Little Red Riding Hood – Impact of Context on Representation
How does context impact on the values and attitudes present in the text? Discuss with reference to 2 versions of LRRH and support your ideas with detailed analysis. 800 – 1000 words.
Context has a differing impact on the various values and attitudes present within both Roald Dahl and Charles Perrault’s versions of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Both Perrault’s early adaptation of the tale and Dahl’s 1982 poetic appropriation are reflective of the immensely different societies under which they were written. This difference in values and attitudes can be demonstrated through analysing the purpose of the tales and the perceptions and expectations of the female protagonists between them.
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From the start of both Perrault’s and Dahl’s tales, the purpose of each author becomes apparent immediately. Perrault’s version was created as an informative, didactic tale, where his main objective was to warn young, powerless females, represented by his submissive female protagonist against the evil of “the wolf”. His intended meaning was demonstrated in the ‘moral’ included in the end of the tale, where he states “children, especially young lasses, pretty courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers”. It works at spelling out the virtuous behaviour that upper class children were expected to exemplify in the French pre-modern society under which the fairy-tale, viewed as a disciplinary genre, was written. Acting as a cautionary tale, it encourages young females to avoid succumbing to the will of the “wolf”, or rather the wicked intentions of threatening males.
On the contrary, Dahl’s 1982 poetic tale, subverts the idea of the female seen in more traditional tales such as Perrault’s. No longer portrayed as naïve or submissive, Dahl’s version praises boldness and resourcefulness, Little Red being rewarded with a ‘wolf skin’ coat when she acts as such. It is interesting to note that the poem is incredibly short in comparison to other fairytales, which means that every line is direct and purposeful, perhaps reflecting some of the characteristics manifested in his Red Riding Hood. The playful and humorous tone is a stark contrast to that of Perrault’s, conveying Dahl’s tale as not so much a stern warning to youngsters, but rather a playful piece, that offers entertainment in addition to encouraging children to re-examine the values portrayed in
previous traditional versions.
As well as this, both texts are symbolic of the values imposed on and expected of females within their respective contexts. Perrault’s tale echo’s the societal values regarding females, where they are categorized as vulnerable and obedient. Not expected to seduce or be seduced, the tale warns against the breaking of such gender roles, where doing so will result in their condemnation. This is demonstrated through the ultimate death of the female character that strays away from the path set for her, allowing herself to be seduced by the evil temptation of the ‘wolf’. Consequences for participation in sexual activity are established when the girl climbs into bed with the wolf, who then “threw himself on Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up”, an extended metaphor for rape. Hence, Perrault’s version is representative of general male attitudes about women at the time, portrayed as eager to be seduced or raped. As well as this, Red Riding Hood is donned with a red ‘chaperon’ or hat, a detail to specific to Perrault’s tale, which translates her into a sinful character, tainted with red, a colour with various connotations evident within the tale – primarily desire, blood and danger.
In contrast, Dahl’s version challenges such stereotypes distinctive to traditional tales like Perrault’s. The value of traditional gender roles is subverted, Red Riding Hood acting as a strong heroine, combating and killing the wolf. The breaking of such gender stereotypes honours equality reflected in the modern world, with women receiving equal powers and rights as any man would. The absence of a liberating force, specifically a masculine figure in the tale acts as a method for the female protagonist to assume the prominent role. In the poem Dahl states: “The small girl smiles, one eyelid flickers, she whips a pistol from her knickers. She aims it at the creatures head and bang, bang, bang she shoots him dead”. The existence of terms like ‘small girl’ and ‘pistol’ in the same sentence delivers juxtaposition and contrast, conveying to the responders the stark difference between both versions. As well as this, Red Riding Hood is rewarded by a “wolf skin coat” as a result of acting resourcefully and with dominance, an outcome attributed to her own success, not her gender. Dahl has presented an innovative version of Little Red Riding Hood, altering the stereotypes and qualities of females, typical of the traditional tale to fit the contextual changes of the time.
Both Charles Perrault and Roald Dahl’s adaptions of the classic fairytale, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, are demonstrative of the values and attitudes present in society at the time they were written. Through observing different aspects of the texts such as the objectives of the authors and the expectations and perceptions of women, forms and features that give the texts various connotations have been analysed. In doing this, it is evident that both texts provide their audiences with insight into the dramatically disparate contexts, and offer a deeper understanding of the values and attitudes existing in the times in which they were written.