Author: Angela Carter Genre: Gothic (3 rd Wave) The purpose of this essay is to compare the prevalent Gothic themes within Carter's The Bloody Chamber and The Company of Wolves. A feminist writer, Carter persistently critiques the patriarchal society and subverts social norms in the celebration of female sexuality. The essay first discusses the main themes, following this, would be an illustration of how these themes are achieved. (ie strategies of subversion) This essay would focus more on recurring themes, and no contrasts would be made. In order to challenge patriarchal assumptions about female position, Carter rewrites and subverts well-loved fairy tales. She capitalists on readers' familiarity with some of these tales.
Since fairy tales are based on an oral tradition, so many different versions of the tale exist, from many cultures as well. Subverting traditional beliefs has enabled her stories to create far more impact. One such example is the constant re-examination of power relationships in both stories. The traditionally passive predicament of the heroine (in the fairy tales) is overturned, she now becomes an active protagonist.
This is clearly illustrated in The Company of Wolves. In the traditional tale of Little Red Riding Hood, the little girl has to be rescued by the woodcutter. The role of little red riding hood is to play the victim, passively waiting to be rescued by a male figure. In Carter's retelling, the patriarchal view that girls should accept such a limited course of action is challenged. Carter's female character is able to outwit the villain by appearing to go along with his pretence until the truth is revealed, and then she seizes control of the action, acting on her right to do as she deems fit. Moreover, the heroine in The company of wolves is at ease with the situation once she realises there is no escape for her, and chooses her fate.
She is unafraid of the wolf's threat of death, knowing that she can satisfy his appetite in other ways. In the Bloody Chamber, even while there is an emphasis on the innocence and vulnerability of the young heroine ("it must have been my innocence that captivated him" p 19), there are ways in which she is not merely passive. She actively seeks clues to his personality and remains in the rooms of horrors, even though she is afraid. She also uses her feminine wiles on her husband to stall for time so as to prevent his discovery of the bloodstained key. In reinforcing the pro activeness of the female character, Carter retells the tale such that the role of the rescuer is assumed by a woman, and more significantly, the mother. (At the end of the story, the mother is seen riding a horse into the foreboding castle redeeming her daughter from the hands of death).
There is also a suggestion of a woman influencing and shaping her child's destiny-"she had inherited nerves and a will from the mother who has defied the yellow outlaws of Indo-China. My mother's spirit drove me on." (p. 28) Other than the use of fairy tales, Carter employs other strategies of subversion. For instance, there is an intermingling of dreams and the fantastic with the real world.
The world in which the characters of the Bloody Chamber belong is very real and modern, they all live, work, go to school and experience feelings of the average human being. However, there appears to be several elements of the fantastic interweave d with their lives. Once the female protagonist passes the ill-lit corridor (the rest of the house is very well lit), she crosses the boundary into the realm of death, mutilation, blood and horror. It is as if the corridor is a passageway to another dimension. The chamber walls are even personified, "they gleamed as if they were sweating with fright." Interweaving subverts the stability of realism, blurs the line between the real and the fantastic and questions our dominant assumptions about realms of consciousness.
It appears that her stories achieve far more than just challenging patriarchy, they question the whole establishment of our society. Another prevalent theme in Carter's stories is the genesis or celebration of female sexuality. In both the Bloody Chamber and The Company of wolves, there is an emphasis on transformations and a voice is given to traditionally censored female eroticism and sexuality in patriarchal systems. In the original tales, women are often portrayed as pawns. They are valued as virginal assets of families and eventually married off.
(In Bluebeard, the woman marries Bluebeard because he is wealthy; Little Red-riding hood is an innocent little girl that is pure and virtuous). Ironically, issues such as virginity of sexuality are never discussed explicitly. They are often overlooked, suppressed and even condemned. However, Carter's tales run counter to tradition by boldly exploring female sexuality. One way of doing so is by examining sexual transformation.
The company of Wolves presents the sexual awakening of the heroine. "her breasts have just begun to swell; she has started her woman's bleeding, the clock inside her that will strike henceforth, once a month" (P. 113) Carter places the female protagonist at the crossroads of female experience, where the vulnerability of childhood has to accommodate the signs of future adulthood. Transformation is also employed in The Bloody Chamber.
The tale emphasises the young heroine's journey of self awakening and how she comes to realise her resilience. Eg. 'the train bore me away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white enclosed quietude of my mother's apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage." In the original tales, virginity is marked by virtue and purity and is seen only as a necessity for marriage redemption. In no other way is virginity ever discussed. Carter however, celebrates female sexuality and discusses the value of virginity with extreme detail. In The Company of Wolves, the virginal female is described as, "an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space." Ironically, the girl-woman deliberately discards her virginity once it is no longer useful to her.
Realising that the only way to save her life is to sleep with the wolf, she discards her virginity the way she discards her clothes that she'd no longer be needing. What is even more disconcerting is the fact that she offers herself to please herself too. This illustrates the true needs of a woman and encourages women to take complete control of their sexuality. Sexuality is again boldly explored in The bloody Chamber via the use of a recurrent motif -the mirror. The mirror presents the repressed selves of women. "I caught sight of myself in the mirror.
And I saw myself suddenly, as he saw me. And for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away." The bedroom where she realises the existence of her sexuality, is surrounded with mirrors. In conclusion, Carter employs various methods of subversion to achieve the main themes of feminist and Gothic writing. In both tales, issues of female sexuality are used to challenge the patriarchal establishment. What Carter achieves at the end of it all is a celebration of felinity and a questioning of traditional expectations and assumptions..