Today’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course comes from David Costello, who examines the transformation of a familiar girl in a red hood throughout the years.
By David Costello
Most people in American culture are familiar with the phrase “Femme Fatale.” Whether you are a Brittany Spears fan or are knowledgeable in the European literature where the term originated, the French phrase for “deadly woman” has become synonymous with the growing Feminist culture that has come to redefine modern day society. This gradual rise in feminine independence has been detailed in the historic changes of the classic school age fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.”
You say seductive? I say sizing up ways to kill me.
The earliest examples of “Little Red Riding Hood” portray the protagonist as the atypical female character. In his version of the tale Charles Perrault describes Little Red as “Pretty, well-bred, and genteel,” which is hardly comparable to the Little Red Riding Hood we see in a feminist conscious modern day society (13). Nonetheless, the legendary storyteller uses his moralistic tale as a metaphor: not to warn women of the dangers of wolves, but more so the dangers of men. He relates wolves to men by describing some wolves as, “perfectly charming, Not loud, brutal, or angry, But tame, pleasant, and gentle…But watch out if you haven’t learned that tame wolves Are the most dangerous of all.” While his tale does serve as a moral for women to be cautious of the devious duplicity of men, the protagonist still acts as only a cautionary character and must submit to her fate as an example.
The original poster girl for “Child Neglect”
Fast forward 285 years later to Roald Dahl’s depiction of this “damsel in distress” and the reader finds a much different tale. Rather than being eaten by the wolf as an example for her gender, Little Red empowers herself as she “whips a pistol from her knickers. She aims it at the creature’s head And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead” (22). Therefore, if Dahl is adhering to the tale’s usual depiction of the wolf representing man, then in this instance the tables have turned. By the end of the 20th century the literary progression of the so called “classic” tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” acts as a literal “mirror mirror on the wall” for the society in which it is interpreted. The modern Little Red is a younger version of the deadly woman, a “fille fatale,” and this textual shift directly correlates to the societal shifts that define this time period. What I mean by this is that as society has progressed historically, it has also progressed in equality. While women are still expected to maintain the caring, kind stereotype that has been imposed on them for centuries, it is not surprising in present day to see a woman rebel against this stigma. In this regard, the changing versions Little Red Riding Hood serve as a chronological map of the growing Feminist Movement throughout history.
David is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.