“The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter is a criticism of moralistic and pious ideologies surrounding sexuality and its repression expressed through the liminality of Little Red Ridding Hood, who, throughout the story, shifts from being the innocent, naïve girl to becoming the woman society fears the most- a powerful, enchanting, she-devil, witch. At the story’s conclusion, Little Red breaks the shackles of her repression, accepting herself as an outcast, embracing the liminal quality of desire also reflected in her lover: the werewolf.
Carter describes the lives of the people in the story as harsh and uneventful, guided by superstition, ideologies and truths they abide to blindly creating an intense fear against anything different or defiant to their truth, heighted by the dense forest that surrounds them, in which werewolves and other creatures lurk. The people have created a barrier that “keep the wolves outside by living well” (Angela 226). The fear of the wolves is felt so strongly it is passed on to their children at an early age. “The grave eyed-children of the sparse villages always carry knives with them when they go out to tend the little flocks of goats” and “the blades are sharpened daily”. The blade, just like the truths they believe are constantly enforced, perpetuate the ideology that if being unwavering and repetitive, their blade/belief will protect them against evil. The idea of repetition, especially when under servitude, seem to be the main profile of those who fall victim to the wolf. Objectified women dutifully playing a “women’s role” who are caught by their own, dangerous, sexual desire while doing repetitive, expected tasks such as “a woman once bitten in her own kitchen as she was straining the macaroni” (Angela 222). Another tale is that of a woman whose first husband disappears on their wedding night, transforming into a werewolf because of his infidelity, proving to have an untamed sexual desire. The woman re marries, and, as expected, bears children and continues her life as a dutiful wife. Until one day, her first husband comes to the door, in the form of a man, claiming her. He stays in this form until he sees her children and becomes a beast again, maiming the child. The second husband kills the wolf as his wife cries and than beats her (Angela 223). He beats her because she still desired her first husband. However, there is also the case of the “mad old man who used to live by himself in a hut halfway up the mountain and sing to Jesus all day” (Angela 222). This event shows us that although we might be inclined to believe the wolf is gender-targeting, Carter shows us they are preying on those who have are living an almost ritualistic, submissive life deeply internalizing these repressing ideologies as a truth. Yes, most religious ideologies do oppress women directly, however, all genders can feel desire. The ideologies they chose to follow are forcing them to fear and shun a beast they have created who like them constantly fights their own desire — but fails.
Not only are the victim’s male and female, but also the aggressors. In the story it is mentioned “a witch from up the valley once turned an entire wedding party into wolves because the groom had settled on another girl” (Angela 223). These stories speak and highlight sexuality and desire, which is passionate and violent and not restricted to gender. The “witch” is another label used to vilify, shun and scapegoat acting on one’s desires by claiming they are simply not human, transforming the person into something else that no longer belongs.
The werewolf, who is forever half beast, half man, trapped in a painful limbo and “would love to be less beastly if only they knew how and never cease to mourn their own condition” (Angela 222). We know the state of the wolf is defined by desire and his ability to repress it. “Before he can become a wolf, the lycanthrope strips stark naked” (Angela 224), which could lead us to believe that the clothes play an important role in the transformation. However, in the next lines we understand that the physical manifestations as the wearing, stripping and burning of clothing is a false effort of separating what they believe to be two separate entities: wolf and man. “ If you burn his human clothing you condemn him to wolfishness for the rest of his life, so old wives hereabouts think it some protection to throw a hat or an apron at the werewolf, as if clothes made the man” (Angela 224) The werewolf, torn in an everlasting metamorphosis triggered by the inability to repress its desire is attributed beastly features, is shunned and humiliated, transformed in a monster, outcasted.
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Little Red Ridding Hood is different from everyone in the story because she was “innocent and naïve” in the sense that she was not taught to fear or repress her desire. Her mother and grandmother have sheltered her from the harsh way of life and collective fears. Carter describes her as “she stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. 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; she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing” (Angela 224). When she enters the woods, which is liminal space, and meets the werewolf she is not afraid, but intrigued and even flirts with him, gives him her basket with her knife, makes a cheeky bet to see who will get to her grandmas house first for a kiss and hopes she loses (Angela 227). We know from this interaction that she is recognizing and embracing her desire and succumbs her only form of protection going against all the ideologies and truths she was supposed to have. This is a large wave in the threshold of her transformation.
Meanwhile, at the grandmother’s house, the wolf pretends to be Little Red, entering the house. When the grandmother, a devout Christian, faces him and he eats her. The whole ordeal is very erotically descriptive, a nod towards her sexual desire but Carter emphasises the Christian repression of it when the wolf tells the grandmother:
You can hurl your Bible at him and your apron after, granny, you thought that was a sure prophylactic6 against these infernal vermin. . . now call on Christ and his mother and all the angels in heaven to protect you but it won’t do you any good. (226) What differentiates the fates of the grandmother and granddaughter is the repression of their desire.
Little Red finally arrives to the cabin, disappointed about not seeing the wolf, and not getting a kiss. When she walks in she was in danger. Since she was not tainted with Christian fear, she embraces her desire, undressing and tossing her clothes in the fire. “the wise child never flinched, even when he answered: ‘All the better to eat you with. The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat” (Angela 227). By accepting her desire and controlling it, she tamed the wolf. She is no longer in a liminal state, her transformation has ended and not only accepts her desire but controls it and uses it to her advantage. From being innocent and a victim she now has all the power. Marking her transition, she loses her virginity and marries the werewolf, burning both their clothes, making him unable to ever resist his desires, permanently a beast. “The flames danced like dead souls on Walpurgisnacht” (Angela 228), as if witches were welcoming her in her new state. He lays his head on her fearfully, with this the matrimony is completed, and she is in complete power, completely denying the gender ideology of a wife. Carter makes the connection of the birth of Jesus of the Virgin Mary to the “rebirth” of both our characters, emphasizing the importance of virginity and sexual repression by Cristian beliefs.
In conclusion, Angela Carter amazingly depicts how the heavy repression of desire, supported by a common ideology or truth as Cristian beliefs and religion is not only used to oppress mainly women, but society. Carter is undoubtedly on the side of the wolves and shows strong criticism on those who mark them as “beasts”, therefore justifying and never taking responsibility of all irrational actions. By `proposing the liminality between monsters and humans, Carter forces responsibility amongst one’s actions, introspection, and above all, expansion of ideas and hopefully, the downfall of repressive ideologies.