LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Fille Fatale: From Little Red to Locked and Loaded

on January 16, 2013 3:44pm

Most people in American culture are familiar with the phrase “Femme Fatale.” Whether you are a Brittany Spears fan or are knowledgeable in the European literature where the term originated, the French phrase for “deadly woman” has become synonymous with the growing Feminist culture that has come to redefine modern day society.

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You say seductive? I say sizing up ways to kill me.

This trend has been chronicled most notably in pop culture: and even more specifically with the rise of the vampire phenomenon that strikes fear into the hearts of boyfriends all across the nation: TwilightHowever, this gradual rise in feminine independence, and even superiority over men, has been detailed in the historic changes of the classic school age fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood.”

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This is right before she turns into a green, hulking monster.

The earliest examples of  “Little Red Riding Hood” portray the protagonist as the atypical female character. In his version of the tale Charles Perrault describes Little Red as “Pretty, well-bred, and genteel,” which is hardly comparable to the Little Red Riding Hood we see in a feminist conscious modern day society (13). Nonetheless, the legendary storyteller uses his moralistic tale as a metaphor: not to warn women of the dangers of wolves, but more so the dangers of men. He relates wolves to men by describing some wolves as, “perfectly charming,
Not loud, brutal, or angry,
But tame, pleasant, and gentle…But watch out if you haven’t learned that tame wolves Are the most dangerous of all.” While his tale does serve as a moral for women to be cautious of the devious duplicity of men, the protagonist still acts as only a cautionary character and must submit to her fate as an example.

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The original poster girl for “Child Neglect”

Fast forward 285 years later to Roald Dahl’s depiction of this “damsel in distress” and the reader finds a much different tale. Rather than being eaten by the wolf as an example for her gender, Little Red empowers herself as she “whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead” (22). Therefore, if Dahl is adhering to the tale’s usual depiction of the wolf representing man, then in this instance the tables have turned. By the end of the 20th century the literary progression of the so called “classic” tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” acts as a literal “mirror mirror on the wall” for the society in which it is interpreted. The modern Little Red is a younger version of the deadly woman, a “fille fatale,” and this textual shift directly correlates to the societal shifts that define this time period.

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Come at me bro.

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2 responses to “Fille Fatale: From Little Red to Locked and Loaded

  1. csmith5599 says:

    I find this shift to the female fatale archetype fascinating, especially as it grows more popular by the day in our culture’s media. While movies like Brave and Kill Bill demonstrate the modern feminism in new stories, older stories such as Snow White have approached the female fatale quite similarly to Red Riding Hood

    In the original <Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs stories, Snow White seemed to lack much common sense or intelligence. Anne Sexton even describes her as a “dumb bunny” in her Snow White poem, which would probably bore modern audiences and cause them to question the strength of a protagonist. In recent adaptations of the Snow White story, our titular character has morphed into a headstrong, intelligent woman who swears to strike revenge against the evil queen (and even donning armor and going to war to do so in the recent Snow White and the Huntsman film). Her taste in men has changed in many modern adaptations too, for now she desires the Huntsman (who once held a very minimal role in the older stories) for both his brute and moral strength in favor of the usual prince. Her love for the prince in older stories based itself upon the common folk tale trope (a vulnerable woman falls in love with the prince who saves her), but modern audiences crave more realistic and developed arcs of characters falling in love. As such, we actually see Snow White debate between the prince and the huntsman in the 2012 film, struggling to decide who she loves more and wishes to marry.

    It seems as though a vast amount of our older folk and fairy tales morph and adapt to new audiences, particularly the female fatale archetype. The progression in bothLittle Red Riding Hood and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs portray this shift quite well, and I find myself quite interested in the further adaptations these and other stories make to appeal to modern ideas and themes.

  2. jklager says:

    I enjoyed your comment about the “fille fatale” and how it is represents the changes society has undergone. I think it is prudent to recognize that femme fatales have existed since the Middle Ages and that this term was usually reserved for women who were sexualized, such as the beautiful and sexual sorceress Morgan le Fey. Possibly even more widely recognized, as a femme fatale is the story of Jezebel. Jezebel was a Phoenician Princess who married the king of the Northern Kingdom, i.e. Israel. The rest of the story follows that she seduced her husband into abandoning the Jewish faith and converting to her religion, in the process of which she had many Jewish prophets killed. Then during the 1940s emerged film noir where we see more femme fatales such as Ava Gardner in The Killers and then in 1992 we see a more modern femme fatale with Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
    These portrayals of women indicate the feelings of fear towards women’s sexuality and their power. The concept of feminism is frightening and so if a woman appears to be a strong and empowered female we see them reduced down to their sexuality, which is a means for them to gain their power. They are then further painted in a negative light by the fact that the power they are gaining is used to kill others or in some other sort of criminal aspect.
    I personally sit back and watch these femme fatales and think great, I am sure there is a reason they are doing what they are. That there must be some sort of causation behind their actions, or perhaps they are simply owning their sexuality and are attempting to prove themselves worthy and strong in whatever capacity they are able to. It is not always about how you achieve your goals but rather if you are able to achieve them. Thus, I find your term “fille fatale” to show that the concept of a femme fatale is not truly all that bad. By having a child whip out a gun to save their own life demonstrates the ability in someone deemed “weak” to become strong and take control of their fate, just like some of these women we have seen in films and literature use their own powers to prove themselves to be strong and in control of the decisions they are making.

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