«Feminism in the "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Beauty and the Beast"» - Free Essay Paper

Feminism in the

The history of humankind is marked with a heated debate on feminism and its impact on the contemporary understanding of women discrimination. The role of women in the human civilization has always been a topical question. It is worth mentioning that the recent improvement in the women’s position in all spheres of life and feminists’ speculations over a woman’s role and status in the society induced the conflicting nature of this matter. Women have coped with different gender standards since the 17th century and managed to achieve their aim of gaining equal rights with males. Additionally, there were different ways to represent concerns regarding the women’s role in various aspects of life as social, economic, cultural life at that time. Among a vast variety of them, literary representation prevails. Feminism found its brightest representation in multiple literary genres, yet fairytales appear to be the most informative and depictive. Authors from the whole world attempted to explore an unbounded world of folk tales, their peculiarities, and specific ideas. Besides, writers interpreted and interconnected fairytales with the most significant problems of the epoch. Particularly, feminist issues are vividly reflected in the well-known stories “Beauty and the Beast” and “Little Red Riding Hood”, which were written by two prolific French authors, Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont and Charles Perrault respectively. They succeeded in portraying the most notable gender conceptions and social standpoints of the time in their fairytale interpretations. Feminism from the perspective of these contributors determines predominating gender factors of the age. Thus, “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Beauty and the Beast” are the striking portrayals of feminist ideas in the light of analyzing and afterwards representing them through the protagonists of the fairytales.

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In order to understand the indispensable role of gender and feminist theories in literature, it is necessary to mention the proper definition of feminism. For researchers, the common definition of feminism should not embrace the role of women in the society or primary interests of females. According to Dorer and Hipfl (2013), the core of the definition of feminism is in discrimination on the grounds of gender (p. 306). This reflection of feminism is quite justifiable due to the reason that all feminist theories focus on solving the problems of gender inequality. As there is a wide range of feminist theories, it is reasonable to state that all of them extend to philosophical and theoretical discourses. One should pay attention mainly to language, literature, communication, and folk arts as they mostly shape the contemporary understanding of the existence of feminism in writings and fairytales, in particular. There exists a significant amount of research on women rights. From the historical perspective, scientists analyzed women rights from the synchronic and diachronic aspects of the feminist movements that resulted in the equality of male and female rights. Interestingly, the historical perspective includes the way that women had to overcome in order to obtain the rights that would give them opportunities to work, vote, be elected, have more rights in a marriage, be educated, earn equal pay, be provided with a maternity leave, social security, etc. In the literary context, the studies show violation of the basic women rights to social security. Intimidations and harassments of women’s rights and other feminist observations have found their reflection in the literary writings and oral telling. Among the ways that shape understanding of folk tales through feminist perspectives, one may primarily notice feminist theories that emphasize failures to represent a woman in a proper way. Specifically, it is necessary to shed light on the famous feminist communication theory that brings into focus a considerable variety of questions about the peculiarities of the written content. Considering women weak and unable to produce effective results, even literary writings foster gender discrimination. Besides, domesticity as a peculiar form of representing feminism in fairytales is one of the fundamental issues. Protagonists of narrations seem to be trapped indoors and forced to obey, primarily, the male parents. Moreover, female characters are expected to stay at their homes and maintain households. However, there are some exceptions. In a plenty of tales, a woman might undertake masculine roles and behave in an unusual way. The woman character of a certain story can determine her future without unwelcomed interruptions or interpositions. Therefore, feminism as a considerable notion of the human society appears to be a decisive factor in interpreting various literary works and fairytales, in particular.

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“Little Red Riding Hood” is a well-known fairytale. Numerous writers and explorers interpreted it and contributed to its diverse understandings. For instance, brothers Grimm or J. F. Garner explored the resembling narrations and conceptions. Naturally, diverse interpretations of the same text have peculiar descriptive language or imagery that the authors use with an intention of deepening the understanding of their works. Although the reader confronts a splash of imagery, the interpretation of “Little Red Cap” by brothers Grimm is quite different from the descriptive language used by J. F. Garner in “Little Red Riding Hood” (Beckett, 2008, p. 163). The former used language that corresponds to innocence and fear. By contrast, the latter expressed confidence and ability to take care of oneself. In both fairytales, the use of imagery depends on the tones that the authors intended to put into effect. The works are marked with the notions of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality (even Freud is mentioned). Thus, diverse variants of the folk tale about Red Riding Hood exist and facilitate a deep understanding of the story.

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However, similar topics and aspects are found not only in the interpretations of the folk tales by brothers Grimm or J.F. Garner, but also in some previous or later versions. For example, the story initially recorded by Charles Perrault, a famous writer of children’s literature, is a significant contribution to the exploration of the fairytale. The original story, written approximately in 1697, is a seduction tale (Orenstein, 2008, p.150). The literary work, especially its French version, encompasses a journey of a young girl from her parents’ house to the gloomy forest and her grandmother’s dwelling. However, the trip appears to be unsuccessful because of the wolf, a menacing obstacle to the girl’s pathway. As a result, the youngster dies in the beast’s bed. In contrast to the later interpretations, the folk tale through the prism of Perrault’s writing is rather a warning to young well-bred girls to avoid communicating with strangers in order to prevent being deceived by the unknown. Strangers might be “charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet” (Beaumont & Perrault, 1994, p. 5), yet they could turn out to be the dreadful and dangerous creatures. In addition, this particular variant focuses on the investigation of a woman as a victim of the patriarchal society (Orenstein, 2008, p. 149). Red Riding Hood is inexperienced and even naïve, so the encounter with the wolf as a reflection of the male society, appears to be tragic. Furthermore, even the author determines the protagonist of the story as a menace for “attractive young ladies” (Beaumont & Perrault, 1994, p. 5). However, the later investigations interpreted the “Little Red Riding Hood” as a brand and diagnosis. Thus, some supporters of Freud and Erich Fromm stated that the protagonist is a quite mature girl, and her headdress is a symbol of physiological maturity (Martin, 2006, p.35). The preventions of the mother not to turn off the road and the warning not to break the bottle stand for cautions against casual relationships and loss of virginity. The main characters of the particular fairy tale are three generations of women. At the same time, the wolf as a ruthless and cunning animal embodies masculinity. The hunter is a conventional image of Little Red Riding Hood’s father, since he is not among the despised men. Overall, the story is about the triumph of females over males, which returns the reader to the world of matriarchy.

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There are some other ways to interpret feminist theories in the light of Perrault’s fairytale. Firstly, the sexual dilemmas appear. According to the story, the wolf vigorously lets Red Riding Hood into the house and is supposedly willing to have an affair with her. From a feminist point of view, this scene might be interpreted as a notion of sexual inequality. In other words, women are weaker than men are, so they usually become victims in the male-dominated society. Besides, the weakness of females, especially of younger age, is depicted though the obedience to the mother and later the wolf. Red Riding Hood serves her family and does not reject wolf’s intimidations as she seems to be a gullible and credulous female. Hence, feminism is portrayed with the help of inequality between the genders, and weakness is a characteristic feature of females.

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The best way to understand feminism in the light of the fairytale is to pay attention to the powerful symbolism masterfully implemented by Charles Perrault. The first striking symbol that appears in the very title is the red color. It is not a secret that the red color usually represents hunger and devour. Additionally, the wolf is a symbol of a stranger. However, a little red cap in the spoof may be also treated as a female who is not afraid of strangers and has her own worldview. Moreover, the author of the spoof tends to dwell upon the topic of sexuality, considering the notion of an eaten girl to be a raped one. What is more, even the main character, Little Red Riding Hood is a symbol of feminism, as she represents a little girl maltreated by a male character in the patriarchal society. Therefore, the figurative meaning of the tale plays a notable role in the feminist interpretation of the story.

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“Beauty and the Beast”, a famous and widespread fairytale, is an interpretation of the folk narrations recorded by Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont in 1756 (Pine, 2010, p.74). The story covers similar adventures of a girl, the youngest of the merchant’s daughters, who is obliged to become a beast’s companion or a spouse. In the text by Beaumont, the beast was a cursed prince who suffered from the mistreatments of an evil fairy. However, the antagonist could be freed in case a beautiful virgin agreed to marry him (Pine, 2010, p. 17). In the final scene, the beast transformed into a beautiful prince, which was a reward for a generous heart of the female protagonist who could see beyond the physical appearance (Stevens, 2013, p. 10). A rich prince, full of virtue and wit, was an award for her decision. The plot is rather characteristic for European literature and folk arts as it encompasses some peculiar mythological, social and cultural issues. The main character, Belle, is described as a tender girl with fond of education and reading (Stevens, 2013, p.16). Among her sisters, the personage has a strong will and a deep affection towards her father. Beauty is often contrasted with her siblings. While they are arrogant because of their supposed wealth, Beauty spends the majority of time reading books. She prefers indoor activities and peaceful life. Besides, the main character obtains moral values and disregards those, who “under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart” (Beaumont & Perrault, 1994, p. 6). The relationships with other characters are diverse as Belle loves her kinship, yet neglects the Beast. Even though, the Beast maltreats the female character, the relation could not be determined as that between a victim and a villain. Belle obeys her abuser, and the entire storyline results in a successful conclusion as the Beast obtains “character, virtue and kindness” (Beaumont & Perrault, 1994, p. 7). Nonetheless, Beauty is able to imply her future and further actions. She could be identified as a feminist because of the heroic deeds in sacrificing herself for her father. Thus, she is not only a victim, but also a vigorous participant of the situation. Therefore, “Beauty and the Beast” is a bright representation of feminist ideas, yet the protagonist is different in terms of freedom and ability to choose.

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Some similarities and oppositions seem to contribute immensely to the overall understanding of feminism in both stories. Firstly, it would be reasonable to state that in case of the two fairytales, the motives of the characters are quite similar. For instance, “Little Red Riding Hood” deals with the hints of danger and the presence of a wolf as an abuser. The antagonist warns the girl about the potential consequences of the encounter. Similarly, the beast acts as an abuser and obliges the female to obey him and his rules. Both girls are victims of the situation. They face dilemmas of sexual inequality, free will, decisiveness, and other features that appear to be the crucial factors in the apprehension of feminism in both stories. As for the differences, “Little Red Riding Hood” depicts a weak and naïve girl who faces numerous difficulties and is unable to imagine her future. She goes to the threatening forest and, consequently, dies because of her obedience. By contrast, the protagonist of “Beauty and the Beast” is a self-determined girl, attempting to decide on her own and designate her further actions. At the beginning of the story, Belle is a rather domestic female, yet in the climax, she appears to be an independent woman who experienced a long path of developments and formations. Therefore, the striking similarities and differences between the stories profoundly contribute to the understanding of feminism in the fairytale genre.

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Feminism is one of the topical characteristics of the human society. It is necessary to admit that women were prejudiced throughout the history of the humankind. The main reason for this lies in the women role in the past in general. Due to its fundamental determinations, the notion investigates numerous issues, such as the role of a woman in the society, the oppositions between the genders or the disregard of women by the male population. Even since the 17th century, the problem of women’s discrimination has been one of the most considerable. Consequently, it affected further apprehensions of women throughout the world. Different spheres of life were influenced with by the women’s neglect, so the tendency resulted in numerous reflections and interpretations. Particularly, feminist ideas found their brightest representations in the French literature and folk arts. Fairytales became the foremost manners of depicting topical issues. Such authors as Perrault and Beaumont wrote fairytales that have similar as well as differing features in the light of feminist theories. The basic similarity lies in the representation of the two parallels – a child or a young girl, a stranger and possible consequences. Besides, the writers investigate the problems of sexual relationships, especially, sexual inequality, the abduction or neglect of women, their obedience, and trustfulness. Thus, although it is a fairytale targeted at children, the variation is thought provoking for the adults. Apparently, it is always possible to use a tale in order to show the society’s main contradictions. The level of the underlying prejudices provides a background for the assumption that there is still a great deal of sexual discrimination.

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