In Angela Carter’s collection of fairy tales, she explodes the notion of stereotypical views of females, as either the roles of passive victims of patriarchal dominance in all its guises or she subverts the role as strong heroic figures. Even though females can be seen as passive victims, they also have the capacity to be strong and independent individuals. It can be viewed that females can also question and defeat the patriarchal norms that have been enforced in society.
In the title story, ‘The Bloody Chamber’, Carter portrays of what patriarchal society is from a feminist perspective by using females as passive victims of patriarchal dominance and their sexual relationship between one another. The dominant character, Marquise, is exposed as a controlling partner in order to satisfy his erotic taste and to fulfil his desires by using his previous wives and present wife as objects. The relationship between Marquise and his wife, is symbolised through a wedding ring, introduced with a ‘pang of loss’ for the narrator, as it hints a lack of youth and freedom that will occur in her marriage and possibly indicate a loss in her virginity. It also indicates the idea that she has this painful emotion within herself due to the marriage. She is uncomfortable with this as she is a young bride and is new to all of this. This ‘loss’ could be due to the patriarchal dominance that has taken over her in the marriage. It further reinforces the idea that she has given all her possession to her husband as ‘he puts the gold band on her finger’. This reflects male dominance and the idea of ownership as his wife is seen as his property. This links to Marquise as his wives in the past were objectified by him because Marquise puts his previous wives on display and exposed their personal identity, particularly his wife who was ‘the opera singer’, who ‘layed quite naked’, which reveals a sexual imagery that fulfils his desires.
Also Marquise reveals his wife to show that her personal life and identity is not private, as it is revealed by her husband. This can be evident in where she ‘saw him watching [her] in the glided mirrors with assessing eyes of connoisseur inspecting horseflesh’. This can convey idea of full ownership and dominance from Marquise as he does not let her be out of his sight, therefore having this power or perhaps a sexual desire for his wife. This portrays domination over females which allows a feminist interpretation such as ‘In the 1970s, the major effect went into exposing what might be called mechanisms of patriarchy, that is, the cultural ‘mind-set’ in men and women which perpetuated sexual inequality.
Critical attention was given to books by male writers in which influential or typical images of women were constructed’. This develops the idea that there is this metaphor within male characters that shows sexual domination or they are seen as sexually active whereas female characters are seen as naturally passive towards this, which implies a sense of inevitability between the characters. Therefore, male characters who are seen as acting on patriarchal dominance towards females allows readers to put this lens towards sexuality, which makes the readers believe that domination occurs in relationship but males are the cause of it. This can be seen where Marquise ‘has twisted her hair into a rope and drew it away from [her] neck’. This portrays a sexual imagery of the husband being sexually active and the wife allows this ownership to happen. The verb ‘twisted’ displays a violent action from Marquise towards his wife which may be foreshadowing her death and could also hint sexual domination.
A further evidence could be where ‘his wedding gift, clasped round [her] throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinary precious slit throat’. The adverb ‘clasped’ highlights the authoritative nature that Marquise has over his wife’s neck which could foreshadow her death as ‘a choker of rubies’ connote with blood.
Furthermore in Carter’s fairy tale, the ‘Tiger’s Bride’, it reveals the true value of female’s position in society, as they are viewed as unworthy whereas in this story males live in a materialistic life. As their possession and social status is seen as more important as Beauty confesses ‘my father said he loved me yet he staked his daughter on a hand of cards’. It can be seen that females are only in their husband’s lives to complete their desires so therefore they embrace sexual desires for them. This may be due to of females acknowledging the idea that males will always inevitably have power so they accept this traditional stereotypical view. For example, in ‘Tigers Bride’, the narrator’s ‘father lost her to the beast at cards’ which expresses a sense of ownership and oppression towards females which connects with a feminist interpretation such as ‘a masculine gendering is supposed to evoke positive connotations, a feminine gendering is supposed to evoke negative ones. It implies the ideas of Beauty’s father having dominance over her and not allowing of what she wants which therefore could suggest that his decisions and action is right.
However, Toril Moi explains that femininity is ‘a set of culturally defined characteristics’ which means that society constructs these stereotypical views and opinions on females allowing readers to interpret female and male in this particular way such as male are more dominant and are the breadwinner in their relationship whereas females are not. It also indicates her status and identity being described as a commodity in a world dominated by men. Her life is determined with deals that her father has compromised with the Beast which clearly demonstrates dominance where Beauty has no liberty but to accept the Beast into her life. Beauty’s father ‘circumstances has already changed; well shaven, neatly barbered, smart new clothes…’. This portrays that even her own father, who is supposedly to be the one who protects his child but could also refer to most males, cares about their social status and material goods than their relationships or loved ones. This links in with stereotypical view of men (patriarchal dominance) who are filled with power and greed that interrupts relationships or marriages.
A feminist critic may argue that Carter’s female characters acknowledge the flaws and actions of the male characters but still choose to oblige to their expectations. Beauty sees the world as ‘the market place, where the eyes that watch you take no account of your existence’. This indicates that Beauty is cease to be visible in society along with all of the females in society, making them feel as if they are unworthy. It also hints the idea of female being at a lower position in society but their ‘existence’ is almost to be seen as vanished as males are seen as superior in society. From a patriarchal standpoint, ‘no one in their right mind will want to give serious power to a person who must be timid, dependent, irrational, and self-pitying because she is a woman’. This clearly demonstrates that gender itself is crucial as it has fixed values and characteristics given to it. This can be evident in when Beauty ‘walked along the river bank’ and ‘felt she was at liberty for the first time’, this may be suggesting that while she is with the Beast, she is accepting in what position she is perhaps due to her lack of confidence or is easily frightened. Another evidence could be that ‘the lamb must learn to run with the tigers’ which reinforces the idea where a female (lamb) who is innocent and passive must adapt themselves or follow according to a male (tiger) who is fierce and dominant.
However, in Carter’s story, ‘The Werewolf’, Carter subverts patriarchal values by recasting females as the main protagonists. For example, in this story, Red is fearless female protagonist who is capable of defending herself and does not need protection from a male figure. Red is going to visit her sick grandmother, where her mother insists her to ‘take your fathers hunting knife, you know how it use it’. This could suggest that Red has had experience before in defending herself and therefore is independent as she does not need any help from others. Her ‘fathers hunting knife’ could hint that he protected himself by using weapons and did not need any assistance which could suggest that Red had taken on this role that her father once used to have. Carter attempts to show that female do not need rescue or protection as they are able to do it themselves without any aid. From a feminist perspective, it could be argued that with gender it is not the biological differences that causes stereotypical views and opinions on male or female, but it is the ‘cultural construction’ that society is creating. For example, feminine traits that are supposedly seen as disempowering does not play a part in biological differences as Carter supports this by showing that Red ‘dropped her gifts, seized her knife and turned on the beast’ and ‘she made a great swipe at it with her father’s knife and slashed off its right paw’. This portrays a powerful imagery of strong, independent, dominant and fearless female protagonists who is capable to do such violent acts by herself. The verb ‘slashed’ emphasises Red striking violently at the Beast, showing her physical ability in strength and dominance to subvert patriarchal roles by giving the image that females are able to defend themselves in any situation. This removes the stereotypical view of females as being caring and dependent. It can show that from Carters story tales she wants to empower and show that females can be powerful and capable figures that can take charge in any situation that has been placed on them which can lead them to success. Carter clearly subverts the patriarchal role that reader sees in male by embodying it through females, portraying them as having this male characteristics.
Overall, in Carter’s selection of stories that she wrote through the idea of fairy tales, she challenges and exposes the differentiation between the typical stereotypical views of males who appear to be strong and dominant and females who are seen as vulnerable and submissive. However, Carter also subverts the role of female to show the hidden side that readers or society wouldn’t expect, to convey the success and values that they hold.