In her book, The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter uses traditional fairytales manipulated and crafted, designed to destroy the fixed ideas about men and women associated with patriarchal society. The fixed idea is that the male in the fairytale is the ‘heroic prince’ who saves the passive female, for example in ‘Sleeping Beauty’; the man saves the woman locked up in the tower. Carter uses the fairytales: ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘The beauty and the Beast’.
‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ and ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ are based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The story lines are very similar; a man gives his daughter to a Beast’s possession in order to save himself. Then the daughter falls in love with the beast and the kiss breaks the spell on him. Traditionally in the story the beast turns human after the kiss, however in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’, the beast turns the woman into some kind of animal; ‘I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur’. This is an example of the way in which Carter attacks the idea of fixed gender identity. She has changed the traditional roles.
The beast [licks the skin off her]. This relates to patriarchal society, because the skin represents cultural pressures. The beast is taking these social constraints off the female so she becomes free from patriarchy and what is expected of her.
‘Puss-in-Boots’ is related to ‘Sleeping Beauty’, because the woman is locked up in her house (tower) and a man attempts to rescue her. In this short story, Carter changes the story line and the woman becomes active instead of passive, because traditionally, in patriarchal society, for sex women are expected to lie down on their backs and let the active male do what he wants. However, in ‘Puss-in-Boots’ the woman ‘heaves him up and throws him on his back’. She enjoys it and she is being active therefore she had sex, pleasure, power and freedom. Her individuality emerges.
In ‘The Erl King’, Carter relates to the male gaze. The idea is that the male gaze has the power to consume and posses a woman. In this short story, Carter conveys that ‘there are some eyes that can eat’ and uses the well-known line from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’: ‘What big eyes you have’. In drawing on this source, Carter reminds the reader that her stories are extensions of the traditional fairytale genre.
Towards the end of the short story, the girl considers how to escape by
killing the Erl king, but she does not have the confidence to do it. Again, Carter is going against the traditions of ‘they got married and lived happily ever after’. Carter questions this; do women live ‘happily ever after?’ Do they really want to be passive and have no independence? Carter implies women want to be free from the cultural pressures and not have to depend on a man.
‘The Werewolf’ is centrally based on ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, however the traditional story is that the girl tries to protect her grandmother from the wolf. Carter has changed the roles to make the grandmother the wolf. By doing this, Carter is trying to get rid of stereotypes: men being werewolves. Some people do imagine werewolves only as men, but Carter is questioning again: why cant women be werewolves too?
In this short story the girl is active, because she killed the wolf, but the women in the story have not received total activeness and independence, because they are still being accuse of being witches and are still getting hunted; ‘they knew the wart on the hand at once for a witches nipple’. She is [pelted with stones until she falls down dead]. Therefore women are still being discriminated against.
At the beginning of ‘The Werewolf’, the wolf is the predator and the child is the prey, but the child defeats the wolf so the roles have changed. At the end, the girl has driven out her grandmother and lives in her house. This shows women can still be strong and don’t have to be victims.
In ‘The company of the Wolves’, the girl is active towards the end when the wolf tries to be the predator and make her the prey. ‘What big teeth you have…all the better to eat you with’. Once more Carter has used the well-known lines from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. The wolf has tried to make her fear him, so he can take control over her, however she laughs in his face; ‘the girl burst out laughing’. Just like in ‘Puss-in-Boots’ the girl ripped off his shirt, she took control and enjoyed sex for herself. She gains independence for herself.
The short story ‘Wolf-Alice’ is the only story in The Bloody Chamber where the girl has an identity: Alice. This is relevant, because it means this girl has independence and power.
Carter uses a lot of relevance to mirrors; ‘Wolf-Alice looked at herself in the mirror’, ‘her mirror faithfully reflects…’ The mirrors link with the well-known line: ‘mirror mirror on the wall’, from the fairytale ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. The mirrors represent patriarchal society; when women look in the mirror they see what patriarchy sees them as. In ‘Wolf-Alice’ the mirrors show the recognition of self-hood. Wolf-Alice is not expecting what she should see; she is not expecting what patriarchy sees in the mirror. Whereas in ‘The Bloody Chamber’, the girl looks in the mirror and sees a piece of meat; ‘bare as a lamp chop’. She is prey to patriarchal society.
However, in ‘Wolf-Alice’, Alice is not the same. She had been bought up with wolves: she is an outsider. The nuns try to train her by imposing social constraints. Simon de Beauvoir claims that ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes one’. The nuns can’t make her into a woman of patriarchal society which shows that Wolf-Alice is independent, because if she allowed herself to be passive and let the nuns make her into a ‘woman’ then she would probably be kept in the convent.
Carter slowly introduces the role changes throughout her book: ‘in ‘The
Tiger’s Bride’ the woman turns into a beast, in ‘The Erl king’ she plans an escape by murdering the Erl king, in ‘The Werewolf’ the grandmother is the wolf and the girl attacks the wolf and finally in ‘Wolf-Alice’ she is free and has her own independence.
The fairytale genre has been deliberately used by Carter so she can question the stereotypes and attempt to destroy the fixed ideas of gender roles in patriarchal society.