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The company of wolves

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Text Preview Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves” is a feminist and gothic retelling of the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding-Hood”. Carter’s story involves the werewolf as sexual predator, a symbol for both danger and desire, over which a young girl triumphs, employing her new found sexual power and giving in to the symbol of carnal desire. This is definitely a new twist upon the original tale, in which the helpless girl and her grandmother are freed from the belly of a wolf by a passing man, as they were unable to fend for themselves. In this new, more harsh version, granny does indeed perish, but her granddaughter, able to give in to and use sexual desire to her advantage, escapes unscathed. This tale sings praises to female sexuality and liberation, and implies that nothing else, not God nor fear nor good living will save the victims of the wolf, and the only way to survive in a world in which temptation, danger and desire stalks you everywhere, is to fight fire with fire.

The story appears in two parts, one of which tells folk tales of the wolf and werewolf, the other of which tells of Little Red. It bombards the reader, in the first part, with terrifying descriptions of the wolf and his deeds. He, and what he stands for, is clearly and object of fear for the people in the story. Wolves are described as “forest assassins grey members of a congregation of nightmare” 1 (647). They are likened to be the worst of “all the teeming perils of the night and the forest, ghosts, hobgoblins, ogres that grill babies upon gridirons, witches” (647). These are all fictional monsters, and the irrational fear of these nonexistent creatures is like the fear of the wolf, which is real, but not nearly as dangerous as the villagers believe. So great is their fear that the children carry knives, sharpened daily, half their own size, when they go outside. The fear of the wolf is bred into the children and the women, almost like paranoia, and the danger is exaggerated to mammoth proportions. Perhaps this is done to shield them from what the wolf really stands for; sexual appetite, danger and desire, something against which women have been “sheltered” in one form or another for centuries, and out of which they are beginning to emerge.

The wolf is sexuality incarnate, a walking appetite, unable to suppress his desires. The wolves are described as “mourn[ing] for their own irremediable appetites” (648), but redemption is impossible, because this desire cannot be controlled. In order for a werewolf to transform, he must first be naked, so “[i]f you spy a naked man among the pines, you must run as if the Devil were after you” (649). This image of the transformation from naked man into lusting beast is blatantly sexual, and implies that naked men are to be feared as if sexual desire were beastly. It is suggested that the Devil is half wolf, possessing the legs, heart and genitals of a wolf. The king off forbidden fruit, the great seducer, the orchestrator of women’s temptation is likened to a half man, half wolf creature and he, like the werewolf, is all that is bad, sinful and fearful, and a woman was his first target. Like sexual desire, sin and temptation, “the wolves have ways of arriving at your own hearthside. We try and we try but sometimes we cannot keep them out” (647). In the first part of Carter’s story, the narrator tells of a woman who was bitten in her own kitchen while straining the macaroni. Previous to this anecdote, as well as after it, the story speaks of huts and hearthsides and alludes to a times long past. This image of a woman straining macaroni brings the reader jarringly into the present day, in which it is the rare person who fears wolves. Rather, fears of rape, murder and robbery run rampant, yet the woman falls victim to the wolf. In the act of preparing food, the stereotypical servile act of a woman in her kitchen, the symbol of domesticity, she is bitten by sexual desire, liberation from her role, danger and passion.... Show More

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