Revolt of the Pawns

January 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

The Big Bad Wolf, Prince Charming, and The Beast: many fairy tales provide images of men varying from the courageous to the very evil. Each tale encodes messages for young girls about men, marriage, or sex as a type of socialization. Charles Perrault’s traditional version of the Bluebeard tale, which includes morals regarding curiosity and marriage, is no exception. In her book The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter totally flips the messages of traditional fairy tales, such as Bluebeard, by rewriting them from a feminist perspective. Carter transforms the tale of Bluebeard into a feminist story in her version entitled “The Bloody Chamber” by placing the mother in the role of savior, allowing the protagonist to participate in her own rescue, and subtracting strength from the secondary male figures. One of Carter’s most notable adaptations to the story of Bluebeard in an effort to create a feminist tale is her treatment of the protagonist’s mother. In the traditional version of the fairy tale, Perrault mentions the protagonist’s mother only briefly as, “a respectable lady, [who] had two daughters who were perfect beauties” (144). Unlike Perrault, Carter chooses to make the mother a central figure. Whereas Perrault only describes the mother in regard to her lady-like qualities and her role in raising children, Carter depicts the mother as a much more complex and powerful character, which is a key adaptation in her efforts to turn the story into a feminist tale. In the opening of the story, the narrator describes her mother as “my eagle-featured indomitable mother…” who “had outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand” (7). By describing the mother as “indomitable,” Carter immediately points to the mother’s strength. Likewise, by providing the reader with the mother’s unfeminine history, Carter emphasizes the mother’s past courage and potential power. Carter also depicts the mother as a source of strength for the female protagonist. When she explores the chamber, the narrator notes, “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. My mother’s sprit drove me on….” (28). Carter does not simply depict the mother as brave, but implies that bravery passes from mother to daughter. The passing of courage from female to female, rather than male to male or male to female, is significant in that it shows the power of a strong female role model. The daughter looks up to the mother because of her unfeminine abilities. The history of the mother’s courage is not the only way in which Carter uses the mother character to make the story distinctly feminist. Carter expands on this strong female character by placing the mother in the role of the savior, rather than giving such power to a male character. In Perrault’s version of the tale, the girl’s brothers heroically rescue her from a violent death at the hands of Bluebeard. Carter, however, replaces the brothers with the mother, thus placing the most power (the power to defeat the villain) in the hands of a female, “she raised my father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband’s head” (40). With the mother as the rescuer who kills the husband, Carter changes the nature of the climactic moment of the story. Rather than a struggle between men regarding a female, the struggle occurs between male and female. The wife relies not on men to save her, but on another woman. Cater toys with this power struggle between male and female even more by allowing the protagonist to play a role in her own escape. In both “The Bloody Chamber” and Perrault’s “Bluebeard,” the protagonist attempts to prolong her life by stalling her husband. In Carter’s version, the narrator walks slowly to her husband to allow her mother time to approach the castle (39). In Perrault’s, the girl asks for time to say her prayers in attempt to delay her doom until the arrival of her brothers who she hopes will rescue her (146). Both of these examples are passive attempts to simply buy time until another party can perform the rescue. However, Carter provides her protagonist with a greater role in her own escape, as her husband swings what would be a deathly blow.The blade did not descend, the necklace did not sever, my head did not roll. For, for an instant, the beast wavered in his stroke, a sufficient split second of astonished indecision to let me spring upright and dart to the assistance of my lover as he struggled sightlessly with the great bolts that kept [my mother] out. (39) This quote exemplifies the importance of the narrator’s own action in her salvation. Carter’s emphasis on what did not happen, followed by the action of the protagonist, allows the reader to see that she does not die because of her own inclination to move out from under the blade. After all, if she does not do so, her husband will kill her before her mother even enters the room. Her assistance is required to open the gate for her mother. The addition of the protagonist’s action is a key element in her rescue, which is not found in Perrault’s version of the tale. In his version, the brothers enter, chase, and kill Bluebeard while the girl remains on the ground, “Bluebeard’s wife was as close to death as her husband and barely had the strength to rise and embrace her brothers” (147). Whereas Perrault depicts her as weak and incapable, Carter depicts the wife as a powerful individual whose actions are key to her own rescue, thus giving even more power to the female roles. Not only does Cater transform the tale of Bluebeard into a feminist story by empowering the female characters, she also decreases the power of the secondary male characters by removing the brothers from the story and adding the less powerful piano-tuner. In Perrault’s version of the tale, the only male characters the reader encounters (aside from Bluebeard) are the brothers. Additionally, Perrault depicts the brothers as the very picture of masculinity, “the one a dragoon and the other a musketeer” (147). His version of the story only contains images of powerful and aggressive males. Carter opts to remove the brothers completely. As a result, the reader associates male power and aggression with evil because it is only found in the husband and is not positively represented. Carter not only removes the powerful and aggressive brothers, but she also adds the less-powerful piano-tuner, Jean Yves, to show a weakened power of men in the story. The narrator first describes Jean with a series of adjectives that lead the reader to picture him as a male without power, “he was blind, of course; but young, with a gentle mouth” (23). From this description the reader envisions a mild boy with a handicap, which is the complete opposite of the secondary male characters depicted in Perrault’s tale. Not only does the narrator describe Jean as a weakling in physical terms, she later describes his lack of courage. She states, “The door slowly, nervously opened and I saw…the slight, stooping figure of the piano-tuner, and he looked far more terrified of me than my mother’s daughter would have been of the Devil himself” (31). Carter’s use of comparison points out the drastic difference in courage between the boy and the protagonist. Carter repeats this theme of comparison of bravery again when the narrator says, “When I thought of courage, I thought of my mother. Then I saw a muscle in my lover’s face quiver” (38). By recalling the image of the powerful mother and placing it next to the quivering face of the lover, Carter reemphasizes the dramatic difference in courage between male and female. In doing so, Carter creates a world in which the only positive strong characters the reader encounters are female. By taking the power out of the hands of the males, and making the secondary male character a less powerful assistant to the females, Carter turns the gender-related power issues in the story upside-down. The fact that Carter creates a weak male character for her version of the story is an example of how she twists every aspect to change the traditional tale into a feminist piece. Carter goes beyond empowering the females of the story by strengthening the character of the mother to the point of savior and making the protagonist an active participant in her own escape. Additionally, she strips the story of all positive powerful males, leaving only the Bluebeard character, which stands alone as a negative representation of male power.

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