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So What's The History Behind The Little Red Riding Hood?

Updated on November 15, 2007

Little Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood, far from being an innocent tale of a little girl’s lucky escape from the belly of the beast, with herself and her beloved grandmother intact, is the story of a budding sexually adventurous young woman … who wants to learn, and to grow into her womanhood, but finds the danger in doing so. There are plenty of symbols pointing towards this sexual interpretation of the tale, Red Riding Hood’s red cloak actually signifies the fact that she has recently menstruated, and as such is no longer a little girl, but a woman ready to be initiated in life’s ways. The story, as do many others in folklore and myth, has a strong Oedipal leaning – it is an expression of Freud’s basic human desire to replace our parent of the same sex, in a relationship with our parent of the opposite sex – therefore, a young man’s desire to replace his father, and a young woman’s desire to replace her mother in relation to her father. We see much supporting evidence for a Freudian interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood within the tale – it is not all far-flung, tenuous links and coincidences.

Freud was the father of the psychoanalytic school of thought which believes that all human behaviour is motivated by sexuality. As such, fairy tales become vehicles for teaching new members of society sexual lessons. However, these must be oblique lessons: it goes against so many of our society’s values to overtly indoctrinate sexuality into our children. At the same time, sexuality is an important part of our adult lives, and as with other areas of life, it is the responsibility of parents and other adults to teach children how to relate to these social phenomena. However, there are several differing, sexual interpretations of the Little Red Riding Hood parable – exactly what message is being sent to those reading it for the first time cannot be agreed on!

Many people believe this is a story about budding sexuality, with lessons on relating to sexuality for both boys and girls. Whether these are appropriate lessons in today’s society is highly debatable! One reading suggests that the red cloak symbolises the young woman’s menstrual blood, and her readiness for sexual awakening. She braves the dark forest of womanhood, unfortunately encountering first the predatory male (the wolf), who forcibly initiates her into the reality of sex … as symbolized by Red Riding Hood being eaten. The red cloak is also sometimes thought to symbolize the girl’s hymen, with the wolf therefore taking her virginity. The two readings are not mutually exclusive.

Another common interpretation is the idea that Little Red Riding Hood is a prostitute, and the fairy-tale about her is a repressive tale warning against becoming a working girl. One of the strongest points in favour of this argument is that the red cloak was a classic symbol of a prostitute in 17th century France, when Charles Perrault was writing his famous version of the tale. The fact that his version of the tale is not the original one does not discount this interpretation; folklore can have a changing meaning to concur with changing societal conditions. Reading Perrault’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, you realize it was lucky not to have been censored from school curriculums everywhere, due to its very overt sexual signals in parts of the tale where the wolf is about to eat Red Riding Hood. Before eating the grandmother of the story, he ‘threw himself on the good woman’. He later ‘threw himself on Little Red Riding Hood’ also, but only after she had been invited into bed, so she ‘took off her clothes and went to lie down in the bed’. After looking carefully and commenting on all of the wolf’s big body parts (“My, what a big … you have!”), the wolf throws himself upon the nude Little Red Riding Hood, in bed. Given thought, it becomes amazing that schools have continued to repeat the tale for centuries!

Various specific and modern interpretations of the tale also recognize the sexuality of the tale. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, Into The Woods, features a wolf with an obvious penis attached to the costume. As the Little Red Riding Hood grows up, she discards her cloak, presumably in accordance with the reading suggesting that the cloak is her hymen, the symbol of her virginity. What Do You Say After You Say Hello? Is Eric Berne’s modern version of the tale, and in this, Red Riding Hood’s grandfather fondles her under her dress, which awakens her sexuality. In this version, the wolf and the grandmother also have an intimate relationship … a much more literal expression of the sexual symbols, but a valid extrapolation of the theories.

The way the Little Red Riding Hood tale teaches children about the roles of their gender has also been researched extensively. The mother of the tale, who tells Red Riding Hood not to stray from the path, represents a woman who knows her place within the patriarchal society. The fact that Little Red Riding Hood strays from the path, talks to a strange man (‘Don’t talk to strangers!’), and dawdles, against her mother’s instructions, and comes to harm, is a lesson to young girls to accept what society dictates they must do, or come to harm. “This action, an expression of her own desire, is the cause of her troubles” (Cranny-Francis, 1992, p123).

The tale has so many sexual markers and overtones … it has been recognized as a sexual tale for so many centuries, but people still enjoy reading it, and still tell it to their children, and still love to create modern interpretations of the tale, so they can relate more easily to it. Embrace its sexuality – it exists throughout it – and enjoy it!


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      ###33333333 33###### 3 years ago


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      jessica 6 years ago

      what the hell??? i was looking up costume ideas for the play im doing with my students and ths comes up are you freaking kidding me?

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      Athena Alma 6 years ago

      very good perseption! yeah i kinda got that too she was going in the woods by her self! wow your good! and if you have seen into the woods you saw the wold dick and no pants!