Question : Compare and contrast the representations of wolves in Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves” and “Wolf Alice”. How successful do Carter’s literary appropriations demythologise gender stereotypes.
In The Bloody Chamber (1979), Angela Carter’s short stories took a particularly conservative genre and radically subverted it for feminist purposes, deconstructing and demythologizing gender stereotypes in a very creative manner. Fairy-tales were always a very traditionalist and patriarchal literary form, first recorded by aristocratic writers in the 17th and 18th Centuries as moralistic and cautionary stories for children.
Politically, their agenda was the exact opposite of Carter, whose feminist views were forged in the new social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, none of her female heroines follow these traditional gender roles of being passive victims or the sex objects of men. In “Wolf Alice”, the nameless female heroine was raised by wolves and was therefore on outcast in human society, unable to assume the passive and domestic gender roles expected of her, while in “The Company of Wolves”, the Little Red Riding Hood character is depicted as independent and fearless rather than a ‘typical’ female victim of the werewolf.
At the end of both stories, the females also voluntarily enter into relationships with the ‘monsters’, claiming control over their own sexuality in defiance of the traditional gender roles. Female characters like these could only exist in a modern feminist or post-feminist context, and stand out as extremely divergent from the norm in society. Body “Wolf Alice” incorporates some of the elements of Snow White, Alice in Wonderland and Beauty and the Beast. Carter was always interested in the “’beat-marriage stories of the original fairy-tales”, and to the elements of ‘beastliness’ in all forms of sexuality (Makinen 1992).
She was not simply portraying all males as beasts, rapists and monsters but rather making a more feminist statement that woman should take control over their sexual desires and “re-appropriate it as part of themselves” (Makinen 1992). Alice was raised by wolves and therefore could not speak, ran on all fours and preferred the night over day. In these characteristics, she retained all the “instinctual nature of her foster family” even after she has been sent to live with the nuns (Walker 77).
As the nun-narrator explains “nothing about her is human except that she is not a wolf” (Wolf Alice 119). She is not even aware that she casts a reflection in the mirror, but believes it is another person. After teaching her some limited skills for nine days, the nuns decide that she really cannot be transformed back into a human, so they send her to the Duke’s castle. He is a nocturnal creature as well, who lives alone and feeds on the living and dead more like a ghoul than a werewolf or vampire.
Alice performs domestic tasks for him, sweeping and making the bed, and “knows no better than to do his chores” (Wolf-Alice 120). Only with her menstruation does she begin to awaken to the fact that she is a female, since she knew nothing about these matters and the nuns certainly did not explain sexuality to her. At this time, she also becomes aware that her breasts are getting larger and begins to wear the old, discarded gowns that belonged to the Duke’s grandmother, although “she could not run so fast on two legs in petticoats” (Wolf Alice 124).
After the Duke is injured during one of his nighttime forays, she begins to kiss his wound and thus transforms him back into a human “as
In Carter’s alternative reality, though, the heroine becomes a “partner in seduction” (Walker 77). Even before she met the werewolf, she was slowly awakening to her sexuality and her “breasts had just begun to swell” (Company of Wolves 113). She had heard all the stories about werewolves from the villagers and the dangers of walking alone in the forest, but “she has her knife and is afraid of nothing” (Company of Wolves 113). To be sure, the werewolf is also described as young, handsome and seductive, so much so the even the grandmother notices his unusually large penis just before he kills and eats her.
Carter was well-aware of the mixture of sexuality and violence in this creature, and writes that the “last thing the old lady saw in all the world was a young man, eyes like cinders, naked as a stone, approaching her bed” (Company of Wolves 117). When Little Red Riding Hood enters the cottage, they engage in the expected dialogue about his big eyes and teeth, but she was not a passive victim and laughed at his threats, knowing that “she was nobody’s meat” (Company of Wolves 118).
At the very end of the story, she goes to sleep “between the tender paws of the wolf” that has just devoured Granny (Company of Wolves 118). Conclusion In “Wolf Alice” and “The Company of Wolves”, Angela Carter completely subverted and revised the traditional female stereotypes and gender roles, making her women characters courageous, autonomous and sexually aware. Not all of her leftist and feminist critics agreed with this, however.
She was also so frank in her depiction of raw female power and sexuality that in in 1987, the New Socialist asserted that Carter was “the high-priestess of post-graduate porn” (Makinen 1992). Patricia Duncker. Aneis Lewellan and other feminist scholars thought that she had been unable to revise the “conservative form” of fairy-tales and turn them into feminist literature (Makinen 1992). On the other hand, Charley Baker was correct in arguing that Carter was always exploring “ways in which women can retain control and defy the systems of oppression that attempt to place them in the role of passive victim” (Baker 76).
Similarly, Charlotte Crafts found that Carter’s intention was to “deconstruct myths about femininity contained within the tales” and challenge the “patriarchal structures of fairy-tale from within” (Crafts 54-55). Wolf Alice and Little Red Riding Hood were fully autonomous and independent women, who behaved in ways that not even the monsters could have expected. Contrary to traditional gender roles and stereotypes they were never passive victim and sexual objects, but instead chose to become involved in relationships with the creatures.
To put it mildly, these would most definitely not have been considered appropriate actions for women in the traditional fairy-tales, and both of Carter’s female characters stand completely apart from ‘conventional’ society for that reason. From a political viewpoint, such a recasting of this ultra-conservative and patriarchal genre would only have been possible in feminist era in which liberated and powerful female heroines actually became conceivable for the first time in history.