Free «Little Red Riding Hood» Essay
Regardless of the fact that the theme of “Little Red Riding Hood” seems to be a fairy-tale one, there is nothing fantastic about it. On the contrary, the story describes a painful reality, in which every girl should overcome some obstacles on her way to becoming an adult. In The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim mentions that the story culminates with the girl’s loss of virginity (Bettelheim, 1976, p. 173). “As Red Riding Hood encounters the wolf in the forest, she is presented with the hurdle of entering adulthood – losing her virginity and reaching sexual maturity” (Licht, p.1). Such literary elements, as the plot, setting, character, and symbolism contribute to the larger narrative theme by metaphorically describing the girl’s loss of virginity in the form of an encounter with the wolf, which is an inevitable stage of becoming an adult woman.
According to the plot, the innocent Little Red Riding Hood meets the wolf in the forest, which already implies some extent of freedom and danger simultaneously. In this respect, Henry Jenkins’ thoughts are noteworthy. He views “childhood innocence as a cultural myth,” which is meant to make people believe that an innocent child needs protection:
Too often, our culture imagines childhood as a utopian space, separate from adult cares and worries, free from sexuality, outside social divisions, closer to nature and the primitive world, more fluid in its identity and its access to the realms of imagination, beyond historical change, more just, pure, and innocent and in the end, waiting to be corrupted or protected by adults. (Jenkins, 1998, p. 3-4)
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All these aspects mentioned by Jenkins are present in the story’s plot. The forest (setting) functions as “a utopian place,” where the girl is really free “from adult cares and worries.” She is “free from sexuality” and unaware about it until she comes to her granny’s house and, in a symbolic sense, has a sexual intercourse with the wolf. In the story, this implication runs as follows: “Little Red Riding Hood took off her clothes and got into bed.” However, this line shows that the girl undresses willingly, which infers that a loss of virginity is a natural process that must happen sooner or later and is inherent in every woman’s maturing. Besides, the girl is really “closer to nature” since she “entertains herself by gathering nuts, running after butterflies, and gathering bouquets of little flowers.” Finally, the wolf corrupts her at the end of the story, and she becomes an adult (Licht, p.5).
The character of Little Red Riding Hood is “a little country girl, the prettiest creature who has ever seen.” Thus, she seems to be completely innocent and does not need her mother’s warnings. Nevertheless, as Licht asserts, “This image is mainly a projection of adults onto the world of children” (Licht, p. 2). Zohar Shavit, in The Concept of Childhood and Children’s Folktales, points out that “Up to the seventeenth century the child was not perceived as an entity distinct from the adult, and consequently it was not recognized as having special needs” (Shavit, 1989, p.131). As he explains, the concept of childhood innocence stems from the Industrial Revolution since children were no longer considered as a workforce. Further, he argues that “Childhood is not inherently a time of innocence; rather, adults who seek to shield children from the pains of the world concoct this stage of growth” (as cited in Licht, p. 2).
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Likewise, Henry Giroux comments on “the myth of childhood innocence,” claiming that “Within the myth of childhood innocence, children are often portrayed as inhabiting a world that is untainted, magical, and utterly protected from the harshness of adult life” (Giroux, 1998, p. 31). This concept ignores any link that may exist between adults and children, which cannot but complicate the process of children’s maturing. Perrault emphasizes this customary idea by depicting the girl’s loss of virginity as the single indication of her growing into an adult (Licht, p. 7).
As far as the symbolical aspect of the story is concerned, one should bear in mind the red color of the girl’s hood and the image of the wolf. To begin with, red is the color of blood and, according to Erich Fromm, the hood symbolizes menstruation, which, in turn, indicates that the girl wearing it is reaching the age of puberty. Besides, in the seventeenth century, red was considered as an “immoral” or sinful color, so that virtuous women would not wear it (Heidi, 2011). Thus, such a connotation rejects the idea of the girl’s initial innocence and prepares the reader for her downfall (the loss of virginity) at the end of the story. It is likely that Perrault adopted the girl’s red hood from a Latin story “Fecunda ratis,” written in 1023, which tells about a little girl “in the company of wolves; she wears a red cover of great importance to her, and scholars argue that this cover was a cap” (Bettelheim, as cited in Pittman, 2012, p. 3).
The image of the wolf in the story is also ambiguous. Firstly, it stands for a man, with whom Little Red Riding Hood has a first sexual experience. “She is using her five senses to analyze the wolf’s body,” i.e. she is examining a man’s body with childish curiosity (Licht, p. 6). Secondly, the wolf may symbolize the Devil – the tempter who seduces the little girl, just as the Devil seduces Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gardner, p. 5). Last but not least, the wolf may embody the girl’s id, i.e. her intimate desires: “The wolf by stopping her has enlightened her to the sensory (sensual) pleasures” (Gardner, p. 6). In this context, the forest also represents the depth and, perhaps, the corruptness of the girl’s desires, which she fulfills after she willingly undresses and gets into bed with the wolf.
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All things considered, “The tale chronicles a young girl’s trip into adulthood, the woods functioning as the hazy middle ground between being an innocent child and a knowing adult” (Licht, p.1). The story’s symbols (the red hood, wolf, forest), setting (the woods and grandmother’s house), as well as the main character, who falls victim to an irreversible change, greatly contribute to the larger narrative theme of the story, allowing the author to convey the idea of childhood innocence, girls’ maturing, and conventional misconceptions about these phenomena.