LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Grrr(l) Power: Becoming the Animal in “The Tiger’s Bride”

on January 24, 2013 2:42pm


At the mention of “The Tiger’s Bride” by Angela Carter last Tuesday, our class let out a groan. On our first reading, it seems that we all missed whatever Carter was trying to communicate in this modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast. However, upon a closer inspection of the tale, especially the last passage of the Beauty character’s transformation between pages 64 and 66, the tale resembles the common tale type more closely than we realized.
The narrator’s wish for independence from her sleazy father is an easily understood motivation for remaining in the castle. In a fairly symbolically simple phrase, the narrator comments that she will “wind up” her robotic maidservant and “send her back to perform the part of my father’s daughter” (64). The narrator then proceeds to strip naked, preparing to acquiesce to the Beast’s request.
The Beast’s desire to see her naked rather than a proposal of marriage seems too sexually forward for this usually repressed tale. It is especially disturbing considering the Beast lacks any human features, even relying on a servant to speak for him. However, the narrator speaks of undressing like the shedding of her humanity, rather than preparation for any sexual encounter. It is “not natural for humankind to go naked,” as she comments (64). She feels pain as she undresses, as if she was “stripping off [her] own underpelt” (64). Already speaking in animal’s terms, she has begun her transformation.
She clothes herself in the robe made of rats as she makes her way to the Beast to fend off the “lacerating winds” in the corridors, rather than for modesty’s sake. The robe itself is made of animals, allowing the narrator to protect herself without interrupting her desire to be truly naked. She also wears the earrings made of the Beast’s tears, finally accepting his gifts.
As the Beast begins to lick her “skin off,” his purring shakes the “foundations of the house” (66). Civilization seems to be crumbling around her as she completes her transformation into animal. Finally, the diamond earrings turn back into teardrops. The magical transformation of his tears to diamonds, then given as jewelry, seems to be the Beast’s attempt to bridge the divide between their species, transforming his gifts into gifts appropriate for a human. The transformation of the earrings back into tears shows that the narrator has completed her passage into the realm of the animal.
The Beast’s desire to see her naked can now read much closer to a marriage proposal. By asking her to remove her clothes, he was symbolically asking her to relinquish her humanity so that she could transform into a Beast, and thus become his animal bride. Rather than become human together, the narrator chooses to leave her unhappy life as a human with her father and “shed all the skins of a life in the world” (66).


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