Representation of the Path of Innocence in “Little Red Cap” and ' Little Red Riding Hood': Analytical Essay

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“Little red cap,” and “The World’s Wife,” as a whole confronts the subordinate role of women in traditional tales. Within the collection we see a series of underdeveloped and discarded literary figures take an active role in their texts and often rebuttal the marginalisation which is thrust upon them by the original male leads of the original stories.

The title of the collection “the world’s wife,” is possessive and reminds the reader that even in the late 90s the world is still a man’s world and woman are often just living in it, this is a poignant jab at the underdeveloped female characters in traditional and colonial literature. However, This is just the beginning of a collection that is drenched in feminist politics, which unlocks a hidden perspective within the age old tales; Duffy commenting that she wrote a “world’s wife,” to “find a truth which hadn’t been amplified previously.” Duffy wrote the poems through the perspective of the heroine’s to convey a collective response to historical sexism however the poems themselves and the order of the whole collection is similar to Duffy’s own life. For example the first poem of the collection “Little Red-Cap,” tells a tale of a young woman leaving her childhood behind and meeting the figure of the “Wolf,” which is heavily based on her relationship with the poet Adrian Henri, whereas the ending poem “Demeter,” follows a woman becoming mother which is heavily influenced by Duffy’s feelings towards becoming a mother.

The poems within the collection also focus on intertextual imagery and themes of the original stories and events, the most prominent example of this is in Duffy’s “Little Red Cap,” where the narrator is seen “straying from the path,” the “path,” is the path of innocence or within the feminist critical context one could argue the narrator strays from the patriarchal norm as she takes an active role in leaving her childhood home in pursuit of the “Wolf,”. This is clearly reminiscent of the fairytale “little red riding hood,” written by Charles Perrault in 1697, the fable features a warning at the end “Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!” which served as a crude warning for young girls about men who are in pursuit of their innocence. Perault also gave the heroine her staple red cape, this served as a marker of her virginal purity; hence, suggesting that little red riding hood was a girl of good breading and naivety. The wolf, within this tale, was shown to be Red’s opposite, as he is a beastly, sexual deviant creature who seems to be put in place to corrupt Red riding hood, again accentuating that young girls should not talk to strangers.

The themes expressed in the original tales can be paralleled in Duffy’s “little red cap,” as the narrator reflects on the journey of leaving the path of innocence and pursuing the wolf. This sense of a “journey,” can be seen in the first stanza within which the narrator is physically walking out of her hometown, the imagery of the “journey,” shows that her actions are purposeful, this reiterates the feminist ideology that is so central to the collection as Duffy has changed Little Red-Cap into a girl who is actively choosing to start on this journey towards her first sexual encounter instead of being “lured” off the path as seen as the original tale. At the beginning of the stanza the narrator mentions that she is “At childhood’s end,” as the “houses petered out” suggesting that the narrator associates the very structure of the town with childhood innocence, moreover, this also implies that the narrator is simply walking out of childhood as if it was a neighborhood, this is reminiscent of the first stage of little red riding hood, as she leaves the protection of her mother's home and sets out on her endeavor.

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The Narrator then arrives at “the edge of the woods,” the “woods,” representing a wild and unstructured place, juxtaposing the domesticated language of the town, however, the narrator remains on “the edge,” creating a sense of liminality, as even though she has not fully entered the feral woods, she has still left the town behind. It is within this liminal state that she sees the “wolf,” the innocent fairytale language contrasts the animalistic and predatory imagery of the “Wolf,” suggesting that he is both older than her and more sexually experienced. The “wolf, is also within a “clearing,” “reading his verse aloud,” this suggests that he is hiding his predatory behaviour from little red cap as he is engaging in seemingly non-threatening, human-like activities. It also seems as though he is not fully in the woods just like Little red Cap, however, this is again a foil as even though he is within a “clearing,” he is still within the boundaries of the forest suggesting that he is still the predator. Despite this Little Red Cap is still drawn to the wolf, the fairytale language“What big ears he had! What big eyes he had! What Teeth!” echoes that of the original tale. However, Duffy’s version of Little Red Cap is attracted to the wolf instead of scared. The acknowledgement of the wolf’s “teeth!” shows that the narrator knows how dangerous the wolf is but instead she chooses to ignore it, this immediately showing that Duffy’s Little Red Cap is less naive and innocent than the Red-Caps before her; And instead of running away the from the wolf she pursues him, “sweet sixteen, never been,” suggests that Red-cap assumes an innocent persona to attract the wolf, so that he will pursue her almost as though she is prey. The line “The Wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods,” suggests that even though the wolf believes he is in control, Red-Cap has, in fact, orchestrated her own corruption as she is lead away from the “path.”

Despite this, the childlike imagery continues still, the erotic nature of the “ripping” of her clothes and snagging them “on twigs and branch,” is even still reminiscent of children’s play within the woods reminding the reader the even though Red-Cap has is no longer “pure,” or a child she is still immature. At the beginning of the fourth stanza the fast paces rhyming of “But got there, wolf’s lair, better beware.” is redolent of a child’s nursery rhyme showing that Red-Cap is treating the world like a game showing that she does not see him as a predator anymore. At the end of the night, she is immediately looking for more, looking for a “living bird- White dove,” a more pure relationship with someone who she identifies with, a white bird can also be seen in another Grimm tale “Hansel and Gretel,” where a pure white dove leads the starving children to the house of sweets, rescuing them from starvation. Also within a biblical context a white “bird,” usually depicted as a dove traditionally represents peace and security, this perhaps suggests that Little Red-Cap is already over the Wolf and is instead looking for a more meaningful, loving relationship, and also perhaps to return to the purity that she has before meeting the wolf. However, yet again the wolf takes this from her; “One bite,dead.” the violent imagery reminds that the wolf is still a predator despite what Red-Cap may believe, the consumptive imagery being reflective of the original tale where the wolfs “ate” Little red riding hood “Up.” It also suggests that she can no longer regain her chastity from her childhood as the wolf has effectively killed it, as he kills her in the original tale, and so therefore it is cannot be regained again; This could also suggest that Little Red-Cap sees her lose of virginity as a death also, this can be seen in a range of texts across history as traditionally women who have lost their virginity before marriage have in a sense lost their worth. However this violent imagery can also suggest that little red cap sees this encounter as the final death of her childhood as she cuts ties with the girl she was before, this can be shown in the next stanza:

There is a sense of rebirth in the remaining stanzas as we see a visible change in Little Red Cap, as she slowly distances herself from the Wolf. She seek out the knowledge that the wolf first attracted her to the wolf, the knowledge acting almost as something safe in the wild woods. The narrator describes the words as “warm, beating, frantic, winged.” this is reminiscent of the “white bird,” she previously sought out, almost as though she believes that poetry and knowledge is what will lead her out of the woods. Young Red Cap realises it is knowledge not an idealistic view of love that she needs. This goes against the traditional fairytales of that time as often a traditional male figure such as a prince, or in the case of little red cap: a huntsman, rescues the female from the predator. However, in Duffy’s version of the tale Red frees herself from the predator by acquiring knowledge and seeking it from a traditionally male dominated resource. The first line of the final stanza Red seems to carry out random acts of violence when searching for more knowledge. The abrupt nature of the short “I took an axe,” after the complex compound sentence, shows how quickly Red-Cap assumes the more violent masculine persona when searching for more knowledge. “One chop,” is reminiscent of one bite in the fifth stanza, as just like the wolf killed the “white dove,” her purity. Red-Cap kill him with the same ease. The erotic nature of “Scrotum to throat,” reflects the same sexually violent language of their first encounter, except this time Red-Cap is the predator, she mutilates the wolf exactly like he did to her. At the end of the poem she exits the forest, the line “Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.” She leaves the wild and unstructured forest and the dwelling place of the wolf. The possession of “the flowers,” as she is “singing,” suggests that even though she is returning to the domestic life she knew before she still possesses the “knowledge,” and experience that she learned from the wolf and the flowers. The flowers also may also represent a trophy, as the narrator feels as though she has had a victory over the wolf, unlike the original tale, as she has defeated him and extracted his knowledge from him.

This juxtaposes Little Red Riding Hood in the original tale as the girl is said to have no idea “that it was dangerous to stay and talk to a wolf,” indicating that she is not aware of the wolves intentions and is lead to her death . However her actions ends in her being eaten, she is consumed by the wolf’s sexual desire which ends with her being corrupted to the point where she is no longer useful to the patriarch so therefore she is ultimately destroyed.

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Representation of the Path of Innocence in “Little Red Cap” and ‘ Little Red Riding Hood’: Analytical Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Representation of the Path of Innocence in “Little Red Cap” and ‘ Little Red Riding Hood’: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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