This is a paper for my English class. I am analyzing "Company of Wolves" by Angela Carter, focusing on the feminist undertones in the story. My teacher told me that my analysis is very good, but that there are a lot of awkward/wordy/repetitive sentences and phrases. Please help! I am very open to criticism. Thanks a lot!
Many fairy tales balance realism with magical narration to convey subliminal messages on social needs. For example, in an article by Elaine Showalter from the magazine "New Statesman," Showalter reviews the book "The Classic Fairy Tales," edited by Maria Tatar, and discusses how the hi-ho singing dwarfs represent "the humble American workers who pull together during the Great Depression" (Showalter). Similarly, through the darker version of "Little Red Riding Hood," Angela Carter overturns the conventional idea that associates women as victims or prey. In this twisted version, the grandma is eaten and forever gone, while Little Red gives into the lustful situation set by the wolf in order to safely escapes the danger. Through The Company of Wolves, Angela Carter retells the famous fairytale in a gothic and feminist light that conveys the inevitability and completeness of corruption and also the unconventional idea of sexuality and a woman's ability to defend herself using characteristics such as slyness and confidence so commonly associated with masculinity.
In the beginning of the story, Carter introduces the half-wolf-half-human creatures by describing their evil and dangerous deeds. The narrator depicts werewolves as creatures that are cunning, ferocious, and most dangerous "for he cannot listen to reason" unlike witches, goblins, and ogres (Carter, 3). Above all, Carter emphasizes these creatures' inability to suppress their desires and sexual appetite. Yet, along with the evil characteristics, the narrator also mentions how "the wolves have ways of arriving at your own hearthside. We try and try but sometimes we cannot keep them out" (Carter, 3). Furthermore, the fact that these creatures become naked before turning into wolves supports the sexual image of these werewolves and adds to their deceptive nature. As these sexual undertones are developed throughout the story, the behaviors of the wolves appeal to the readers as something that is tempting and sinful, sweet, yet evil.
Carter also describes the wolves as pitiless creatures that readily prey on weak and servile individuals who are meek and vulnerable to danger, such as the servile woman and the pious old man who humbles himself lower to serve God. The first example of a victim is a woman who was making macaroni when she was bitten by the wolf. A feminist view is revealed by portraying women as servile as she describes the woman fulfilling her domestic role in the kitchen. On the other hand, through the wolf that attacks the vulnerable woman, men are depicted as powerful, lustful, and dangerous. The second victim, a lonely old man who used to "sing to Jesus all day," demonstrates the inability of Christian faith to protect a human being from these evil creatures (Carter, 3). From the beginning, Carter sends a message to her readers that the only way to fight these evil creatures is not to be the perfect image that society tells us to be, but to be strong and selfish.
Soon after giving the third example which reinforces the weak positions that women hold in society and in their gender role, Carter moves on to the story of Little Red and of her visit to her grandmother. In the beginning, this girl, showered by the protection and love from her parents and grandmother, is a figure and a symbol of purity and innocence with her blond hair and her young beauty. The author also mentions her commencing sexual maturity, which tells the readers that she is at the uncertain stage of her life during which a girl becomes a woman. As it is shown in the following quote, "She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver," this girl is different from other children in the town and from a typical growing figure of a girl who is in the stage of becoming a woman; while she is pure and innocent, she is also strong-minded, unafraid, and full of life, as can be perceived from the narration, "It is the worst time in all the year for
wolves but this strong-minded child insists she will go off through the wood" and "The malign door of the solstice still swings upon its hinges but she has been too much loved ever to feel scared" (Carter 5). These are the exact qualities that will allow her to survive her encounter with the dangerous wolf.
Unlike the girl, the grandmother is a figure of an old traditional woman who holds the typical qualities that make her a pious servant of God and an example of a figure who conforms to the expectations of the society. When the wolf-man comes into her house, she throws her apron and the Bible at him, but after finding out that that will do no good, she is left unprotected and vulnerable to the creature who becomes naked to eat her. The descriptions of the werewolf's body is that of a dirty, unkempt animal or a barbarous human being, yet it is described in a very sexually-arousing manner. These descriptions which reflect the last thoughts of the grandmother is focused on her attention to his sexuality and his appearance, and she becomes yet another submissive female victim of the lustful beast. Through the grandmother, who is unable to fend for herself due to both her oldness (which symbolizes her traditional beliefs) and her lack of wit and intelligence, Carter shows her contempt towards women who mindlessly follow the roles society sets on them.
The girl proves to have a different mindset than her grandmother when approached by the wolf. First of all, she is introduced to this carnivore incarnate not as a horrible beast, but as a dashing young man who makes a bet with her that he can reach grandmother's house faster than her with his compass. His winning prize is a kiss from her, and the girl, secretly wanting him to win, takes her time. However, when the girl reaches the grandmother's house, she immediately senses a difference in the atmosphere - the pillow is perfectly propped up without a hint of indention and the bible, unlike usual, is laying closed on the table. Her quickness allows her to realize that something is wrong, but she refuses to let her fear get the better of her. She is wiser than the wolf's other victims in that she controls her fear and plays along with the wolf. It may seem to the readers at first that she is succumbing to the wolf by taking off her own clothes, but her boldness in approaching the wolf, taking off his clothing for him, and then giving him the kiss is rather surprising. By this point, her innocence and virginity is shining ever more brightly as stated, "her hair looked white as the snow outside," in contrast to the wolf's lustful and hungry presence (Carter 7).
In the original story of "Little Red Riding Hood," when Little Red exclaims "What big teeth you have!", the wolf answers "All the better to eat you with," and consumes her. However, in this version of the story, the girl does not flinch an inch when the wolf tells her his plan. Instead, she breaks into a blood-chilling laughter, and gives herself to him into what is described as a "savage marriage ceremony," giving a macabre feeling in the readers (Carter, 7). The girl does not rely on anything but her own extincts for survival; in this case, she uses her sexual power to intoxicate the lustful creature. Her behavior contrasts from the grandmother's reaction in that she does not resort to God or any other superstitious beliefs as the grandmother had when she threw the apron and the Bible at the wolf. Instead, she trusts her own judgments, and the wise girl sacrifices her virginity in order to save her own life. Her grandmother's bones "set up a terrible clattering but she did not pay them any heed," determined to do anything to protect her life, even if it means going against the expectations that the society has for women (Carter 7). The girl refuses to be a weak, submissive, and vulnerable figure to become another helpless victim; while other women were afraid to use their sexual powers to overcome the power men practiced on them, this girl chooses to use them and refuses to put herself into a servile position under the wolf. Because of the girl's brave and bold heart and cleverness, she is able to survive.
As stated in The Infernal Desires of Angela Carter, "This episode highlights Carter's favourite rhetorical trope - the oxymoron, which involves the paradoxical twinning of opposites," The Company of the Wolves presents many contrasting ideas: men vs. women, red vs. white, innocence vs. corruption (Bristow and Lynn). However, when the girl chooses to release her sexuality, she reverses all these contrasting images. Corruption consumes her innocent nature once and for all, for she will never be able to return back to her innocence. This complete transformation that the girl goes through was inevitable for her to survive, and this represents the importance of wisdom in discerning how and when to use powers such as sexuality. Furthermore, the power shifts from the wolf to the girl as she takes the first initiative and controls the direction of her actions, with which her goal is to survive. From this, Angela Carter conveys to the readers that women should not view sexuality as an entirely evil thing that should be hidden under the covers, but something that women should value and use carefully to empower their femininity.
Few years after this story was published, Carter stated in an interview with Rosemary Carroll, "Women have not had a voice until so recently and even now this issue is not one with which the women's movement seems concerned" (Carroll). Through this story, readers can see Carter's strong belief in women voicing their desires and beliefs by taking action. The fact that Carter states in the end that "It is Christmas Day, the werewolves' birthday" reveals her view that women should accept the fact that in every man and woman, a beast lives, just as Little Red had revealed her inner beast, by connecting the werewolf's beginning with Christmas Day, the day of Jesus' birth. Through this story, Carter conveys that in order to fight the evilness in the world, women must learn to use the powers given to them even if it means succumbing to corruption, because corruption in this world is inevitable.