10 May 2011
Cultural Transformations of Little Red Riding Hood
The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” began as a fairy tale passed down through the centuries, especially by peasant women to their daughters since folklorists often belonged to the peasant culture (Tatar 3). The peasants who were farmworkers and domestic laborers needed something to do while working tediously, so they told each other tales. That’s why the Little Red Riding Hood story’s original plot had a peasant girl who “outwitted a lecherous aristocratic wolf” (Tatar 3). Storytellers’ major altering of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” have effectively conformed to different transformations in culture based on aristocratic obligations, military conflicts, and equal rights. When Charles Perrault first wrote the popular tale down in 1697, it had the French title “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge,” which became the classic version “Little Red Riding Hood” when translated. According to Jack Zipes, the original fairy tale was passed on orally and had a lot more vulgarity and sexual innuendo (Tatar 4). As if to exemplify peasant-defiance of the rigidity and control of the aristocracy, those oral versions took the reader on a wild ride with a peasant girl who was outspoken, bold and perceptive. Perrault challenged all that when he put the tale into print, making Little Red Riding Hood innocent and frail. He fixed the tale’s raciness and made sure every aspect of the plot made logical sense. Then, Eric Berne poked holes in Perrault’s new logic: why would a mother send an innocent girl into a forest full of wolves (Tatar 5)? But examining the plot metaphorically, it is apparent that all mothers have no choice but to take a chance when they send their girls out into a world full of horny men. Written versions can be just as erotic as the original oral versions without using foul language. Perrault’s language is still rather suggestive. For example when the wolf says, “climb into bed with me (Tatar 12), Little Red Riding Hood disrobes and climbs into bed with a complete stranger. Perrault is going way too far but under Little Red Riding Hood’s aura of innocence, he gets away with it. Fairy tales faced no censors because it was still the age of the Renaissance, and in that wild fantasy world of words, the reader’s fantasy is only partially guided. Thoughts of sexuality are easily imagined throughout the tale. An innocent red-hooded girl with biscuits and butter is on her way to visit her grandmother when she runs into a wolf who is expecting her. Trustingly, she reveals the way to her grandmother’s house, and he darts there while Little Red Riding Hood delights in the wooded path “gathering nuts, chasing butterflies, and picking bunches of flowers” (Tatar 12). Once there, the wolf uses a high voice to pretend he is the granddaughter and Grandmother unsuspectingly lets him in. The wolf “throws himself on the good woman and devours her in no time, for he has eaten nothing in the last three days” (Tatar 12). Similar to the oral versions, the wolf is disguised as the grandmother when Little Red Riding Hood arrives. She doesn’t object when the wolf uses in a hoarse voice to ask her to lie next to him. She assumes her grandmother is just sick and obediently takes off her clothes and joins him in bed. That’s when she remarks what big arms, legs, ears, eyes, and teeth he has. “The better to eat you with” he says before throwing himself on her and gobbling her up (Tatar 13). Honoring basically the same plot, Perrault carefully cleaned up the vulgarity of oral versions. Yet with a little imagination, the sex inferences are still there, though much more subtle. The final scene can still be interpreted as a rape if the idea of “gobbling” is taken sexually rather than literally. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim analyzes Little Red Riding Hood as either stupid or eager to be seduced (Tatar 4). He claims the tale provides a way for children...
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