'The Werewolf' stands as one of the shortest stories in Angela Carter's 1979 collection, The Bloody Chamber. This collection is renowned for its feminist reinterpretation of traditional fairy tales, and 'The Werewolf' aligns with this approach. The story follows a young girl on her journey to visit her grandmother in the forest, introducing a grisly twist at the tale's conclusion.
Plot Summary: A Cold and Brutal World
'The Werewolf' unfolds in a cold-hearted country where its inhabitants endure harsh and brutal lives. Witches are persecuted based on flimsy evidence, and the people believe in the tangible existence of the Devil. To ward off vampires, garlic adorns their doors. This somber backdrop sets the stage for the narrative to come.
A Twist on Little Red Riding Hood
The subsequent narrative parallels the familiar tale of Little Red Riding Hood. A young girl embarks on a journey through the forest to visit her grandmother. Along the way, she becomes the target of a wolf's attack. Swift and resourceful, the girl employs her father's knife to sever one of the wolf's paws. The wounded creature flees into the trees, leaving a trail of blood. The girl collects the severed paw, carefully wrapping it in cloth before continuing her voyage.
A Dark Revelation
Upon reaching her grandmother's cottage, the girl discovers the old woman suffering from a fever. In her surprise, the girl drops the wolf's paw, only to witness its transformation into a human hand. Drawing back the bedsheets, she uncovers her grandmother's ailment—a festering wound where one of her hands has been severed. The girl's realization dawns as she notices a wart resembling a witch's nipple, unveiling her grandmother's true identity as a witch.
The Unmasking and the Werewolf's Demise
Overwhelmed, the girl's cries summon the neighbors, who come running. Recognizing the grandmother as a werewolf, they chase her out of the forest until she collapses lifeless. The young girl, now inheriting the cottage, establishes her own thriving life within its walls.
'The Werewolf' encapsulates feminist themes present throughout The Bloody Chamber. It reimagines traditional fairy tales, challenging conventions and shedding light on the power dynamics and agency of female characters. Angela Carter's story navigates the darkest corners of folklore, offering a subversive and thought-provoking exploration of identity, transformation, and resilience.
Analysis: Unveiling Feminine Courage and Subversion
In Angela Carter's collection, The Bloody Chamber, 'The Werewolf' precedes 'The Company of Wolves,' another tale exploring lycanthropy and the dynamics of male-female relationships through the lens of Little Red Riding Hood. However, 'The Werewolf' diverges from these elements.
A Steely and Resourceful Protagonist
The young girl in 'The Werewolf' exhibits the same steely resolve and resourcefulness as the heroines in Carter's other stories. The final word of the story, 'prospering,' aligns her with a traditionally male realm of trade and commerce. In the medieval or early modern peasant society depicted in the tale, financial independence and success were typically reserved for men. The conclusion of the story ironically places the granddaughter in a position that might provoke suspicion or envy from certain neighbors—an unmarried woman with financial autonomy.
Courage and Pluck
The girl's displays of courage and determination occur at two pivotal moments in the story, cleverly mirroring and complementing each other. First, when the wolf attacks her, she bravely confronts it and inflicts a wound. Symbolically, she wields her father's knife, showcasing her ability to handle a traditionally masculine weapon and defend herself.
Second, upon discovering her grandmother's connection to the wolf's paw and suspecting her of being a witch with shapeshifting abilities, the girl restrains and examines her. The narrator emphasizes her strength, making the task effortless. Armed with her father's hunting knife, she effectively threatens her grandmother into compliance.
Relying on Community and Subversion
In contrast to 'The Company of Wolves,' where the girl independently tames the male werewolf, the young girl in 'The Werewolf' relies on the collective suspicion of witches within the forest community. She raises an alarm, summoning the neighbors to her grandmother's house.
Thus, 'The Werewolf' presents two women who outwardly conform to conventional societal expectations of femininity (grandmother, young girl). Yet, both ultimately reveal themselves as wolves in sheep's clothing. The grandmother is a literal werewolf, while the granddaughter, metaphorically clad in 'sheepskin,' traverses the cold landscape with determination and a desire for prosperity that align with traditionally masculine traits within Carter's depicted world.
'The Werewolf' defies expectations and subverts gender roles, challenging the confines of societal norms. It showcases feminine courage, resilience, and the power to thrive outside prescribed boundaries.