In “Feminism and Fairy Tales,” Karen Rowe argues that fairy tales reinforce the idea of the passive woman who waits to be saved by a heroic male figure. The heroine of “The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter contradicts this argument. While the female protagonist does ultimately lie with the wolf, so to speak, she does so of her own choosing, and in doing so escapes the worse fate met by her grandmother: death. Carter’s modern female protagonist not only opposes Rowe’s argument of female subservience but epitomizes the ideal modern woman by allowing Red Riding Hood to be her own hero.
Feminism in Little Red Riding Hood
From the 1960s to 1979 there was a second wave of feminism to free women from the traditional roles of wife and mother. Fairytale critic Karen Rowe contributed to the protest by writing an essay about how fairy tales “glorify passivity, dependency, and self sacrifice as the heroine’s cardinal virtues” (342), and how subconsciously women are accepting these virtues as the cultural norm. In the same year, Angela Carter wrote a modern adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood called The Company of Wolves, which also fought against the restricting virtues society upholds for women. Carter’s innovative fairy tale contained most of the essential fairy tale aspects that Rowe criticized but added twists to them, sending a different message to readers. The Company of Wolves includes helpless pure female characters and it ends with marriage, similar to any other fairytale, but Carter manipulates these traditional aspects to support Rowe’s critique.
Finding Meaning through “The Chinese Red Riding Hoods”
In the twentieth century, children’s literature has adapted what Zohar Shavit argues to be a protective perception (Dundes 136). This outlook has writers considering the ways in which stories can be delicately conveyed to children, while also considering what content is appropriate to discuss. Death, loss, and failure prove to be taboo subjects that parents are not prepared to present to their children. As a result, such weighty themes scarcely appear in the light-hearted plots of modern children’s fiction. Bruno Bettelheim believes that this is a mistake. In his 1976 writings, Bettelheim states that the assertion of these existential issues in children’s literature is crucial to promoting healthy development of children’s self-confidence, conscious, and ego (327). He is not referring to any type of story, as he speaks specifically of the power that folklore and fairy tales have to instill a sense of self-meaning in children. The existential issues that he claims can be understood from the classic texts of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, he also claims are absent from the literature produced in this era of protective education (324). While it is true that classic texts have a special affinity for challenging young minds, Bettelheim over generalizes modern literature’s inability to help form a child’s sense of self-worth, which is proven by the application of his theory to a twentieth century adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood by Isabelle C. Chang titled, “The Chinese Red Riding Hoods.”