LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Little Red Riding Hood: Choosing the Right Path

on January 24, 2013 1:12pm

After reading the stories regarding “Little Red Riding Hood,” I was really surprised about the underlying themes of sexuality and morality that I had completely overlooked when I was younger.  I simply remembered the story in terms of the lesson: don’t talk to strangers. However, now, I see much more complex and deeper aspects – specifically, the recurring image of choosing the right path.

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I was extremely taken aback by “The Story of Grandmother.” I had never read this version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” and I seriously question if this particular story should be read to children. After eating the meat of her dead grandmother, Red Riding Hood removes all her clothing and actually climbs naked into bed with the wolf. Clearly, there is the implicit notion of sex and the danger of men. Although Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood” does not involve the removal of clothing, the little girl does indeed climb into bed with the wolf and ends up being devoured by the beast. Again, the wolf entices (more like seduces) the young girl into bed with him.

In both of these tales, I found it interesting that they included the notion of “paths.” The wolf asks Red Riding Hood which path she will be taking to go to her Granny’s house. She divulges her route and the wolf arrives at the home before her. In my opinion, these repeated ideas of “paths” symbolizes morality and choosing the correct way of life. Unfortunately, Little Red Riding Hood strays from the path of righteousness, loses her innocence, and gets punished by the wolf. This notion of being a good, virtuous girl is also found in Grimm’s version. Red Riding Hood does not follow her mother’s rules and wanders off the path. She is again consumed by the wolf and regrets not listening to her mother.

Generally, I was taught the moral of “Little Red Riding Hood” was do not talk to strangers. Now, I see that there are much more complex implications: the dangers of men, loss of innocence, immorality and sexuality, importance of obeying one’s parents, and choosing the righteous path. This article also explores some more complex meanings in “Little Red Riding Hood.” What I once thought was a cut and dry, simple tale is actually a very significant story with very intricate meanings.

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2 responses to “Little Red Riding Hood: Choosing the Right Path

  1. heatherhalak says:

    I’m definitely with you when it comes to how oblivious I was to the sexual undertones of “Red Riding Hood.” As a child, I would have never looked into it past the surface moral, which is to not talk to strangers, as you said. I feel that these tales have remained popular (as you and I both know them) because children just don’t see things that way. They see things much as you said, in “paths”, in which there is good and bad and you simply obey your parents and elders in order to avoid the “bad path.” Children read things in a different light than adults (or rather, adults that study children’s literature) in that they take things for what they are (such as “don’t talk to strangers”) instead of truly analyzing a story for symbols, meanings, and social issues. If children were to read these stories analytically, I feel that the tales would no longer be popular, as children would actually recognize the corruption, gore, and terrible things embedded in these stories. I also feel that though Red steered off the “right path,” her punishment was a bit merciless in a few variations of the tales and that this has the potential to really scare children, instead of teaching them a lesson.

  2. n3sriab says:

    I was also surprised, upon reading the “Red Riding Hood” tales, at the warnings that I innocently overlooked as a child. In my opinion, it has become explicitly obvious, upon rereading, that the wolf represents a real man, and that the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” is warning against male predators. Just as in the case of the “Blue Beard” tales, a man is not always as he seems, but could in fact be hiding a thirst for blood. In fact, in Angela Carter’s rendition of “Blue Beard,” the male antagonist actually rapes the female main character. Essentially, I have noticed that while in “Blue Beard” the male predator lures the clueless female victim in with promises of a luxurious lifestyle, the wolf in the “Red Riding Hood” tales are all the more dangerous, due to their use of manipulation and disguise to infiltrate the lives and homes of their victims by way of a single polite conversation. It’s a bit unnerving how, as a child, I overlooked such a theme that relates so strongly to the premise of not talking to strangers, yet in a way the wolf is perhaps more sinister than that of Blue Beard, the wife serial killer. While fairy tales obviously are there to teach a moral lesson, I never expected that they might also serve to warn young women about the dangers of men, and how to pinpoint and evade potentially risk situations. It makes me wonder if fairy tales are truly meant for young children, or if some are geared more towards girls as they are taking their first steps towards womanhood.

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