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Explore the ways in which Carter develops images of female sexuality and power in her stories.

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Explore the ways in which Carter develops images of female sexuality and power in her stories.

In her collection of stories, The Bloody Chamber, Carter develops images of female sexuality and power by subverting the original message and content of traditional fairy tales, while simultaneously reverting back to these key features. In this way, Carter is able to challenge the assignment of gender roles and the patriarchal system in which they are maintained.

Carter achieves this in four particular stories, ‘The Bloody chamber’, ‘The Snow Child’, ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ and ‘The Company of Wolves’. In these four stories, Carter explores the idea of power being asserted through one’s sexuality and the struggle of the female character in finding and asserting that power.

All of these stories contain a dominant male figure, who is able to dominate through his sexuality. He is able to do this because the woman of his sexual desire is always youthful, virginal and has an element of corruptibility.

In ‘The Snow Child’, the girl is a direct manifestation of the count’s sexual oedipal desires. This

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She can then define her role for herself and in turn create her own identity, outside of that which patriarchy has carved out for her. She does this by stripping herself of her clothes, which is a symbolic disrobing of social constraints. By becoming comfortable with her nakedness and sexuality she possesses the power to overcome the oppression of imposed gender roles. This is the same in ‘The Company of Wolves’, as both female protagonists are forced into fearful situations, but instead of ‘playing the victim’ they redefine their roles by stripping off what socialises them as women, and so take control of their situation.

Nakedness also has significant symbolic value in ‘The Snow Child’. The Countess’ clothes are a symbol of her power and status, which exists only through association with her marriage to the Count. Thus her identity is not her own as her role is to play her husband’s wife. When the snow child arrives, her sexuality has power over the Count making him disregard his wife’s attempts. In doing so, the Countess’ clothes are transferred onto the child, robbing the Countess of her identity.

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The marquis is able to dominate the adolescent girl as he exposes her to her sexual desires and even her vanity. He then increases her desires to be kissed and to be touched by prolonging their union ‘anticipation is the greater part of pleasure’, causing her to crave him.

In all of these four stories the male/female relationship is ultimately a power struggle. In this particular case, marquis possesses the girl and she in turn wants to possess part of him. This is why she is so interested in his past, his ex-wives and why he chose her to be his new bride. She is yet to feel secure about her own sexuality and his absolute dominance of her is still to be contested. ‘the imponderable weight of his desire was a force I might not withstand.’

Just as much as she yearns for their union, she is also disgusted by it. ‘I felt both a strange, impersonal arousal at the thought of love and at the same time a repugnance.’

In a Freudian study about the fairytale genre, ‘The Uses of Enchantment’, the author, Bruno Bettelheim, suggests that ‘after she has resolved her oedipal ties to her father –does sex, which before was repugnant, become beautiful.’

Olabisi Showunmi        Page         04/02/2003

[1] Patricia Duncker, ‘Re-Imagining the Fairy Tales: Angela Carter’s Bloody Chambers’, Literature and History, 10:1, 1984

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