Maria Tartar’s edited version of The Classic Fairy Tales sparked a new interest in me of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and the symbolism portrayed in that tale. According to Tartar, the act of Red Riding Hood getting into the bed with wolf was a metaphor for the act of losing one’s virginity. The problem with this interpretation, as pointed out by the Introduction, is that some variations have Little Red getting in the bed and some have her figure out the wolf’s tricks before she does.
This detail is crucial because it would signify, if the metaphor was constant across variations, that some Little Reds lost their virginity while others still protected it. If this is the case, why did some girls outwit the wolf quickly enough and keep their innocence?
According to Tartar, this was entirely a matter of choice on the part of the girl. She believes that no girl could possibly be dumb enough to believe a hairy wolf was her grandmother; therefore, it was her repressed or unspoken desire to get into bed with the wolf. This would mean that the authors who had their characters get into the bed were suggesting that each willing lost her innocence to the wolf.
This is a strong statement on female sexuality, and a statement on how women are actively involved in the quest for sex and not merely victims sought out by men. From what I’ve read about society during the time period that most of these stories were written, this is a very risky message to send to little girls who were raised to act as objects and to be owned by their husbands. It was a progressive mind set that gave the idea that women sought out sex in similar ways as men.
This is a relatively hard topic to discuss in a children’s book, so my more simple belief is that Little Red outwitting the wolf is more of a coming of age mark that does not necessarily have to do with the act of sex, but the act of recognizing the pursuit of man. It is the age when girls start to recognize that boys are pursuing them, which comes at different ages for all girls just like it comes at a different time for Little Red in each variation. It is a time when girls lose their innocence because they begin to recognize their femininity. It is the act of women realizing the lengths men will go to get women into bed, but learning how to trick or outmaneuver them in this quest. The act of sex can still be inferred from this interpretation, but sex is not the only act that could mark the loss of innocence in the story.