Coming of Age and Feminism in Red Riding Hood

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

Carol Ann Duffy, in her fictional work, delves into feminist ideas and concepts. This is particularly prevalent in the collection of ‘The World’s Wife’ poetry. In the inaugural poem; “Little Red Cap”, Duffy reshapes the original ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ into a ‘coming of age’ whirlwind, with bitter undertones. While the original tale may have listened to the young girls voice Red was not in control of her own actions, Duffy however allows her voice to reveal her true, unanticipated feelings. She does this by the use of dramatic monologue, a predominant format for her poems. The poem establishes its central concerns from the offset, Red Cap’s “childhood” is “end[ing]”. This metaphor portrays the extent of just how influential childhood is; it has a physical place of ending. In Duffy giving childhood a visible place of ending, she creates imagery of Red Cap physically leaving childhood. Furthermore, Duffy uses a play on words, ‘end’ is often in street names, this reinforces the imagery of the road. The first stanza appears to be a journey through life, “playing fields” for children, “factories” for adult work life and “allotments”, for those at retirement age. Red Cap’s life is interrupted by the Wolf. Red Cap first “clapped eyes” on the Wolf at the “edge of the woods”. Choosing this idiom to describe Red Cap’s first sighting of the Wolf is noteworthy as is holds powerful connotations. The ‘clap’ could refer to a thunder clap which implies their relationship will be a destructive one. It could further suggest their encounter was unforeseen and startling for both parties. This creates an element of uncertainty for the reader. Additionally, the ‘clap’ could be applause, insinuating there is perhaps something worth praising about their relationship. ‘Red Cap’ “knew” the Wolf would “lead” her “deep into the woods”. The verb “lead” delineates that the Wolf holds the power; he is the one escorting her into the woods. However, Red Cap recognised the Wolf was taking her into the woods and made no objection to it, which indicates she has more control than it initially appears. The adjective “deep” perhaps holds erotic sub-textual connotations in terms of penetration and could potentially foreshadow the sex between Red Cap and the Wolf. Duffy begins the first half of the poem both establishing who is in control and insinuating sexual encounters.

The notion of “childhood’s end” is accentuated through Duffy’s use of colloquial sexual language. The use of juxtaposition is striking, Duffy contrasts “childhood” with “thrashing” vigorous sex, sex between Little Red Cap and the Wolf. This noun insinuates intensity and desire in their sex. It was his “wolfy drawl” reading “poetry” that drew Red Cap to him. Duffy reinvents the stereotype that women are attracted to ‘bad boys’ by making the Wolf an intellectual and by having his poetry, rather than his appearance, entice Red Cap. The Wolf, in the original story is Red’s attempted murderer, in this modern remake the Wolf is her lover. The purpose of using sexual language in what was originally a fairy tale is perhaps to shock the reader. Duffy, in using this language highlights Red Cap’s feelings towards her ‘husband’; she lusts after him. This is something women are usually disparaged from doing. Duffy liberating women and allowing them to freely discuss their sexual encounters is something that can further be seen in “Ann Hathaway”, in which she freely discusses the sex between herself and her husband. This highlights Duffy removing the stigma of women discussing sex liberally.

Duffy concerns her poems with women and their sexual experiences. Notably in ‘Little Red Cap’ the loss of virginity is portrayed as disillusionment for her. Duffy uses imagery of a “white dove” flying “straight from” Red Cap’s “hands” to the Wolf’s “open mouth” to illustrate Red losing her virginity. Doves are symbolic of love, peace and purity so the Wolf only taking “one bite” of the dove to kill it denotes how insignificant Red’s purity is to him. With ease he took what the dove represents from her without sparing a thought. This furthermore highlights the ease at which a woman’s innocence can be taken from her. Duffy’s intention may have been to unsettle the reader with this sad reality, Red Cap is only on the cusp of adulthood yet her innocence has been taken almost immediately. Nonetheless, Red Cap willingly parted with the dove, so her innocence was taken from her with consent.

Arguably, Red Cap wanted to experience everything ‘adult’, she ensured the Wolf “spotted” her, and thus recognised what would be taken from her. Duffy further subverts gender roles; women are usually portrayed as submissive, ‘Little Red’ has had this submission like her “stockings”, ripped from her. This noun holds sexual connotations; “stockings” are symbolic of sordid sexual encounters and are often perceived as alluring due to their sheer material. Duffy also disrupts typical male stereotypes, the Wolf, who in fiction, has become a generic archetype of a frightening beast of prey, is depicted as a poet. The walls of his “lair” are “crimson, gold, aglow with books” which denotes a more lyrical tone and veers away from the previous monosyllabic description of the “dove’s” death. The effect of which places emphasis on the importance of literature for Red Cap. With regard to prosodic analysis, this line is the longest in the poem; this suggests this is what Red Cap desires most.

Additionally, the assonant “o” sounds reinforces the delicacy and ornateness of his books, this detracts from the prior violent sex description. His chosen profession though, does not detract from his formidable and threatening appearance; his “heavy matted paws” could undoubtedly crush ‘Little Red’. Nevertheless she “slides” from those immense paws, this verb suggests she is in control and illustrates to the reader the dynamic of their relationship.

In Duffy’s attempts to empower women she appears ‘anti-male’ and consequently not all of her female characters are portrayed as respectable. Duffy’s use of dramatic monologue delineates women as negligent wives and partners. This can be seen through Red Cap exclaiming how it took her “ten years” to realise a “greying Wolf” howls the same song indefinitely. This adjective is striking as it implies Red Cap believes her ‘husband’ has lost his vigour and is using this adjective as a slur about his age. This further suggests that an aspect she once found appealing; the Wolf being older than her, is now something she finds tiresome. She uses a highly critical tone to discuss not only the Wolf’s ageing but the “song” he howls at the moon “year in, year out” with the “same rhyme” and the “same reason”. This highlights how Red Cap regards the Wolf as tedious and tiresome; she does not find him as charming as she once did. The repetitive structure used mimics the Wolf’s monotonous, tedious song. This may support Red Cap’s case and create sympathy for her.

However, it can be viewed as Red Cap being an unsupportive partner. This can further be seen in “Mrs Icarus”, rather than supporting her husband’s endeavours she belittles him. Through her mocking tone and use of colloquial language such as “pillock” we can tell Mrs Icarus is not carrying out her wifely duties and is rather sarcastically and scornfully informing people of her husband’s downfall. Her use of enjambment further emphasises her infuriation with her husband and subsequently increases the pace of the poem, perhaps to mirror the speed at which her husband made mistakes. Most significantly, Red Cap kills her husband with an “axe”. Duffy builds momentum by the use of rapid internal rhyme, Red Cap used the same axe to see how the “willow” “wept” and how the “salmon” “leapt”.

This creates urgency; this denotes how impatience Red Cap was to be rid of her husband. Nevertheless, women are the centre of Duffy’s poetry. Women throughout literature through the years have been silenced. Female writers in the past had to veil their names. Duffy in killing the Wolf, frees Red Cap of her suppresser, this can be seen through the imagery of the “mushroom” acting as a “stopper” in the “mouth of a buried corpse”. Arguably the Wolf is the mushroom suffocating Red Cap and stifling her voice. In the Wolf’s death she is free to “sing”. This embodies the thread that runs throughout her poems, she gives women a voice. Carol Ann Duffy, in her fictional work, delves into feminist ideas and concepts. This is particularly prevalent in the collection of ‘The World’s Wife’ poetry. In the inaugural poem; “Little Red Cap”, Duffy reshapes the original ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ into a ‘coming of age’ whirlwind, with bitter undertones.

While the original tale may have listened to the young girls voice Red was not in control of her own actions, Duffy however allows her voice to reveal her true, unanticipated feelings. She does this by the use of dramatic monologue, a predominant format for her poems. The poem establishes its central concerns from the offset, Red Cap’s “childhood” is “end[ing]”. This metaphor portrays the extent of just how influential childhood is; it has a physical place of ending. In Duffy giving childhood a visible place of ending, she creates imagery of Red Cap physically leaving childhood. Furthermore, Duffy uses a play on words, ‘end’ is often in street names, this reinforces the imagery of the road. The first stanza appears to be a journey through life, “playing fields” for children, “factories” for adult work life and “allotments”, for those at retirement age. Red Cap’s life is interrupted by the Wolf. Red Cap first “clapped eyes” on the Wolf at the “edge of the woods”. Choosing this idiom to describe Red Cap’s first sighting of the Wolf is noteworthy as is holds powerful connotations. The ‘clap’ could refer to a thunder clap which implies their relationship will be a destructive one. It could further suggest their encounter was unforeseen and startling for both parties. This creates an element of uncertainty for the reader. Additionally, the ‘clap’ could be applause, insinuating there is perhaps something worth praising about their relationship. ‘Red Cap’ “knew” the Wolf would “lead” her “deep into the woods”. The verb “lead” delineates that the Wolf holds the power; he is the one escorting her into the woods. However, Red Cap recognised the Wolf was taking her into the woods and made no objection to it, which indicates she has more control than it initially appears. The adjective “deep” perhaps holds erotic sub-textual connotations in terms of penetration and could potentially foreshadow the sex between Red Cap and the Wolf. Duffy begins the first half of the poem both establishing who is in control and insinuating sexual encounters.

The notion of “childhood’s end” is accentuated through Duffy’s use of colloquial sexual language. The use of juxtaposition is striking, Duffy contrasts “childhood” with “thrashing” vigorous sex, sex between Little Red Cap and the Wolf. This noun insinuates intensity and desire in their sex. It was his “wolfy drawl” reading “poetry” that drew Red Cap to him. Duffy reinvents the stereotype that women are attracted to ‘bad boys’ by making the Wolf an intellectual and by having his poetry, rather than his appearance, entice Red Cap. The Wolf, in the original story is Red’s attempted murderer, in this modern remake the Wolf is her lover. The purpose of using sexual language in what was originally a fairy tale is perhaps to shock the reader. Duffy, in using this language highlights Red Cap’s feelings towards her ‘husband’; she lusts after him. This is something women are usually disparaged from doing. Duffy liberating women and allowing them to freely discuss their sexual encounters is something that can further be seen in “Ann Hathaway”, in which she freely discusses the sex between herself and her husband. This highlights Duffy removing the stigma of women discussing sex liberally.

Duffy concerns her poems with women and their sexual experiences. Notably in ‘Little Red Cap’ the loss of virginity is portrayed as disillusionment for her. Duffy uses imagery of a “white dove” flying “straight from” Red Cap’s “hands” to the Wolf’s “open mouth” to illustrate Red losing her virginity. Doves are symbolic of love, peace and purity so the Wolf only taking “one bite” of the dove to kill it denotes how insignificant Red’s purity is to him. With ease he took what the dove represents from her without sparing a thought. This furthermore highlights the ease at which a woman’s innocence can be taken from her. Duffy’s intention may have been to unsettle the reader with this sad reality, Red Cap is only on the cusp of adulthood yet her innocence has been taken almost immediately. Nonetheless, Red Cap willingly parted with the dove, so her innocence was taken from her with consent.

Arguably, Red Cap wanted to experience everything ‘adult’, she ensured the Wolf “spotted” her, and thus recognised what would be taken from her. Duffy further subverts gender roles; women are usually portrayed as submissive, ‘Little Red’ has had this submission like her “stockings”, ripped from her. This noun holds sexual connotations; “stockings” are symbolic of sordid sexual encounters and are often perceived as alluring due to their sheer material. Duffy also disrupts typical male stereotypes, the Wolf, who in fiction, has become a generic archetype of a frightening beast of prey, is depicted as a poet. The walls of his “lair” are “crimson, gold, aglow with books” which denotes a more lyrical tone and veers away from the previous monosyllabic description of the “dove’s” death. The effect of which places emphasis on the importance of literature for Red Cap. With regard to prosodic analysis, this line is the longest in the poem; this suggests this is what Red Cap desires most. Additionally, the assonant “o” sounds reinforces the delicacy and ornateness of his books, this detracts from the prior violent sex description. His chosen profession though, does not detract from his formidable and threatening appearance; his “heavy matted paws” could undoubtedly crush ‘Little Red’. Nevertheless she “slides” from those immense paws, this verb suggests she is in control and illustrates to the reader the dynamic of their relationship.

In Duffy’s attempts to empower women she appears ‘anti-male’ and consequently not all of her female characters are portrayed as respectable. Duffy’s use of dramatic monologue delineates women as negligent wives and partners. This can be seen through Red Cap exclaiming how it took her “ten years” to realise a “greying Wolf” howls the same song indefinitely. This adjective is striking as it implies Red Cap believes her ‘husband’ has lost his vigour and is using this adjective as a slur about his age. This further suggests that an aspect she once found appealing; the Wolf being older than her, is now something she finds tiresome. She uses a highly critical tone to discuss not only the Wolf’s ageing but the “song” he howls at the moon “year in, year out” with the “same rhyme” and the “same reason”. This highlights how Red Cap regards the Wolf as tedious and tiresome; she does not find him as charming as she once did. The repetitive structure used mimics the Wolf’s monotonous, tedious song. This may support Red Cap’s case and create sympathy for her.

However, it can be viewed as Red Cap being an unsupportive partner. This can further be seen in “Mrs Icarus”, rather than supporting her husband’s endeavours she belittles him. Through her mocking tone and use of colloquial language such as “pillock” we can tell Mrs Icarus is not carrying out her wifely duties and is rather sarcastically and scornfully informing people of her husband’s downfall. Her use of enjambment further emphasises her infuriation with her husband and subsequently increases the pace of the poem, perhaps to mirror the speed at which her husband made mistakes. Most significantly, Red Cap kills her husband with an “axe”. Duffy builds momentum by the use of rapid internal rhyme, Red Cap used the same axe to see how the “willow” “wept” and how the “salmon” “leapt”.

This creates urgency; this denotes how impatience Red Cap was to be rid of her husband. Nevertheless, women are the centre of Duffy’s poetry. Women throughout literature through the years have been silenced. Female writers in the past had to veil their names. Duffy in killing the Wolf, frees Red Cap of her suppresser, this can be seen through the imagery of the “mushroom” acting as a “stopper” in the “mouth of a buried corpse”. Arguably the Wolf is the mushroom suffocating Red Cap and stifling her voice. In the Wolf’s death she is free to “sing”. This embodies the thread that runs throughout her poems, she gives women a voice.

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