The Dark Forest: Psychoanalysis in Little Red Riding Hood
Freud Lacan Fairy Tales Children’s Story Stories
Little Red Riding Hood is a folk tale which has been passed down orally for many, many years. This post will focus on the edition first recorded by Charles Perrault, in which a young girl is instructed by her mother to carry supplies through a dark forest for her ill grandmother. On her way, she encounters a wolf who ultimately fools and eats her. Unlike the retold Brothers Grimm version, which is perhaps closer to the recognised tale, the little girl is not rescued at the end of the story, but remains dead and dormant.
The story is oft read as a simple warning against straying from the path, a message to children about listening to their parents, or even a firm confirmation that evil does lurk, wolflike, in the trees. These traditional readings of the surface material, however, seem too simple, too readily accepted. They do not delve deep enough.
Archetypal characters in fairy tales
The fairy/folk tale universe is inhabited by character archetypes, seen here in the form of Little Red and The Wolf, who embody unconscious, ‘eternal’ psychic forces and processes.’ Accoring to Maria S. Kardaum, ‘Fairy tales are to be considered as raw archetypal material […] hardly influenced by the conscious mind at all, or only ex negativo, in a compensatory way.’
Little Red Riding Hood then, is the classic female figure, the ‘Angel in the House,’ unquestioning, willing and virginal. Innocent and touching in her naivety, she doesn’t hesitate to volunteer information to the very first wolf she encounters.
The Wolf, on the other hand, is the classic base male – representative of the id, he is predatory, driven by instinct and hungry with desire. Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf mirror one another – both masculine and feminine counter parts to the same character.
The dark forest of the mind – Red’s sexual awakening
If the forest is symbolic of Red’s unconscious mind, then it’s possible that The Wolf is a manifestation of her latent desires. Little Red, in her red cape, the colour of lust, desire and mestrual blood, strays from the safety of the path into the dark, dense trees which hide her secrets and harbour her deepest thoughts. The story can now be read as one of female sexual awakening.
“The uncanny is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old – established in the mind that has been estranged only by the process of repression,” Freud, ‘The Uncanny.’
Because the wolf is a manifestation of her own repressed and dormant feelings, Little Red recognises the animal when she reaches Grandma’s house, allowing herself to question his ‘big ears’ and ‘big legs,’ but reluctant to piece together the whole. The hungry wolf gobbles up the young girl, feasting on her innocence until they are at one with each other.
N.B. Angela Carter exlores the sexual awakening of young women in her short story, ‘The Company of Wolves,’ in which the Little Red Riding Hood character willingly beds the wolf – ‘she knew she was nobody’s meat.’ A fantastic read which I will post about in the new year.