine. Beast’s temperament, behavior, actions, and words suggest more human-like qualities than animal, and these features eventually result in Beauty developing a love for him. As audiences culture feelings of favor towards Beast and even a sense of relatability, they discover that “any imaginary creature that is large, ugly, and frightening” no longer accurately defines what constitutes a monster.
Carter, Angela. “The Tiger’s Bride.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Text Criticisms. Ed. Maria Tartar. New York: Norton & Company, 1999. 50-66. Print.
de Beaumont, Jeanne-Marie LePrince. “Beauty and the Beast”. 1756. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Print.
Leitch, Vincent B., et al. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton &Company, Inc., 2001. Print.
Oxford English Dictionary. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.
Red Riding Hood’s Sexual Liberation
Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves is a different adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood where, instead of the little girl becoming the victim to a villainous wolf, she embraces the wolf as an experience beyond anything she has known or been taught. Red Riding Hood is coming into herself as a young woman; she is going through puberty which often signifies changes in sexual interest and curiosity. Her family took the time to preach to the little girl that there are beasts outside of her protected bubble that are dangerous and not suitable to interact with at such a tender age. Since she is the youngest and the prettiest child, her mother and grandmother put forth mass efforts to ensure she remains as innocent as possible. However, when the little girl makes her way into the woods, she finds that she is not interested in being innocent. She discovers that she wants to explore her sexual desires which are not civilized. Sexual desire is something wild and natural, something that civilized and cultured girls should never want to explore. Women are often discouraged from exploring their sexual desires because it is a behavior that is not normally characterized as feminine. The heroine of The Company of Wolves rejects her civilized lifestyle in order to experience animalistic sexual desire.
The Company of Wolves starts out with an old wives’ tale and a warning. A little girl is told stories of beasts that make “you” quiver in fear and are untrustworthy She is told these stories by her grandmother to ensure the little girl would remain innocent and pure. However, Red Riding Hood is told these old wives’ tales about these wolves and how they preyed on innocent townspeople; she took this and, instead of cowering to him like prey, she asserted her dominance when in front of the wolf. The old wives’ tales are meant to scare her into obedience; in order for her to remain a little girl, her mother and grandmother make an effort to kill any inkling of curiosity. They tell her to “Fear and flee the wolf; for, worst of all, the wolf may be more than he seems” (Carter 111). This resonates closely with the implication that boys will be boys; they do not know how to control themselves. Women take it upon themselves to teach their daughters stereotypical behaviors of men and that good women are not supposed to engage in such behaviors. The women in this story, with the exception to the heroine, could almost be characterized as the antagonists. They discourage her from exploring her sexuality and sexual desires by using scare tactics in hopes that their youngest and prettiest child will remain civilized and innocent. However, by doing this, there is a disconnect in their care for her; the heroine does not seem to care that her grandmother has been eaten by this wolf. She is actively rejecting her teacher of how good girls should act. Without her grandmother, there is no one to force her to conform to the rules of their society but even in the death of her grandmother, the rattling of her bones is meant to act as a warning against the wolf.
The red shawl not only symbolizes her coming into her womanhood but it is also physically shielding her body from the wolves. As a developing young woman, “her breasts have just begun to swell” and she has started her period; her grandmother makes the cape to shelter her granddaughter from being preyed upon (Carter 113). She burns her cape to show how she is unafraid of the wolf. She burns her clothes to reject her civilized lifestyle and to be accepted into an animalistic lifestyle. Carter says, “She bundled her shawl and threw it on the blaze, which instantly consumed it” (Carter 117). Once she throws the shawl into the fire, she has immediately relieved herself of the pressures of being in a civilized society. She does not want that life for herself; instead, she is allowing for the wolf to introduce her to the world of sexual desire and acting on natural instincts rather than learned behaviors. The shawl is the first thing she burns because it is the antithesis of what she wants to be and what the wolf can teach her. After the shawl burns, she begins to undress herself to embrace her natural body. “The thin muslin went flaring up the chimney like a magic bird and now off came her skirt, her woolen stockings, her shoes, and on to the fire they went, too, and were gone for good” (Carter 118). She undresses herself to slowly show she is willing to shed herself of everything she has been taught. Then she undresses the wolf to put them on a level playing field. Neither has an advantage and she is not in immediate danger because they are the same kind of exposed in front of each other. This story is not about love; it is purely about lust and a biological hunger for sex. The description of the heroine makes it clear she has no intention of loving the wolf. Rather, she is looking forward to exploring the sexual desire in herself. Their roles have reversed; she is supposed to be afraid of the wolf because his intention is to eat her. In the end, the act of having sex and consuming another being are closely aligned. She “burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat” when the wolf said he was going to eat her (Carter 118). It ended up being about two hungry beings consuming each other instead of being a predator devouring its prey.
Often, nature has acted as the place to find one’s truth. Carter placed Red Riding Hood in the woods because she is meant to begin to seek her sexual truth. While the wolf is interested in pursuing her in a sexual manner, it would have been a different story if the wolf purposely sought her out in the comfort of her nurturing community. Red Riding Hood finds herself in the woods without the protection of her mother or grandmother; she finds herself wanting to explore sexual desires and is in a perfect position to do it. Instead of following what people have told her to do when she goes into the woods, she acts on her animalistic instincts and sexual desires. The wolf is dirty and untrustworthy while she is pure and clean by continuous grooming and sheltering from her family. She loses her virginity to the wolf; she sheds her blood and immediately loses the innocence her family had been protecting her from. Her instincts told her she needed to experience her sexual awakening because she did not have any other opportunity to do so. Since losing one’s virginity is often paired with marriage in a civilized society, Red Riding Hood found herself making some kind of commitment to the wolf by having sex with him. “She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony” (Carter 118). Lice is the quintessential telling that someone is not clean; Red Riding Hood says she would perhaps put the lice in her mouth in order to show she is willingly becoming unclean. She did not catch lice from the wolf while they were engaging in sex; she takes them inside herself enthusiastically as part of her new life.
The Company of Wolves was a story about embracing sexual liberation and rejecting social norms and expectations. Red Riding Hood aggressively goes against everything she is taught by her civilized family to explore her natural desires as she is coming into her womanhood. The wolf, a wild animal, seeks to murder the heroine’s grandmother in order to silence her voice of reason and conformity. Anticipating a girl that would be afraid of the wolf’s predatory antics, the wolf asserted his dominance only to be met with equal power from Red Riding Hood. Instead of listening to the antagonistic voices of her mother and grandmother to fear the wolf, Red Riding Hood embraced him and his animal behaviors; she engaged in those same behaviors in order to shed her clothes from a forced, civilized life. By going into the woods, she entered a natural environment where she would not be pressured to conform to women’s ideals regarding femininity and what behaviors are acceptable for a girl to be involved in.
Psychosexuality and De-patriarchy in Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”
“Little Red Riding Hood” can be viewed as one of the most popular and famous bedtime fairytales. Based on the original counterpart, Angela Carter remolds this story by adding sexual elements through her work “The Company of Wolves”, in which the narrator describes the red of the heroine’s cape, which resembles “blood on snow” and “color of sacrifices” (Carter 145), is an advertisement of her sexual readiness. Carter’s revision also deals with the perception of the heroine, as a young girl, towards her virginity and moral sexuality, as well as unconscious exploration of self. Moreover, Carter shows her concern on exploring the gender identities through retelling those fairytales which are seemingly innocuous. She ever said that what she has done is to debunk myth (38), which can be regarded as kind of criticism and rebellion towards patriarchy society which dominates traditional values and norms. This paper will, therefore, examine the heroine’s actions driven by the self-desire and psychosexual urge, as well as the hidden meaning of her final triumph over the werewolf in “The Company of Wolves” from two categories: Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s archetypal images.
As the central figure in “The Company of Wolves”, the heroine is portrayed as “an unbroken egg”, “a sealed vessel”, and “stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity” (Carter 145). She precisely fits Freud’s concept of the tripartite self and represents the conflicts and solutions of it. According to Freud, Superego is the moralist and idealistic part of the personality, residing in preconscious level and operating on “ideal principle” (Freud 19). The heroine is the youngest and most beautiful child, thus, her family has indulged her and protected her from danger and harsh reality by making her the gender ideal and a good girl who would never get off the path, which help to form the superego of the heroine, thereby, leading to her disbelief in the compass and subduing her desire to go to the forest when she makes the huntsman (werewolf) a bet. However, as the stage of sexual awakening and sensitive to the heterosexual relationship, the heroine’s id, which resides at the unconscious level and acts under the pleasure principle (Freud 21), cannot be repressed completely. She is on the verge of puberty; she has just begun to menstruate, and starts her fantasy about sex. Then driven by her ego, which operates under reality principle and attempts negotiate between id and superego, the heroine, enticed as she is by the werewolf, agrees the kiss as a wining prize of the bet and lets him leave with her basket. She knows “she should never leave the path on the way through the wood”, yet still “dawdle(s) on her way to make sure the handsome gentleman would win his wager” (Carter 148). She even does not seem to care whether the werewolf has eaten her grandmother or not but is eager to consummate her sexual desire and relationship with the werewolf. Here, readers can see a girl with independence and strong autonomy.
To further resolve the conflicts between id and superego, defense mechanisms appears to be employed by ego to achieve an equilibrium between desire and reality. Albeit the heroine knows that wolves are worst in the barren months, she still insists on sending a basket of food to her sick grandmother. She is solely armed with a knife for the two-hour trip but does not afraid of it; she is “afraid of nothing” (Carter 142). Being kept young by her family, the heroine undergoes the denial in defense mechanisms towards the upcoming dangers unconsciously, and sets up her trip both towards her grandmother’s house and mature woman with her red shawl which symbolized her sexual desire. In regards to her relationship with her grandmother, the heroine actually experiences a projection. Having plagued by phallic phase and Oedipus complex, the heroine indeed regardes her mother as a romantic rival in her subconscious, and desires for her father’s love. When she decides to visit her grandmother, “her mother cannot deny her” (146) without her father, Carter writes. Meanwhile, her id is restrained by her grandmother and mother through warning and telling her stay on the path; therefore, her envy for her mother spontaneously is transferred to her grandmother. In this case, she ignores her grandmother’s clattering bones which can be seen as a warning or obstacle to her relationship with the werewolf, and further views the werewolf as her father’s substitute and transfer her emotion to him. The narrator indicates repeatedly that “the wolf is carnivore incarnate” and they are absolute evil that their howl is “in itself a murdering” (Carter 140). Yet in the course of narrating, readers can perceive that for wolves as for any half-being, their existence equals torment. Through the heroine’s eyes, their howl has “some inherent sadness in it, as if the beasts would love to be less beastly if only they knew how any never cease to mourn their own condition” (Carter 143), which suggests that even men who choose to become werewolves may be regretful because of the misery it brings them. Although defense mechanisms has eased the conflicts between the heroine’s id and superego, in the end of the story, it is ultimately the heroine’s pity or guilt, caused by avoidance of conscious solutions, for the werewolf and his company of wolves that moves her to join them, or perhaps, becomes a leader and make them keep her company. It seems like that a new matriarchy wolf society forms.
“The Company of Wolves” can also be expounded through archetypal images and mythical patterns within collective unconscious. Similarly to Freud’s contrasting superego and id, Jung constructs the self (persona), which designates the whole range of psychic phenomena in man and expresses the unity of the personality as a whole (108), and the shadow, which represents one’s dark side of oneself that exists yet not be identified, as a pair of binary. Regarding the self of the heroine, she has been kept young because she is her family’s most beautiful and youngest child, and is made into the gender ideal of an innocent, sheltered and trusting girl. Nevertheless, the heroine in the story do have her darkness potentially: as a well-protected young girl, she is armed with a big knife; when she hears a wolf’s howl, she instinctively clutches her knife. She tells the werewolf, a stranger, where her grandmother lives and give him her basket without vigilance because she sees her grandmother as a barrier and wants to get rid of her in subconscious. Even she is aware of the death of her grandmother, she is busy interacting with the werewolf, satisfying her own desire, and doesn’t show too much pity or sadness. Besides the self and the shadow, the animus complex, which represents women’s biological expectations of men, but also refers to masculine that occurs in women. By wearing the red color which symbolizes both her new menstrual blood and the blood she will presumably shed when she loses her virginity, she has expressed the underlying sexual desire. In her grandmother’s house, she takes off her own clothes and then unbuttoned the collar of the werewolf’s shirts proactively. She would never bother to think about she would be eaten; she “burst(s) out laughing; […] she laughe(s) at him full in the face, she rip(s) off his shirt for him and fling(s) it into the fire” (Carter 152). These actions exactly reflect her sexual desire and masculine possibilities to be the one in control, which could possibly, be as another proof to indicate Carter’s deviation from male’s dominant society.
As for exploring the source of archetypal images, Jung’s interprets, that archetypes are “universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct”, and autonomous and potential forms “given particular expression by individuals and their cultures”, associating with racial memory and mythical forms (138). Jung mentioned in his book, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, a kind of optimism of pantheism which he discovers in an African primitive tribe, would disappear and replaced by fear during six pm till six am the next day. It is the fear that the sun, which is worshiped, is swallowed by the darkness, promoting them to form an original archetype of sun and darkness and pass it through collective unconscious in generation. As with the development of language, people develop the ability of using different simile to portray archetypes; the sun is also compared to god, lion, infinite power or king. In the story “The Company of Wolves”, the sun is the archetype of the red cape, whereas the darkness is the archetype of the werewolf. The heroine’s loss of virginity is likened that the sun is devoured by darkness. However, the virginity is meanwhile a welled-up force, ready to overwhelm the potential devourers. The heroine uses her human pity and immense sexual power to transform the act of devouring into a sexual one; therefore, she survives, which also symbolizes that the sun breaks through the darkness, demonstrating the dominant power the heroine eventually obtains.
Generally speaking, to interpret this story by applying no matter Freud’s psychic zones or Jung’s archetypes, readers may have a glimpse that Carter echoes the romantic notion of locating the divine in nature, even the parts of nature that are not traditionally beautiful and innocent. Moreover, it also should be noted that Carter’s intention to portray the heroine’s unconscious sexual awakening. Carter has ever written in her book Shaking a Leg, that a writer could stating his opinion on reality through fabricating an another world, examining self-state of being instead of talking a lot of twaddle about daily life(35). In “The Company of Wolves”, driven by the sexual curiosity and fantasy, the heroine explored her psychosexual development and make compromises between personalities unconsciously to adapt the reality: stay on the path while follow the desire at the end of the path, which is seemingly a slogan of women in the male dominant society. Women have their moral sexuality, yet they also need the sexual autonomy as well as sexual power, to make the society de-patriarchal.
Carter, Angela. “The Company of Wolves”. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. New York: Vintage Books. 1992. Print.
—, Shaking a Leg. New York: Penguin Books. 1997. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. The Ego and the Id. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform. 2010. Print.
Jung, Carl. “Instinct and the Unconscious” The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1971. Print.
—. Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. London: Routledge. 1953. Print.
Victims of Circumstance or Victims of Their Own Nature?
Carter’s characters in The Lady of the House of Love (LHL), Wolf-Alice and The Werewolf differentiate between being victims of their own nature and victims of circumstance. These characters that are classified as ‘victims’ are often portrayed as being unable to help themselves as they cannot escape from their fate or situation, such as the Countess in The LHL; however one may argue that certain characters, the child in The Werewolf for instance, are initially victims who subvert their role and do save themselves by escaping from this role. The characters in these stories, particularly the women, are often victimised due to the circumstance of their sexuality and societies expectations of them, nevertheless the Countess is a victim of her own nature – her nature as a vampire which entraps her.
Those characters who are victims of their own nature, in other words trapped in their roles due to their inherent make up. The Countess is an example of such a character, as are the Duke from Wolf-Alice and the grandmother from The Werewolf. All three of the characters are trapped in their states – werewolf and vampire – which are sometimes identified as specifically genetic, the Countess’s vampirism being descended from her father, who is too named as a vampire “Nosferatu” alluding to the vampiric film interpretation of Dracula. As a result the Countess becomes the “hereditary commandant of the army of shadows” which in a sense makes her a victim of circumstance as she inherits the isolation and “demented” history after her father’s assassination. However, the entire story repeatedly refers to her inability to escape from her vampire nature, symbolized through the caged lark, and her embedded need to kill in order to survive. The repeated references to her isolation and abandonment and the somber connotations to her description “all alone in her dark, high house” and “habitual tormented somnambulism” creates sympathy in the reader for her and highlights her inability to escape from her soulless state. She is unable to fulfill her dream to be human by herself and thus the “young officer” who is pure and possesses the “special quality of virginity” is needed on order for her to escape her haunted nature and be human as she wishes. Similarly, the Duke, too, relies on an external character to save him from his animalistic and haunted nature. It is implied that his nature is to be a “corpse eater” as he is non-human. Wolf-Alice humanizes him at the end of the story, saving him from his own nature. The grandmother however, is unable to save herself due to her werewolf nature and is not saved by anyone else but instead dies a victim of her nature. However, she also dies as a victim of circumstance, a circumstance from which she cannot escape.
One may argue that the grandmother is victimized through her role as a woman, a role from which when she tries to escape – by taking the form of a wolf and subverting her role of a domestic and pure woman – she dies. It is evident that she is unable to help herself as she is characterized by Carter as a weak woman “who has been sick” thus suggesting that even though she is a wolf, she is still weak and Little Red has to bring her food and care for her. She is trapped in her role as a domestic grandmother and thus tries to escape through her wolfish side, which in turn entraps her as well in a life destined for persecution. One may also argue that Wolf-Alice, too, is a victim of circumstance as she is trapped in the ‘nature’ of a wolf due to her upbringing and forced to conform to what is considered ‘normal’ by the nuns. She is unable to fully conform to societies expectations of her to “cover up her bold nakedness” and behave in a way expected of a woman as her wolf side has become embedded in her nature by her circumstances. One may contest, however, that she is not helpless as she saves the Duke from his wolfish side and initially did not need anyone to “rescue” her. Therefore, it is evident that there are characters in Carter’s tales who are not victims or helpless at all. The “young officer” in LHL may be initially presented as a victim of the Countess, but he survives and saves/defeats her as well as saves himself through love and innocence as “he is more than he knows.” The girl in The Werewolf is an independent woman, unafraid of the wolves and conformity and defends herself with her father’s hunting knife and therefore “she prospered” by refusing to become the wolf’s prey/victim.
Therefore, Carter’s characters vary between victims of circumstance and their own nature as well as those who are in fact heroes and survivors. Nevertheless, all of her characters begin as victims in their stories. Even those who are heroes, such as the young officer in the LHL and the girl in The Werewolf, are initially victims pursued by evils, wolves and vampires, but are able to save themselves, to help themselves and therefore they are undefeated and become heroes. Thus, all of the characters in The Werewolf, LHL and Wolf-Alice are victims of either nature or circumstance, but it is those who are able to help themselves who do not succumb to these roles. However, to a great extent those who are unable to help themselves are largely unable to do so as they are victims of their own nature and cannot break free from it as their nature is an intrinsic part of their existence.