The company of wolves Analysis

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Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves” is a feminist and gothic retelling of the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding-Hood”. In Carter’s version, the werewolf represents both danger and desire, serving as a sexual predator. However, the young girl in the story manages to triumph over this symbol of carnal desire by embracing her own sexual power. This new twist on the original tale diverges from the helpless girl and her grandmother being saved by a passing man, as they were unable to protect themselves from the wolf’s grasp.

In this revised edition, Granny meets her demise, while her granddaughter, embracing and utilizing her own sexuality, manages to escape unharmed. This story celebrates and advocates for female liberation through sexual empowerment. It suggests that no external factors such as religion, fear, or virtuous living can protect individuals from the dangers of the predatory wolf. To survive in a world filled with temptation, peril, and overwhelming desire, one must confront it head-on.

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The text consists of two sections. One section recounts folk tales featuring the wolf and werewolf, while the other section revolves around the character Little Red. In the initial part, the reader is overwhelmed with alarming portrayals of the wolf and his actions. The wolf, along with the symbolism he represents, is a source of terror for the story’s characters. Wolves are depicted as “forest assassins, grey members of a congregation of nightmare” 1 (647).

According to the author, the villagers are often compared to fictional monsters such as ghosts, hobgoblins, ogres, and witches. Despite these creatures being imaginary, the fear they invoke is similar to the fear of the real wolf. However, the villagers’ fear of the wolf is greatly exaggerated as it is not nearly as dangerous as they believe. This fear drives the children to carry knives that are sharpened daily and are half their own size whenever they go outside.

Both children and women have a deeply ingrained fear of the wolf, which resembles paranoia and is greatly exaggerated. This fear may be an attempt to protect them from the true symbolization of the wolf, which represents sexual desire, danger, and longing. Throughout history, women have been shielded from this concept in different ways, but now they are slowly breaking free from it.

The text suggests that the wolf represents unbridled sexuality, constantly driven by its insatiable desires. The wolves are portrayed as lamenting their uncontrollable appetites, yet they remain irredeemable due to their inability to restrain these urges. In order for a person to transform into a werewolf, they must first be naked. If one were to come across a naked man in the woods, it is advised to flee as if being pursued by the Devil. This metamorphosis from an unclothed man into a lustful creature is depicted with overtly sexual connotations, implying that naked men should be feared because their sexual inclinations are deemed beastly.

The text suggests that the Devil is portrayed as being part wolf, having the legs, heart, and genitals of a wolf. He is described as the ruler of forbidden fruit, a great seducer, and the orchestrator of women’s temptation. This half-man, half-wolf creature is associated with all that is evil, sinful, and terrifying, resembling the werewolf. His first victim was a woman. The wolves represent sexual desire, sin, and temptation, and they have ways of entering one’s home and life. Despite our efforts to keep them out, they sometimes succeed. The story by Carter mentions a woman who was bitten by a wolf in her own kitchen while straining macaroni. Both before and after this incident, the narrative refers to huts and hearthsides, hinting at a distant past.

This image shows a woman straining macaroni, which immediately brings the reader into present times where it is uncommon for people to fear wolves. Instead, fears of rape, murder, and robbery are prevalent. However, despite this, the woman still falls victim to the wolf. While engaged in the act of cooking, a stereotypical duty associated with women in their kitchens and symbolizing domesticity, she is unexpectedly overcome by sexual desire, liberation from her societal role, danger, and passion. It is women like her, and others in various forms of servitude, confined by their limited roles, who become targets of the wolf’s attacks. The next victim is an elderly man, a solitary figure who devoted his life to singing hymns to Jesus.

A werewolf devours him, and despite his spiritual devotion, he finds no salvation. The man spent his life in complete dedication, serving God, but the wolf does not show him any mercy. Evidently, individuals in submissive positions are ideal prey for the potential liberator, representing uncontrolled cravings, yet they lack knowledge of true freedom. In the village, a youthful lady is deserted on her wedding night by her spouse. He steps outside briefly to attend to nature’s call but does not come back for several years, bidding farewell only through his werewolf howling.

The woman embarks on a quest for a new husband and swiftly begins having babies. Everything proceeds without any issues until her original husband returns and catches her “stirring the soup for the father of her children” (649). Upon realizing that she has remarried, the first husband reverts back into a wolf and tears off one of their children’s feet before being slain by the second husband using a hatchet. Following his demise, the first husband reverts back to his human form as he was on their wedding night, causing the woman to weep and resulting in her being assaulted by her second husband. The werewolf punishes the woman for infidelity both literally and symbolically, highlighting her entrapment in a domestic role.

Upon witnessing her first husband’s death and seeing him return to the same state as when they first got married, the woman begins to cry. As a result, her current partner punishes her because he doesn’t want her to yearn for her previous spouse or desire freedom, which the werewolf symbolizes. In the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, the grandmother, who lives alone in a cottage in the woods with two china dogs and a Bible, is devoured by a werewolf disguised as a handsome huntsman. The grandmother is elderly and weak, and her devout granddaughter has never seen the Bible closed.

“We keep the wolves outside by living well” (652), and Granny has undoubtedly achieved this by leading a righteous life as a dedicated Christian and devoted wife. Nevertheless, she is unable to evade the wolf’s presence and unknowingly welcomes the lustful creature into her humble abode. Recognizing the huntsman’s true nature, Granny reacts by hurling her apron and then her Bible at him, invoking the protective forces of Christ and Mary. However, these symbols representing domesticity and religious commitment prove insufficient, as nothing is more powerful than the embodiment of sin itself: carnal desire. The huntsman pounces on Granny in a manner that strongly suggests the sexual act and the accompanying primal cravings.

Before eating her, he must undress in order to transform into a wolf. The description of his nipples as “ripe as poison fruit” emphasizes their visual appeal and potential danger. Removing his pants exposes his genitals to the grandmother, who exclaims at their size. The last image that the old lady sees is a young man, resembling burning embers, completely naked and approaching her bed. This woman, who dedicated her life to religious and domestic servitude and resisted temptation to avoid sin, is ultimately overcome by desire itself. This suggests that resisting temptation is not wise and will result in severe consequences.

Little Red, a thirteen-year-old girl in the midst of adolescence, possesses fair skin, rosy cheeks, and flaxen hair. She wears a red shawl and has recently experienced the onset of breast development and menstruation. Despite her young age, she is unafraid and confident in her virginity. Remaining unaware of any fear or trembling as she is still pure, Little Red sets off on Christmas Eve to deliver food to her Grandmother. Armed with innocence and carrying a carving knife, she encounters mysterious noises emanating from the bushes along her path.

According to the passage (650), Little Red’s hand instinctively grabbed her knife as she saw no sight of a wolf or a naked man. Suddenly, a handsome huntsman, dressed in the forest’s greenery symbolizing life and rebirth, emerges onto the path in front of her. Immediately drawn to him, she allows him to accompany her and carry her basket. The huntsman makes a bet with Little Red, claiming that he can navigate through the woods faster using his compass and reach her grandmother’s house before her. If he succeeds, his prize will be a kiss. Little Red agrees, and the seduction commences. The huntsman manages to arrive in time to consume Granny, tidy up the soiled sheets, and disguise himself with the old woman’s nightcap.

Upon arrival, the girl quickly realizes that things are not as they should be. She recognizes the danger she is in, “and, as her fear did not benefit her, she stopped being afraid” (653). This young girl demonstrates a wisdom that others who have fallen victim to the wolf do not possess. She rejects the fears that have been instilled in her since birth and chooses a different approach. Little Red perceives the man as what he truly is: a strange, unfamiliar creature, both human and animal, “night and the forest had entered the kitchen with darkness twisted in its hair” (652). The man embodies the forest, the night, all that people are supposed to fear; yet she gives him the kiss she owes him and proceeds to remove her clothes and toss them into the fire.

She undresses, and her breasts shine bright like the snow that has entered the room (653). Despite being opposites – dark and light, man and woman, beast and innocent – the power dynamics have changed, and now the girl becomes a sensual being. Wolves surround the cottage, singing a celebratory song for marriage. Little Red notices the man’s large teeth, and he responds with the famous line, “All the better to eat you with” (654). In the original version of the tale, Little Red Riding-Hood screams in terror and is then devoured. However, in Carter’s story, she laughs and asserts herself: “she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire” (654).

The young girl, now a woman, willingly offers herself to the wolf. She participates in a symbolic marriage ritual performed by a choir of wolves. She freely embraces her sexuality and desires, relying only on them for protection and salvation. Instead of seeking aid from God or trying to change her fate by being a devoted servant to a man, she depends on herself and has faith in her own instincts. As a result, she peacefully sleeps in her grandmother’s bed, with the gentle wolf standing guard.

According to Angela Carter’s short story “The Company of Wolves,” the message conveyed is that sexuality should not be despised, feared, or avoided, contrary to common beliefs and prejudices. Those who find themselves in submissive roles, whether it be to their spouses, children, or religion, ultimately meet unfortunate fates. Only the young girl who courageously embraced her own power, free from shame or fear, was able to tame the wild beast and emerge from an encounter with the wolf unharmed.

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