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Feminist Ideas in the Works of Angela Carter

Throughout history, fairy tales have served a variety of purposes; however, the earliest examples represent the common beliefs and values of specific groups. After becoming a literary genre, fairy tales started to include various social classes, leading to changing ideologies. The Bloody Chamber, the collection of re-written stories by Angela Carter, illuminates the underlying content of the traditional stories. Through the words, phrases, and discourse in The Tiger’s Bride and The Erl-King, Carter deconstructs the conservative perceptions of gender roles, female liberty, and sexuality which are built into original fairy tales.

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Carter has disrupted the traditional female and male characters as a female author dissecting fairy tales previously penned by men. The intended reader is both men and women, as in previous fairy tales, albeit with new knowledge of the reader’s reaction to the text. As she interprets the gender norms that fairy tales have powerfully implanted in the reader’s unconscious since infancy, the book seems to oppose them. In her stories, she constantly pushes the bounds of sexuality and gender expectations, forcing them beyond the confines of patriarchal norms (Molnar, 2016). Therefore, the author not only provides readers with new perspectives on traditional fairy tales but also encourages them to analytically reconsider what appears to be safely known.

Angela Carter builds a new universe of powerful, courageous, and even ruthless and wicked female heroes. The author does so by opposing typical gender norms in the writings, where heroines are depicted as “obedient, passive, and timid” (Kurt Yildiz, 2021, p.2). The author thought that women in patriarchal cultures face social discrimination based on their gender and that males have complete control over their life. Furthermore, she agreed with the anti-censorship feminist viewpoint that pornography might assist in eliminating the sexual taboos that have led to women’s subservient status in patriarchal cultures.

The first technique used to disrupt the dogmatic ideology of original fairy tales is through the language chosen by Carter. Feminists advocate for a language change that begins with the words since the words directly impact the reader (Arikan, 2016). Therefore, additional attention must be paid to the names of male and female characters in Carter’s stories. For example, in The Tiger’s Bride, the male is called the Beast, and in The Erl-King the character is called the Erl-King. However, the girl does not have a name since her father, along with society, prohibits self-identification (Arikan, 2016). Additionally, Carter employs a popular naming system in these stories to create a fairy tale ambiance but subsequently confronts the male-dominated worldview by transforming the well-known ends into radical alternatives.

Furthermore, Carter’s language is a product of her aim to grapple with the altering frameworks of reality and sexuality. The author’s choice of the word “loins” in The Tiger’s Bride is an example of avoiding heteronormative genital terminology (Carter, 2008, p.82). The Bloody Chamber, the title of the book, is an explicit reference to female organs and feminine experiences of menstruation and virginity loss. When describing sexual intercourse, many words, such as “penetrate,” depict sex acts from a male perspective, whereas feminine experience is generally conveyed through euphemisms (Arikan, 2016, p.122). In this regard, Carter explicitly conveys undertones of female sexuality to naturalize women’s sexual experiences and femininities.

When it comes to tale phrases and sentences, metaphors and metonymies significantly influence both the individual and societal unconscious. Many feminists, including Angela Carter, challenge the implications of some hackneyed metaphors, particularly those connected to gender matters (Arikan, 2016). For example, numerous fairy tales use animal analogies to represent men and masculine energy. The men in the two narratives are a tiger-beast and the Erl-king. Male sexuality is frequently characterized in terms of animal analogies since they tend to have little self-control. In cases when sexuality is defined on these grounds, violent male behavior, including rape, may be tolerated as the norm. The author’s stories take an animalistic approach to male characters who embody power and superiority, slaying them at the end.

Moreover, animal metaphors are utilized to support patriarchy in classic fairy tales. Carter deconstructs the meaning of animal metaphors, particularly in The Erl-King, by challenging conventional metaphors that perpetuate naturalized understanding. In this narrative, she gives household qualities to the Erl-king, saying that “he is an excellent housewife” (Carter, 2008, p.122). The character with sexual appetite in the narrative is now the girl: “Eat me, drink me…” (Carter, 2008, p.102). Likewise, when the Beast wishes to see Beauty nude in The Tiger’s Bride, she displays no dread in front of the Beast. Thus, rather than playing the part of the lamb, which is stereotypical of female roles, she transforms into a tiger in the end.

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Many phrases in The Tiger’s Bride assign the female the submissive position. For example, the girl claims that her father lost her “at cards to The Beast” (Carter, 2008, p.60). Conversely, the narrative of The Erl-King opens with the situation in which Erl-King captures the woman. The girl noticed the Erl-King, who was as tall as a tree and had birds in the branches, and he pulled her towards him.

Carter’s transitivity option at the openings of these narratives clarifies conventional fairy tales’ ideological message. Precisely the message “who does what to whom,” in which stereotyped females are portrayed as vulnerable victims and males as forceful actors, plays a crucial role (Arikan, 2016, p.125). On the other hand, Carter opposes the overall propensity of conventional fairy tales to portray vulnerability as enjoyable. The author offers a purposeful transitivity decision connected to her feminist concerns by transforming quiet female recipients into active actors after a time.

Similarly, The Erl-King ends up with the female character killing the Erl-King. As a result, at the end of the stories, the protagonists have evolved into performers. In this regard, Carter’s use of transitivity serves to provide a female-oriented interpretation of the stories. When the analysis is done at the word and phrase-sentence levels, it reveals a specific understanding of the discourse inside the narrative. As a result, such events primarily mirror the philosophy in these stories and prove the work to be female-oriented.

Nonetheless, the characters and gender roles are the most essential aspect of an examination. To a large degree, figures and gender roles in works are connected to ideological issues; they represent societal beliefs about how women and men should be. That is why the dominant aspect of a book, the character, contains so many concepts and issues. Examining female and male characters in connection to certain subjects can shed light on the ideas Carter is attempting to convey. These stories’ major themes include marriage, sexuality, gender norms, and female liberation.

As previously noted, relationships do not inevitably lead to a joyful outcome in Carter’s writings, as in conventional stories, but rather to a tragic beginning. According to Carter, the figurative “happy ending” of the marriage in women’s books might reflect not so much on the woman’s sacrifice of her position as it does reflect on her abandonment of a position of the independent individual (Arikan, 2016, p. 101). In a society with little room for anyone’s freedom, the situation with the woman’s permit to discover her sexuality, as well as obtaining the same level of public status and wealth that men obtain is quite problematic.

In The Tiger’s Bride, objectification is most likely the most important and primary subject. Notable female objectification may be observed when Beauty desires to see the Beast nude. She carefully observes and describes his monstrous form, highlighting his “great, feline, tawny shape” (Carter, 2008, p.71). The Beauty stops the servant who wants to cover his master to observe the nude body of the Beast. As a result, the Beast is susceptible to the position of an object (Arikan, 2016). Instead of instilling animosity against males, Carter proposes an acceptable type of male identity that lacks voyeuristic hunger.

The charm of Erl-King initially smites the female character in The Erl-King. His “skin is the tint and texture of sour cream,” says the heroine (Carter, 2008, p.101). However, the author provides the girl with an opportunity to resist the temptations, even though the girl is one of the countless women who have fallen prey to Erl-King’s charm. As a result, due to the acceptance of female sexuality, the girl from the tale is given more freedom. The tale resists depicting female victims as merely passive and innocent, transforming it from a straightforward condemnation of patriarchy into a complex exploration of female sexuality, initiation, and longing. Thus, the author distinguishes between authentic relationships that transform sexuality limited to physical forms and deeds.

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In the end, the two stories turn in different directions, changing the lives of the girls. In The Tiger’s Bride, the heroine experiences flashbacks of her fear of the tiger-man and the horror of being devoured (Arikan, 2016). However, the girl does not stop and sacrifices herself. The Beauty is eventually freed from the clutches of the strain and resurrected with “a nascent patina of shining hairs” (Carter, 2008, p.12). When the Beast licks the heroine’s hands, the harsh tongue tears her flesh off and the Beauty transforms into an animal.

Carter stated that the woman carries a tigress within her that signifies her bravery and power. Furthermore, the last scene of her rebirth implies that the women must endure agony to discover their true selves (Saleem, 2021). The entire plot revolved around the rebuilding of a woman and the critique of society. As a result, The Tiger’s Bride is a feminist narrative that depicts the shared goals of women seeking dignity, independence, and identity in a male-dominated environment.

Lastly, in The Erl-King, the female character discovered that the Erl-King’s imprisoned birds were once women, and despite still feeling love for him, she is terrified. However, the feeling of justice is more potent than love, and the girl kills the Erl-King and unlocks all the cages, letting the birds that “will change back into young girls” free (Carter, 2008, p.101). The girl in this narrative not only lives, but also kills the Erl-King, thereby overturning gender roles and patriarchal ideas. With the murder of Erl-King, nature becomes involved in the enslavement of women rather than just rescuing them (Neimneh, 2020). The reason for this is Carter’s ambiguous style of radical women’s writings, which resists traditional polarities while challenging the patriarchal notion that states that females are simply attuned to nature.

As a result, Carter deconstructs feminist reasoning by demonstrating that females and nature not only directly associate with or oppose patriarchy but are also involved in their subjugation. Furthermore, rather than simply supporting women as anticipated in feminist literature, she undermines the woman/nature dichotomy by making the Erl-King the pinnacle of a happy life in nature (Neimneh, 2020). Carter deconstructs traditional beliefs and gender norms, allowing for delicate feminine longing at the same time as creating feminist narratives through nature. The author silences the masculine voice in both stories. In The Tiger’s Bride, the Beast cannot talk but communicates through his valet; at the end of The Erl-King, the slaughter of wicked males leads to female emancipation.

Hence, the works of Angela Carter are saturated with feminist ideas that critique traditional patriarchal fairy tales. Carter’s feminist focus defies conventional ideas and stereotypes on gender roles. As a result of viewing language’s power as generating and deepening misogyny, the author not only dismantles the discriminatory connotations of traditional fairy tales but also proposes unique tales to weaken female subjugation through language. Rather than representing the collective unconscious, the author seeks to make the readers aware of literary fairy tales as products of specific cultural, economic, and socio-political perspectives.

Reference List

Arikan, S. (2016) ‘Angela Carter’s The bloody chamber: A feminist stylistic approach’, Fırat Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, 26(2), pp.117-130.

Carter, A. (2008) The bloody chamber. Longman.

Kurt Yildiz, Z. (2021) The use of intertextuality in The bloody chamber and other stories. Academia Letters.

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Molnar, A.L. (2016) (En)Gendered lives. Hatvani István Extramural College.

Neimneh, S.S. and Shureteh, H.A. (2020) ‘Nature, caged birds, and constrained women: An ecocritical feminist reading of Angela Carter’s story The Erl-King’, AWEJ for Translation & Literary Studies, 4(3), pp.3-16.

Saleem, M.M. (2021) ‘Feministic approach towards Angela Carter’s The tiger’s bride’, PalArch’s Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology, 18(2), pp.637-641.

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