Gender Roles in Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves

Gender Roles in Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves

In her transformation of the well-known fable "Little Red Riding Hood," Angela Carter plays upon the reader's familiarity. By echoing elements of the allegory intended to scare and thus caution young girls, she evokes preconceptions and stereotypes about gender roles. In the traditional tale, Red sticks to "the path," but needs to be rescued from the threatening wolf by a hunter or "woodsman." Carter retells the story with a modern perspective on women. By using fantasy metaphorically and hyperbolically, she can poignantly convey her unorthodox and underlying messages.

Before telling the story of Red Riding Hood, Carter establishes the nature of wolves in a folk-lore or legend style, which appears to be at least partially factual. The narrator describes wolves as malicious hunters in an ominous tone: "The wolf is carnivore incarnate and he's as cunning as he is ferocious; once he's had a taste of flesh, then nothing else will do" (Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, 2232). She tells of their desperation for food, one possible explanation for their eagerness to devour humans, but warns that the danger of falling prey to a wolf is ever-present. Beneath her descriptive background information of wolves lies Carter's real message: men are sexual predators, and hunt for flesh like wolves do. This subtle and foreshadowed element becomes slightly more overt as the focus changes from wolves of the forest, to the mythical creatures of werewolves.

The narrator alludes to three plausible legends involving the hunter, the witch, and the bride, who all encountered men who transformed into wolves. She references possible explanations for this phenomenon, citing the Devil tra...

... middle of paper ... roles and become the sexual aggressor to be the victor instead of the victim.

Carter's twist on a well-known tale likely surprises many readers. Thus she is likely suggesting we should rethink our expectations of gender roles. Another way of presenting alternate gender roles would be making Red a boy, and having him saved by a girl at the end, but this scenario would not be as striking and therefore effective. Furthermore, Red's sexual awakening and consequent taming of the "wolf" serves as encouragement for women not to be passive, but to assert themselves in all situations, especially sex, which is one area that has long been characterized by rigid/traditional expectations of gender roles.

Works Cited:

Carter, Angela. "The Company of Wolves." Folk and Fairy Tales. Eds. Martin Hallett and Barbara Karasek. 3rd Edition. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002.
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