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The Bloody Chamber by Carter: Inequality in Relationships and Concept of Chauvinism

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“Carter’s stories merely perpetuate presentations of helpless women rather than challenging them”. In the light of this comment, consider Carter’s presentation of women in at lease two of the stories. Stereotype fairy tales have reinforced the idea of “woman-needs-to-be-saved” with the dependence of women on men. Correspondingly, it has been conventional to associate women with pejorative connotations such as helplessness, incapability, submissiveness, and much more while men are correlated with words like strong, dominance, and wealth. With some stories more effective than others, Carter, as a second-wave feminist who devotes in eliminating sex stereotyping, aims to challenge this conventional idea. As a means to substantiate whether Carter does indeed demolish impotent women image, this essay will focus on two stories — The Snow Child and The Erl-King.

While aspects of stereotype fairy tales are still displayed in some of the stories, it is somewhat agreeable that Carter does dispel the concept of chauvinism. The idea that women are submissive emerges when considering stereotype fairy tales. Sadly, this concept is fortified in The Snow Child, as Carter created the snow child as a mere sex object who is not even worth being named or mentioned. In the story the only action the girl takes is to “scream”, indicating how unimportant this child seems to the Count and how vulnerable the child is, contrasting with the powerful manipulating image of the Count. The word scream has connotations of helplessness, fear, and victim-hood, which imply that the girl is powerless against the sexual violence of the Count and that there is nothing she can do to protect herself but just endure it. From been born to death, she was never treated as a human, but instead, an obedient object waiting to be consumed by the Count. Even after the girl’s death she just becomes “blood”, “feather”, and “rose”, again alluding that how the girl was insignificant. Conversely, this is the A Literature: The Bloody Chamber Maggie Zhang exact opposite for the heroine in The Erl-King, as the Erl-King’s domination of her arouses her. This was not true at the start of the story. As evident by the line “He came alive from the desire of woods,” the Erl-King is like the forest itself instead of a beast, alluding that the Erl-King himself owns the power to manipulate everything in the forest. Once anyone steps in, they are only a submissive toy possessed by him, as “the wood swallows you up.” Furthermore, the Erl-King’s eyes are described as “As green as apples. Green as dead sea fruit.” The color green has connotations of life, vitality, and hope, but in this case, it is associated with an exact opposite word — death. Carter has done this to show that just like how he manipulates the greenery in the woods, he also controls every death, which again shows men’s high authority over women. By contrast, the heroine is perhaps not yielding at all sexually. Like the quote “I should like to… Then I could…” suggests, the heroine desires to be consumed by the Erl-King. She wishes she could be swallowed and lodged inside him, showing that girls can also take the prepotent role over men, unlike how girls are portrayed to be innocent and naive in gender stereotypes. Nevertheless, this might also demonstrate that Carter is trying to challenge the concept of conventional fairy tales, which it is a felony for people to receive pleasure from forbidden joy.

Furthermore, with men holding manipulative power over women and women being treated as possessions, power and objectification are one of the common issues with stereotype fairy tales. Both the child and the Countess from The Snow Child are objectified, with the narrator in The Erl-King not being an exception at the start of the story. In The Snow Child, the countess is a belong of the Count, and it seems like her only value comes from her existence as being his countess. As evident from the line “I’ll buy you new gloves,” everything the countess possesses is brought and provided by the Count, including but not limited to the horse she rides on and the clothing she wears. The Count is very domineering and owns the power to dress and undress the Countess “bare as a bone” anytime he desires since he dominates every part of the Countess. The word bone has connotations of death, disability, and life, indicating that the Count holds the life of the Countes and that the Countess is entrapped in the Count’s world. The fact that the Countess shuts her mouth every time the Count refuses her means to free her of the child also reveals the low status of the Countess, not having the courage and right to deny what the man says. Carter has done this to show that women are subject to men, and only when through her sexuality could she demonstrate her values and being given power, just like her clothing provided by the Count. Furthermore, Carter creates the snow child as a mere sex object of the Count, being disposed and melting after the rape.

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The child is just an object created to fulfill the Count’s sexual desire, and that is all her “value”. After the Count consumes her, she is no longer usable and therefore melts and disappears. Carter has done this to suggest that the Count, shockingly, only desired the girl to possess and rape instead of to protect. The girl permanently expired and turned into drops of blood, never been seen or treated as an individual human. Nonetheless, the melting could also imply that as long as the character is a woman, no freedom exists and the only way to gain it is through death. This also contrasts with the image of stereotype fairy tales where the men kiss and save the protagonist, while in The Snow Child the girl melts away after the Count thrusts “his virile member into the dead girl”. This story, with its explicit portrayal of power and manipulation, emphasizes the inequality in relationships in stereotype fairy tales without challenging them.

On the other hand, the heroine in The Erl-King shatters the concept of objectification at the end of the story as she is no longer manipulated but instead plans to kill the Erl-King. The idea of objectification, however, was all across the story, starting with the wood representing a patriarchal society. Women are trapped and objectified into birds by the Erl-King, which he cage them and create into “a wall of trapped birds.” The word cage has connotations of manipulation, entrapment, and isolation, revealing that girls, with their youth and vitality, are imprisoned by the Erl-King. They are no longer free souls, but instead becomes a piece of a collection of the Erl-King after been taken their virginity. When the heroine asks all he does was to “laugh”, suggesting that girls, beautiful yet deadly, have lost their “value” after losing virginity, and that is all that matters to him. The heroine, just like all the other girls, once accepted her objectification and surrendered to him. This is shown by the quote “skin the rabbit”, where the Erl-King takes the position of a predator who holds all the power and the heroin being a prey(rabbit). However, she takes power after noticing this plan by strangling him. The last line “Mother, mother, you have murdered me!” proves this, as the word mother has connotations of responsibility, nurturance, and independence, illustrating that the heroine takes on her new role. Neither being a lover or sufferer of the Erl-King, she is now a mature, independent human who rules her fate. Thus, it is through this surprising reversal does Carter dispel objectification of women in conventional fairy tales.

Finally, another prominent dispute concerning these stories is the existence of female intrasexual competition, where women clash with each other to survive in the patriarchal society they live in. This is illustrated in The Snow Child, as the Countess is also a villain for the rape committed against the young girl. The countess hated the child and aims to get rid of the child for three times only because she was the “fairest” among all. The child has the beauty that the Countess envy so much that she treated the girl like a slave. All the things the Countess says to the girl, for instance, “fetch it for me,” are commanding with little respect. Moreover, when the Count raped the girl she did nothing but “watched him narrowly.” This use of language reveals that the Countess is perhaps apathetic towards her husband raping children, which the readers could image how many times this might have already happened. As a woman, the Countess is supposed to help the girl escape but instead, she plays the role of a bystander. She does not feel sympathy for other women who are victims of chauvinism, although she is a victim herself. Besides, the concept that women must compete with each other in a male-dominant society is also reflected in the scene where it is either the girl “stark naked” or the Countess “bare as a bone.” Carter has done this to show that not only men can be chauvinist and that during the patriarchal society people viewed beauty so heavily that they would end each others’ lives for being the “fairest.” Alternatively, it may be argued that even though in fact the Countess is a perpetrator, she is also a sufferer caged in this social system, just like all the other women who are forced to be enemies. Moreover, the line “It bites!” demonstrates that as long as the Countess lives, there will forever be a rose bite mark on her hand, which is the pain for being a villain of sexism. Conversely, female intrasexual competition is not true for The Erl-King, as the heroine sets not only herself but all the other victims of the Erl-King(sexism) free. The heroin killing him displays how she has subdued the patriarchal society, as the Erl-King himself symbolizes manipulation over women. Carter has done this to show that women own the power to emancipate themselves without little help from men and that a female empowered matriarchal society is established. Women are no longer imprisoned by men, no longer been deprived of their rights nor authority. Women do not need to hurt each for becoming the “fairest” to secure their identity to be subordinate to men, but instead corporate and save another. Besides, unlike stereotype fairy tales where the women are attacked by other female characters (for example stepmother) creating an intrasexual competition, in The Erl-King it is the heroine who liberates other victims of chauvinism.

In summation, with The Erl-King being more competent than The Snow Child in dilapidating fairy tale stereotypes due to its capability to undermine chauvinist fairy tale stereotypes, the effectiveness to dispel the concept of sexism varied in Carter’s series of stories. Even though The Snow Child was less effective, however, it still calls into question the conventional fairy tale settings in which female waits for her prince charming to save her. In general, Carter’s stories, though shocking and evoking lots of emotional responses, do focus massively on the female perspective, with a clear aim of trying to shattering negative gender stereotypes. In doing so, Carter allows the readers to reconsider about fairy tales they know and draws out rumination about the reality that sexism still exists in modern society with some women still suffering in the male-dominated system.

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The Bloody Chamber by Carter: Inequality in Relationships and Concept of Chauvinism. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
“The Bloody Chamber by Carter: Inequality in Relationships and Concept of Chauvinism.” Edubirdie, 01 Feb. 2023,
The Bloody Chamber by Carter: Inequality in Relationships and Concept of Chauvinism. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2023].
The Bloody Chamber by Carter: Inequality in Relationships and Concept of Chauvinism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Feb 01 [cited 2023 Sept 29]. Available from:
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