The Company of Wolves - Sample Essay
In ‘The Company of Wolves’ the distinction made between man and wolf is based upon, ‘the wolf is the worst for he cannot listen to reason. ‘(p. 111) The forest the wolf inhabits represents an intermediary between the natural and unnatural worlds and it is ‘between the portals of the great pines’ (p. 111) that the danger lies. It is the apparent danger and inherent fears of the intermediate grey areas that allows Carter to use these realms as the centres for her subversive discourse.
The ‘wolf may be more than he seems,’ (p.111) for in his human form he also represents the peril that is the naked man (! ) The emphasis in this tale resting on the masculinity of the wolf. ‘The wolf is carnivore incarnate,'(p. 110) a phrase repeated three times in the tale, thus the predator/prey relationship between the man and woman is focused upon and subverted when it is the adolescent girl who encourages the sexual encounter with the wolf. By actively burning his clothes she ‘condemn [s] him to wolfishness’ (p. 113) a state, which to the girl seems preferable to ‘manishness. ‘
Alice and the girl in ‘The Company of Wolves’ both reside in the realms between childhood and adulthood, on the brink of sexual maturity; between the virgin-child and the ‘fallen woman’ of Perrault’s tale. Red Riding Hood ‘ripped’ (p. 118) off the wolf’s shirt and despite the fact that ‘the old bones under the bed set up a terrible clattering… she did not pay them any heed. ‘ (p. 118) In some aspect of the adaptation the girl has ‘outwolfed’ the wolf. ‘She will lay his fearful head on her lap,’ (p. 118) the ambiguity lying in where the fear dwells, is the wolf now afraid of her assertive sexuality?
An image strikingly different from her initial presentation, She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane. ‘ (p. 114) ‘Egg,’ ‘membrane,’ all serving to demonstrate the fragility and precarious stability of her situation, similar to Beauty’s glass bed in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon. ‘ In contrast wolf-Alice already inhabits ‘a world of sexual immediacy,'(p. 119) that the young girl has just entered, permitted by her wolf-like existence. The association between the animalistic and sensual working both when the wolf is masculine and feminine.
The onset of menstruation in Alice serves to bring her into the human realm through her awareness of time, ‘she discovered the very action of time by means of this returning cycle. ‘ (p. 123) Adolescence makes Alice no more or less of a sexual being than her animalistic associations have already allowed. Gamble notes that the virginity of the Beauty and Red Riding Hood figures, Constitute both her particular vulnerability and her peculiar defiance. It is what marks her out as the lycanthrope’s prey, as the shedding of her hymeneal blood is what he specifically desires.
She argues that the girl’s actual pursuit of the sexual threat is necessary in order for her to develop from her virginal state. Her declaration that she is ‘nobody’s meat’ (p. 118) demonstrating this ‘neither submissive nor aggressive’11 pursuit of maturation. The presentations of virginity and femininity represent a change whereby the women are no longer ‘gobbled up’ or passively taken by male sexuality, but meet on equal sexual terms. Carter’s representation refuses the Wholesome or pretty picture of female gender (nurturing, caring) and deal [s] plainly with erotic dominance as a source of pleasure for men and for women.
12 Warner argues that it is Beauty’s attraction to the beast before his metamorphosis that represents the most disturbing image of the story, the attraction of the feminine to the monstrosity of the other. The first connection between Beauty and Mr Lyon requires a transformation of her beliefs on the nature of the other, ‘with a flood of compassion, understood: all he is doing is kissing my hands. ‘(p. 47) Yet Carter does not present this alteration naively, ‘she saw, with an indescribable shock, he went on all fours. ‘(p. 47) Beauty’s metamorphosis is more gradual than the transformation of the Beast.
Through her vanity, Beauty also possesses an element of monstrosity. Carter’s fashioning of the tales raises the question about the nature of beastliness and the true location of monstrosity. The original sources represented a difficulty in ascertaining friend from enemy, the normal from the monstrous, traditionally established through demonising these figures. 13 Carter’s interpretations of monstrosity and demonisation, initially, ‘dared to look at women’s waywardness, and especially at their attraction to the beast in the very midst of their repulsion.
‘The presentation of an attraction to beastliness serves to deconstruct the marginalisation inherent in the original tales. The monstrosity of the wolf and the beast is replaced by that of grandmothers, fathers and the heroine herself. ‘And what, I wondered, might be the exact nature of his beastliness? ‘(p. 55) Yet the Beast himself shows no evidence of beastly behaviour. Her father ‘a feckless sprig of the Russian nobility,'(p. 52) whose ‘gaming… whoring… agonising repentances,'(p.52) killed Beauty’s mother is criticised more than the noble beast, who in his appeal to see Beauty naked wishes to see her true self beneath the artificiality of her clothing.
Carter uses her examination of the location of monstrosity to investigate identity and individuality in a genre associated with stereotypes. Carter makes sense of the disparity between this contradiction through her understanding of the ‘mercurial slipperiness of identity, as well as the need to secure meanings. ’15 Carter’s fairy tales represent struggles and inner conflict her characters need to overcome in order to secure their identity and enter a ‘true existence.
‘Brewer suggests that this exploration is most successful when depicting processes of maturation, emotional maturation through the Beauty characters, coupled with the physical and sexual maturation of the Red Riding Hood figures. Carter extends the sense of individuality of Beauty in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ through her use of the first person narrator, combining the narrative of the narrator with Her own prose, [which] was glitteringly, self mockingly hybrid, contrived and slangy at once, mandarin and vulgar, romantic and cynical. 17
In the same way as the narrative is hybridised, the tales are a combination of modernity and traditionalism, individuality and stereotypes, a modern view on the traditional discussions of identity. In ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ the concentration of mirrors, images and unexpected reflections create the basis for Beauty’s quest to reconcile her confused identity. When Beauty looks in the mirror she sees the true vision of beastliness in the story, I saw within it not my own face but that of my father, as if I had put on his when I arrived…
Now all I saw was myself, haggard from a sleepless night. (p. 60) Beauty takes on the identity of her father in the paying of his debt. Warner suggests that Carter was fascinated with female impersonation and disguise. Similarly to Beauty’s confusion of identity, the beast also disguises himself in a mask, But one with too much formal symmetry of feature to be entirely human: one profile of his mask is a mirror image of the other, to perfect, uncanny. (p. 53) The beast adopts his disguise to make himself socially acceptable, to dispel his otherness.
However, its perfection serves to isolate him more, he becomes ‘uncanny. ‘ His identity becomes too slippery, Beauty can no longer simply label him as ‘The Beast. ‘ The beast provides Beauty with the mirror image of herself in the form of the automaton, ‘She is a marvellous machine, the most delicately balanced system of cords and pulleys in the world. ‘(p. 60) A description one could easily apply to Beauty herself; the image of Beauty expected by her father and the patriarchal society, the element of control lying in the key in her side, ‘to perform the part of my father’s daughter.
‘(p. 65) Daughterhood becomes a role to be acted out. Otherness becomes acceptable to the father if it is conformist and obedient, as a robot. The moment of metamorphosis or the moment the disguise is removed represents the solidifying of identity and individuality. The metamorphosis of the Beasts changes their positions in society; the revealing of the wolf affects the identity of the girl, The granny bonnet, the wolf mask have offered a helpful disguise to some of the boldest spirits.
The revealing of the wolf manifests a choice of situations for the girl, assimilation with otherness and individuality, the grasping of her own sexuality, or her allegiance with the mass culture of those who inhabit the areas outside the forest. For Mr Lyon, metamorphosis allows him and Beauty to join the domestic suburban life of modern civilisation, in his transformation he chooses Red Riding Hood’s second option. In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ Beauty’s revelation of her nakedness and her transmutation represent her maturation into her sexual role and her acceptance of otherness.