Written by Anne-Marie Langlois
for Prof. Marie-Thérèse Blanc
In Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves,” the author rewrites the traditional tale of the “Little Red Riding Hood” by reflecting her concerns on the often oppressive religious morals of classic fairy tales. Through the character of the wolf, Carter promotes the embrace of the fundamental conditions of human nature. The wolf’s role in the girl’s character development, his duplicitous behaviour, and Carter’s portrayal of nature’s prevalence over religion suggest the end of the religion-regulated tales that pushed children into obedience and women into dependence upon men.
In “The Company of Wolves,” the half-human wolf symbolizes the little girl’s freedom to give in to her animalistic desires and instincts. Although she seems innocent in the beginning of her quest, she is portrayed as bold and rebellious through her encounters with the wolf, as she asks when the wolf bets her that he can reach her grandmother’s cabin before her: “What would you like?” (36). The girl knows what she wants, a kiss, which suggests that the wolf will push her into embracing those desires considered shameful by other women. When they are later alone in the cabin, the author mentions that Red “bundled up her shawl and threw it in the blaze, which instantly consumed it; her small breasts gleamed” (38). The wolf acts as the instigator of the girl’s entry into womanhood, as the demise of the shawl symbolizes the destruction of her submission and inferiority, and suggests women’s empowerment and their ability to be their own versions of wolves. The wolf’s role in the girl’s character development also shows that humans might be both good and evil by the Church’s standards.
In Carter’s tale, the wolf is a metaphor of the dichotomy within human nature. She introduces the wolf as satanic through the use of words such as “carnivore,” “cunning,” and “ferocious” (32), but then changes the mood by relating a story about a man becoming a wolf. In doing so, she suggests that one can follow one’s instincts without losing one’s humanity. In fact, when the little girl meets her own “carnivore,” the werewolf is dressed as a hunter, and attempts to appear fully human regardless of his animal side, but he also has a “remarkable object in his pocket […] a compass” (36). The compass becomes a significant metaphor of his search for his true nature and his guide to succumbing to his inner desires. By showing the wolf’s attempts to seem more human, the author demonstrates her belief that men and women can be human and animal, good and bad by Church’s dogma, at the same time. Carter’s description of the wolf as carnivore “incarnate” (32) also suggests that one is born with these natural instincts and desires. The short story thus becomes much more than a fairy tale; it is a map into human behavior portrayed through the wolf, and an allegory of the liberation of humanity from religion.
Throughout the tale, the wolf acts as a symbol of Carter’s anti-Christian philosophy. Carter’s attempt to rewrite this classic tale by liberating it from its Christian principles is indeed evident in the text; for example, when she writes: “Now call on Christ and his mother and all the angels in heaven to protect you but it won’t do you any good” (37), she suggests that God cannot save the girl from the wolf and that one’s animal instincts cannot be overturned by religion. The author also makes a clear reference to the inferiority of religion when she reveals that after the grand-mother and the wolf commit the deed, the wolf “[picks] up the [grand-mother’s] Bible from the floor, [closes] it and [lays] it on the table” (39), showing that when the grand-mother is faced with temptation, she pushes aside her religious beliefs. Finally, the author specifies that the day the main characters succumb to their attraction, “is Christmas day, the werewolves’ birthday” (39). The allusion to Christianity suggests the triumph of human nature over religion, represented by the wolf’s character, and that Christmas is now a celebration of one’s embrace of one’s own instincts and one’s liberation from the oppression of religion.
In “The Company of Wolves”, Carter shows the importance of one’s acceptance of one’s true nature through the wolf’s role in the girl’s embrace of her own sexuality, his portrayal of the duality between man and animal, and his symbolic triumph of nature over religion. The story as a whole suggests the significance of many thinkers’(such as Freud’s) theories on the ruling of one’s unconscious instincts over one’s morals and reason, which have been subject to many debates over the last few centuries.
Carter, Angela. “The Company of Wolves.” Fairy Tales Then and Now. Ed. Marie-Thérèse Blanc. Montreal: Dawson College, 2011. 32-39.