A gothic twist to the fairytale The Little Red Riding Hood, Angela Carters The Werewolf embelishes the Little Red Riding Hood character to a dark and mysterious heroine or indeed anti-heroine; presenting the reader with a retelling of the traditional fairy tale. Carter presents the “heroine” as independent and competent, but at the same time designs the heroine to retain a degree of ambiguity that deliberately problematizes the straightforward character reading of the story.
In exploring the ontological status of the character, we quickly become aware of the lack of introduction to any character in The Werewolf. Especially that of the protagonist herself; we don’t actually know her name or whom she is; according to structuralists it would be hard to make a personal connection to the character this way. However, Carter creates further mystery and darkness with her lack of personal development. Defying the typical structuralist approach, Carter leaves the audience to make their own decisions on the “lisible” character- we decide whether she is praise worthy, a heroin or anti-heroin? The Iceberg principle (1) presents us with the notion that “much more lies beneath the surface of the novel, in the rest of that person’s life” and thus the limited character traits explained by Carter leaves the reader to be a creative accomplice to themselves.
The opening paragraph is predominant in the development of the protagonists character; the introduction of this dark, taboo and superstitious town and townsfolk add to the withheld personality traits of the protagonist in the sense that we in part assume that having come from there, the protagonist may hold the same traits; she holds these superstitious and dark beliefs also. Their views are apparently substantial “Anyone will tell you that” and She, having grown up with the belief of hell on earth is well prepared in these aspects “…take your father’s hunting knife; you know how to use it…any but a mountaineer’s child would have died of fright at the sight of it”(2) Indeed this begs the question as to what type of hunter Carter would be referring to…an animal hunter? Or a witch hunter? Being from such a town, we are led to believe he may indeed be a witch hunter; explaining the young girls fearlessness and swift defeat of the Werewolf.
Still, the principle question to decide what type of character the protagonist begs attention; we are placed into a few problematic incidences where our ideas of her change… In regard to Rimmon-Kenan’s dual perspective theory, “where we see characters in a different light according to the change of perspective” we may model these characters partly on “real” people, however, are we observing and judging on behalf of the “real people” from the village or our world? If we see her from the villagers point of view, she may definitely be deemed as a heroine that saves the villagers from yet another “evil” being, after all, she “prospers”. On the other hand, Angela Carter could have intended for the protagonist to be deemed as an anti-hero as we, in the norm of our society, expect the hero to settle a problem if not death free then mercifully and not have an old woman stoned to death.
I am going to use the Actantial model to help myself break down some of the characters purposes using the dual-perspective, especially that of the villagers:
BLADE—>VISITING GRANDMOTHER(to give oatcakes)<—GRANDMOTHER(wolf)
Mother—>THE CHILD (also connected to visiting grandmother)<—WOLF (grandmother)
The blade would be the superhero as it is what saves the subject throughout the ordeal and what defeats the opponent. (The blade could also be a synnecdoche for the father as he taught the subject to fight as she did). The mother is the helper as if it was not for her the subject would have never defeated the wolf and of course the intended receiver would have been the grandmother and the opponent the wolf. However in my perspective this again changes as I see the villagers as the receivers, the opponent is the “heroin” as she kills the subject who is inevitably the witch. The villagers prospered in yet another defeat of an evil being (or so they would believe). I mark the subject as the Grandmother/wolf/witch as she seems the most innocent in the story. The situation could be that the wolf scenario was an exaggeration by the “heoine”, all a part of the process in stealing her grandmothers house and belongings; after all, the wolfs hand did turn human again so there is no proof to say otherwise. The absurdity of deciding that a wart should decide a person’s fate supports this idea as it would be an easy frame for the ‘heorine’ “They knew the wart on the hand at once for a witches nipple” this way, the neighbours would ask no further questions.
One of the primary reasons for supposing the “heroine” is in fact the anti-hero lies in the grammar used in portraying the character. The concluding words to The Werewolf “she prospered”, alarm me as the reader extensively. These words seem to indicate a sense of sadism in the character. Reading back on the story, she seems to have used the villagers superstition to her advantage and possibly framed her grandmother for her inheritance. Bal notes that readers seem to indeed be guided by data from reality or extratexual situations in order for us to make such judgements of type and manner of character. Thus I would like to highlight some illusive statements I believe come to suggest the inanity of the villager’s superstition; “When they discover a witch- some old woman whose cheese ripen when her neighbour’s do not, another woman whose black cat, oh, sinister! Follows her about all the time.” I feel a strong sense of sarcasm or humour used in this line- especially considering the humorous interjection of “Oh, sinister!” But moreover, of course we would not condemn a person because a cat follows her (the exclamation indicating exaggeration and thus humour) or because her cheese ripens first therefore indicating the absurdity of these allegations and thus condemning the “heroines” character to anti-heroism. Of course not everybody may see the characters this way, but in reflection on Bal and other theories and theorists , I think it is fair to say that the readers may always be right in their own turn; they may decide the protagonists character fate, even if their thoughts may completely contradict another readers.
1-Toolan, Michael, “Narrative- A critical Linguistic Introduction” (London and New York: Routledge 1988) p.91 (refer to from now as ‘Toolan’)
2-Carter, Angela, ‘The Werewolf’, In Burning your Boats: Collected stories (London: Vintage Books, 2006) p210