Gender Roles in Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves
In her transformation of the well-known fable "Little Red Riding Hood," Angela Carter plays upon the reader's familiarity. By echoing elements of the allegory intended to scare and thus caution young girls, she evokes preconceptions and stereotypes about gender roles. In the traditional tale, Red sticks to "the path," but needs to be rescued from the threatening wolf by a hunter or "woodsman." Carter retells the story with a modern perspective on women. By using fantasy metaphorically and hyperbolically, she can poignantly convey her unorthodox and underlying messages.
Before telling the story of Red Riding Hood, Carter establishes the nature of wolves in a folk-lore or legend style, which appears to be at least partially factual. The narrator describes wolves as malicious hunters in an ominous tone: "The wolf is carnivore incarnate and he's as cunning as he is ferocious; once he's had a taste of flesh, then nothing else will do" (Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, 2232). She tells of their desperation for food, one possible explanation for their eagerness to devour humans, but warns that the danger of falling prey to a wolf is ever-present. Beneath her descriptive background information of wolves lies Carter's real message: men are sexual predators, and hunt for flesh like wolves do. This subtle and foreshadowed element becomes slightly more overt as the focus changes from wolves of the forest, to the mythical creatures of werewolves.
The narrator alludes to three plausible legends involving the hunter, the witch, and the bride, who all encountered men who transformed into wolves. She references possible explanations for this phenomenon, citing the Devil transforms men into wolves, and the possibility of men being born with wolves' hearts. "Fear and flee the wolf; for worst of all, the wolf may be more than he seems" (2232). This is no lapse in consistency by Carter; the carnivorous wolf may be a man that has even worse intentions for the flesh. The narrator warns, "If you spy a naked man among the pines, you must run as if the Devil were after you" (2234). Since the man is naked, his true nature, which is more frightening than a wolf, is revealed. Carter metaphorically emphasizes the danger of women being deceived by the false appearance men present in action and personality. Red Riding Hood is deceived by the friendly, handsome hunter: letting her guard down, she allows him to accompany her...