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Who is the real victim in the story of Red Riding Hood?

Updated on January 18, 2014
What are their real thoughts?
What are their real thoughts?

Not an ordinary cautionary tale

The story about Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf is another classic fairy tale about good and evil with hundreds of variations and thousands of possible interpretations.

We can use it as a study material about society, changes in society and especially about relations among genders.

Many feminists interpret this seemingly innocent fairy tale as rationalization of a rape. Can we really look at The Little Red Riding Hood as an apologetic explanation of male dominance?

Let's try to examine most obvious themes and symbols to get a ground for some basic speculations. We'll use both of the most known versions, the one by brothers Grimm and the one written by Charles Perrault.


The power

Perrault gave her a red cap. Red is the color of blood and psychoanalytics like to explain it as a menstrual blood. This makes logic because Red Riding Hood is a young girl who is growing up. We don't know how old is she exactly, but we know while she is still young, she is old enough to go alone in the woods and visit her granny.

Red Riding Hood by Kate Greenaway
Red Riding Hood by Kate Greenaway

She got a hood from her grandmother what can be explained as symbolic transfer of the power of life force.

Granny is old, maybe in menopause, and her vital forces are obviously declining. Her granddaughter on contrary is becoming more and more independent and responsible. Her power is on the rise.

But she is on he test. She has to go in the woods. She must face unknown. She will face danger. Her power will be challenged by another power.

Considering the time when Red Riding Hood entered into literature, we can't miss the changes in society. Perrault was afraid of raising influence of ladies in literary saloons. Fairy tales were mandatory part of their program.

Is this one of the reasons for choosing color red, the color of sin? It doesn't seem appropriate to send a girl all alone in dangerous forest as it probably Perrault didn't like to feel overpowered by ladies who ran saloons.

So we have to move the action into the woods, where male power is still the dominant force. It is uncivilized world without conventions but with clear rules. Remember the tale about the Sleeping Beauty? She stayed alone in the woods until the right man came to rescue her. Well, instead of prince we have a big bad wolf in this case...

Red Riding Hood acts irresponsible and after a series of more or less obvious erotic allusions she is eaten. (There is no hunter or other rescuer in Perrault's retelling of the story.) If women wonder through woods without protection, they can't expect anything better than death. One more thing – they can blame only themselves for their own troubles.

This was perception of Perrault and probably the reality of his times. If a girl talks to a stranger, she is risking her life (or being raped) and it is her fault. We can't expect from a creature, driven by nature to spare her, can't we?

Wolf looks pretty tame in this illustration by Harry clarke
Wolf looks pretty tame in this illustration by Harry clarke

Guilt

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm don't give much more credit to the girl either. They added the cautionary 'Don't stray from the path' and in the end the girl is saved by a hunter who is clearly representation of protective father.

It is obvious the girl is irresponsible and incompetent in their opinion just like in Perrault's. Although she is saved, she wouldn't make it without a man. It is interesting to note they had two versions of Red Cap (as they titled the tale) in the first edition of Children and Household Tales.

In the other variation the girl later meets another wolf and defeats him. She is obviously capable to learn from mistakes and can take care for herself. They skipped this version in later editions.

Maybe because a competent and resourceful young woman without a male protection didn't fit in their vision of the society? If we study their rewritings of other fairy tales, we notice clearing of all extramarital relationships, cannibalism and other threats to human civilization.

Walter Crane interprets wolf as an older man
Walter Crane interprets wolf as an older man

A personal touch

Perrault married 19 year old Marie Guichon when he was already 54 years old. She died at birth of their fourth child only six years later.

It wasn't uncommon situation in those days but it was probably painful experience for Perrault.

Is it possible he saw himself among 'older men preying at young girls' in the moral at the end of the story, just like he can be recognized in the title role of the Puss in Boots?

The situation of brothers Grimm was quite different. They lost father when they were only ten and eleven years old. Only few years later they started to support the rest of the family. They were certainly aware how important is presence or lack of powerful protective figure of the father. In a way they both assumed the role of the father of younger brothers and a sister.

Projection of situation in their own family is more than obvious in several fairy tales in their collection. Is it possible they subconsciously choose to promote the version with a hunter as a rescuer because they felt like lost kids in the woods who desperately need a father to survive?

If we know there were also older versions of the fairy tale with a father who lives with his wife and a girl and rescues her instead of the hunter, personal approach of Perrault and Grimms is even more believable.

Charles Perrault didn't write for children!

Famous scene in bed by Gustave Dore
Famous scene in bed by Gustave Dore

Allusions

The song How Could Red Riding Hood (Have Been So Good) written by A. P. Randolph in 1925 was first song banned from radio because it was too suggestive. Did you know that?

See results

Who is the victim in this fairy tale?

While Red Riding Hood is obvious victim, a bit deeper examination of the story gives us more food for thought.

Mother is a victim too. She farewells from her daughter at the beginning of the tale and the girl never comes back. Even in versions (which are most known today), when Red Riding Hood survives, she is not the same, innocent and naïve girl again.

Granny is another victim. She is obviously old and ill. Yes, she can enjoy the feast at the dead body of the wolf, she can have her bottle of wine, but her days are counted for sure. The world belongs to her grand daughter.

What about the wolf? If he dies, he seems to be justly punished, but he was punished for greed, he ate too much and fall asleep. When he ate the girl and her grandmother, he didn't do anything wrong. This is what wolfs do and they can't help it! They are just poor creatures of the nature.

If he escapes, he is still only an instinct driven beast. He is condemned to prey after little girls until he encounters a hunter who will end his misery. Nobody will ever love him and help him to become a prince like in the story about the Beauty and the Beast.

Big bad wolf meets Red Cap, painted by Paul Meyerheim
Big bad wolf meets Red Cap, painted by Paul Meyerheim

Punishment

The girl who didn't listen to her mother should be punished and she is punished in all known versions. She talked with the strangers, didn't she? She strayed from the path, right?

In the eyes of hundreds of retellers of the story, which was in first centuries almost exclusively written and illustrated by men, she really asked for everything what happened later.

She told him where she is going. She showed him the path. It was all her, not his plan from the beginning!

And he should do something about that old lady living all alone in the woods, too!

Times of printed versions of Little Red Riding Hood were strange times, when a new class of bourgeoisie was formed and more and more women were starting earning money.

With money came power and responsibility. Men were still dominant force in the fields of arts and science (well, everywhere) and fairy tales were good chance to show women they should be careful if they don't want to be punished.

They should not discard family values. They should not forget old good times when all decisions were done by men. They should listen to their mothers and not talk to strangers. They should never stray from the path!

Or they will be punished ...

Brothers Grimm highlighted Red riding Hood's irresponsibility, what is obvious in this Offterdinger's painting
Brothers Grimm highlighted Red riding Hood's irresponsibility, what is obvious in this Offterdinger's painting

Are fairy tales conservative?

In general the answer is yes. Perrault and brothers Grimm were intelligent and relatively influential men with pretty conservative views on life. These views are notable in their works too and fairy tales are no exception. Fairy tales are almost always telling how life should be.

But they are also very subversive. They are telling us everything, just everything is possible, we are only limited with our imagination. When the focus of narration changed from adult audience (which views and behavior was probably too hard to change) to children, this became even more obvious.

Even, if you are a grown up, please don't stop listening to them. You may be surprised by their messages!

Credits and further reading

All used images are in public domain. More info on them can be found on:

http://topillustrations.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/little-red-riding-hood-in-pictures/

Fairy tales can be interpreted in many more or less convincing ways and Red Riding hood is no exception. If you are interested, you can check the mythological explanation here:

http://www.zujava.com/redridinghood

Happy ending in Red Cap by Arpad Schmidhammer
Happy ending in Red Cap by Arpad Schmidhammer

What message have you found in the Little Red Riding Hood?

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    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 2 years ago

      Thanks, Jacobb9205!

    • Jacobb9205 profile image

      Jacob Barnard 2 years ago from Gloucestershire

      Interesting!

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 2 years ago

      Definitely!Thanks, Haj09:)

    • Haj09 profile image

      Hajer 2 years ago from Tunisia

      I love the conclusion! Fairy tales are not just for children! :)

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 2 years ago

      I am studying the hidden meanings behind fairy tales only for maybe a decade now. Many possible explanations still surprise me as well. Thanks, Peggy W, for stopping by!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have heard many of these fairy tales including this one but never gave much thought to the psychology of meanings beyond just the tale itself. This is interesting!

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 2 years ago

      Thanks:) I think every fairy tale hides many surprising messages, so the pleasure was all mine!

    • profile image

      colbeyfreddie 2 years ago

      I like the way you've analysed the common fairy tale.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Every debate is welcomed:)

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      My pleasure:)

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Tolovaj,

      I have left this comment twice already, but I will do it again for you.

      I loved this hub. And I thank you for putting an upgraded-spin on an old classic.

      Thank you so much for being so talented.

      Kenneth

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Tolovaj,

      You are welcome, but hey, thanks for putting an upgraded-spin on and old favorite.

      Well-done.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Thanks for your support, kenneth avery!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Tolovaj,

      Wow, what a story. Masterpiece. I am so blown-away by this that I am in awe of such a talent as yours to take on Red Riding Hood and present this view of such a classic tale.

      One could argue, (my two cents), that the wolf was only following its nature and should not have been killed by the woodsman. That was the tale I grew up with--and confidentially, I liked how sly the wolf was in disguising himself as Granny.

      That was hilarious.

      But I voted up and away on this hub for you deserved it.

      Very interesting.

      I ask you now to read a couple of my hubs and then be one of my followers.

      I would appreciate that.

      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Al.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      We tend to think about the stories just as entertainment, no matter if we are talking about fiction or non-fiction (even the news about crime!), and too often forget how are brains are actually 'programmed' with stories. Thanks, MsDora, for your feedback!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      I appreciate the article. Never thought of all the social implications. I need to go read the story again. Thank you.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Well, sometimes a fairy tale is just a fairy tale, but sometimes, it's much much more ... Thanks, you are very kind!

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      And there I was at my age, believing it was just a fairytale with the usual moral to warn youngsters of danger. Insightful and well presented, will definitely be back for more! Up, interesting, useful and followed!

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Every media is sending messages and creating / distorting reality. This is why it is important to never stop learning and to keep critical attitude. Thanks for stopping by, Lisawilliamsj!

    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 3 years ago

      This is pretty awesome. I never really thought about the message that fairytales send our children, but it is a scary message indeed. This is very well put together! Thank you for sharing.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      They are really beautiful, aren't they? Thanks fro stopping by, ologsinquito.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      You used a lot of beautiful illustrations in this article.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Fairy tales are full of surprises:) Thanks for stopping by!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Very interesting interpretation. I had never heard it put like that before.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Glad to hear that! You made me blush ...

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This was very interesting and made me see the fairy tale in an entirely new light. Wow! Well done indeed!

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      It's true, we don't need a wood to encounter the wolf ... Let's hope the message of the story will reach a lot of people, so they can deal with their 'wolves' even without hunters! Thanks for stopping by, VioletteRose!

    • VioletteRose profile image

      VioletteRose 3 years ago from Chicago

      I have never read this story. Even though times have changed the message to girls still remains the same in many parts of the world, not just in the woods and that's really sad and the change has to come. You have told this story really nicely.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Thanks for this lovely poem! I can only answer with a quote by C. S. Lewis: "Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again ..."

      Great to see you!

    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 3 years ago from United States

      Fascinating information. I love hearing the back stories behind our arts and entertainment.

      I was always told "red" meant you were available. Interesting take on the mean of everything. Very enjoyable hub. And I also learned about that 1926 song - for giggles, here are the full lyrics:

      "When we were young, but old enough for us to understand

      We all believed in fairies, and the folks in fairy land

      But the modern child is runnin’ wild

      He wants to know too much

      He’s never understood

      About Red Riding Hood

      How could Little Red Riding Hood

      Have been so very good

      And still keep the wolf from the door ?

      Job ? Father ? Mother ? No ! She had none

      So where in the world did the money come from ?

      I need to ask it :

      Who filled her basket ?

      The story books never tell

      They say that she found a wolf in Granny’s bed

      With a great big sun bonnet pulled over his head

      But sometimes I wonder what she found instead

      How could Little Red Riding Hood

      Have been so very very good

      And still kept the wolf from the door ?

      How could Red Riding Hood

      Have been so very good

      And still keep the wolf from the door ?

      Why was she dressed up in her bright flaming red

      Unless she expected to knock someone dead ?

      Why did she ramble ?

      She knew it was a gamble

      She was out in the woods for no good

      They say she was a maid most discrete

      And there’s no doubt about it, she must have been sweet

      But you know and I know that even sweet girls must eat

      How could Little Red Riding Hood

      Have been so very good

      And still keep the wolf from the door ?

      I ask you, how could Little Red Riding Hood

      Have been so very good

      And still keep the wolf from the door ?

      I’ve heard of many strange things in New York

      But who ever heard of a wolf that could talk ?

      I hate to doubt it

      But there’s something about it

      That sounds mighty funny to me.

      I don’t believe that any one of those fairy tales is true

      - You don’t ?

      - No, I don’t believe ‘em. D’you believe ‘em ?

      - I believe all fairy tales

      - Then I’d like to ask you :

      Who was the father of all the little children of the woman that

      lived in the shoe ?

      Jack the giant killer !

      Say, how could Little Red Riding Hood

      Have been so very good

      And still keep the wolf from the door ?"

      Excellent hub - voted up!

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Most of popular stories exist in dozens of versions. Thanks for stopping by:)

    • Esther  Strong profile image

      Esther Strong 3 years ago from UK

      You have enlightened me to variations on the story that I didn't know existed. Voted up/Interesting.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      You are too kind, DDE:)

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Who is the real victim in the story of Red Riding Hood love this story and yes you did this to perfection.

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      It can be pretty addictive too:) Thanks for your comment!

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      I love exploring the backgrounds of old stories. They teach me a lot about the world and about myself as well. You are very kind, phdast7:)

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Thanks, AudreyHowitt!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 3 years ago from USA

      It is interesting to analyze the meanings and morals behind fairy tales.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Tolovaj - This is fascinating and quite insightful. I have always been interested in what is behind myths, fables, and fairy tales -- what do they really mean, what were the authors trying to say? But I have never syudied them in depth like you have. All the period piece illustrations are just wonderful. Excellent Hub. :) Sharing.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Very cool--this take on an old fairy tale--and I agree, not for children!

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      You are so kind:) I am working on more right now!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      So very interesting and well presented; I am now looking forward to so many more.

      Eddy.

    • Tolovaj profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Hidden meanings are always part of a great story. And this one is one of the top ones:)

      Thanks for your visit, AliciaC!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is very interesting and thought provoking, Tolovaj. I never realized that there was so much meaning hidden in the story of Little Red Riding Hood!

    • Tolovaj profile image
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      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Thanks, CrisSp, for your comment!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Wow! This is a very intelligent and in-depth interpretation of "Red Riding Hood" leaving readers with some thoughts to ponder upon. Well presented with wonderful visuals.

      Great, enjoyable and intriguing hub.