The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories | Study Guide

Angela Carter

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The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories | Symbols

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Cages

Literal and metaphorical cages are found everywhere in Angela Carter's stories, and they represent the confining nature of the patriarchy for women. The narrator of "The Bloody Chamber" is taken to a remote castle surrounded by the sea at high tide. And although the Marquis gives her all the keys, these keys do not symbolize freedom but rather the opposite. They are part of his wicked game, meant to entrap and condemn her. The narrator of "The Tiger's Bride" is similarly taken off to a remote palazzo and enclosed in a cell. The price of her freedom is exposing her naked body to Milord, the tiger-man. Lady Panteleone in "Puss-in-Boots" is locked away in her husband's house and is used only as an object for his pleasure.

While "The Erl-King" contains literal birdcages that house the spirits of seduced women in the form of birds, the woods in the same story also act as a type of cage. The narrator describes the "vertical bars of light" in the forest and compares the enclosing of the woods to "a system of Chinese boxes opening one into another." She acknowledges "it is easy to lose yourself in these woods." Here, Angela Carter points to how pervasive the patriarchy is and how difficult it is for women to assert themselves within it. In "The Lady of the House of Love," the vampire Countess is confined to her house, but she also keeps a pet lark in a cage. She strums the bars of the cage because "she likes to hear it announce how it cannot escape." This gives her satisfaction because she does not feel so alone in her fate. It is significant that when she is freed from her unnatural undead state, the vampire Countess allows the lark to fly free as well.

The Color Red

The color red both symbolizes the too-often violent nature of life for women in patriarchal societies and celebrates the menstrual blood that marks a girl's coming into womanhood. In both "The Werewolf" and "The Company of Wolves," predators have red eyes that warn the girls of imminent attack. The narrator of "The Company of Wolves" wears a red shawl that "has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow."

Red marks, particularly, symbolize the pain of being a woman subject to male power. In "The Bloody Chamber," the narrator sees her red mark as a badge of shame for being tricked by the Marquis. When the unnamed narrator of "The Tiger's Bride" is given over to Milord like an object, her feckless, or worthless, father wants a symbolic rose to show she forgives him. The rose she hands over is marked with her red blood.

In "The Erl-King," the birds the narrator imagines freeing from her lover each bear "the crimson imprint of his love-bite on their throats" when they become women again. In "The Snow Child," the red mark left behind by the girl after she melts suggests violence and ruptured virginity. The red mark of blood on the vampire Countess's finger in "The Lady of the House of Love" welcomes her to her brief experience of humanity.

Food

Angela Carter often describes women as food to be devoured by men, which is symbolic of the relative power men hold over women. The narrator of "The Bloody Chamber" is stripped "bare as a lamb chop" by the Marquis, who peels off her clothes as if taking the "leaves off an artichoke." In "The Courtship of Mr Lyon," Beauty feels like a sacrificial lamb presented to the beastly Mr Lyon to be eaten. When Carter inverts the gender roles in "The Lady of the House of Love," the vampire Countess has men "led by the hand to [her] larder." In her realm she is the devourer and the one who holds all the power. But Carter also shows that women can fight for the scraps of power left to them by men. In "The Werewolf," the werewolf grandmother attempts to devour her own granddaughter. Finally, Carter shows how women can confidently own their own sexuality to tip the scales in their favor, or at least live harmoniously with men. The unnamed heroine of "The Company of Wolves" laughs when the hunter declares he will eat her with his big teeth, because "she knew she was nobody's meat."

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