BY OCTOBER 26, 2014

Remember that time when you were a child, when all you looked forward to in life was the next fairytale your grandmother had in store for you? Or maybe an old one, your favourite one, the one your grandma narrated the best? With her expressions, the change in the tones, her hand gestures, changing as seasons changed in her stories, you knew and liked the comfort those stories brought to you. You knew that before your mommy tucked you safely in your bed, the good will have conquered evil. And then you grew up and those stories opened so many new possibilities for you. But it seldom was about sex was it? From now on it is going to be. The innocence of those fairytales has now been destroyed for you and how. And who else could have done it if not Sigmund Freud?

Little Red Riding Hood

An “innocent” little girl swallowed by the big bad wolf, who also eats her grandmother, is the story of Little Red Riding Hood. There are of course many versions of the story. In one of them, when the little girl reaches her grandma’s house she is growling with hunger. And so the wolf, who is dressed as the grandmother, serves the girl meat and blood of… the grandmother. This story, where cannibal instincts of our innocent girl are at display, is thankfully not the most popular version of the story. The one that we all know, the Grimm Brothers version, allows the grandmother and the girl to be reincarnated and the wolf gets punished for his deeds dutifully.

However, if we are looking at the fairytales we must look at the original ones and not the sanitised ones we are used to reading. Because, where’s the fun in that? With Charles Perrault, a French author and member of the Académie française, begins the history of Little Red Riding Hood, which is the tale’s best known title till date. While Perrault’s story begins the same way as most renditions the change happens when the little girl reaches her grandmother’s place and the wolf is lying in grandma’s bed. He asks the girl to join him in the bed and the girl undresses and get inside the covers. Astonished to see her grandma’s naked body she exclaims: “Grandmother, what big arms you have!” to which the wolf answered: “To better embrace you!” Then Little Red Riding Hood said: “Grandmother, what big legs you have!” and received the reply: “To be better able to run.” According to child psychologist and writer Bruno Bettleheim, who does not hold Perault’s story in high regard, the charm and the innocence of a fairytale gets destroyed in this version.

He says that “when the girl undresses and joins the wolf in bed and the wolf tells her that his strong arms are for embracing her better, nothing is left to the imagination. Since in response to such direct and obvious seduction Little Red Riding Hood makes no move to escape or fight back, either she is stupid or she wants to be seduced. In neither case is she a suitable figure to identify with. With these details Little Red Riding Hood is changed from a naïve, attractive young girl, who is induced to neglect Mother’s warnings and enjoy herself in what she consciously believes to be innocent ways, into nothing but a fallen woman.”

Now the question is that what drives the little girl to the verge of seduction? Here’s where Sigmund Freud butts in. He brings in his theory of the oedipal complex and bam, childhoods are destroyed.” “Little Red Cap” takes up some crucial problems the school-age girl has to solve if oedipal attachments linger on in the unconscious,” says Bettleheim, “which may drive her to expose herself dangerously to the possibility of seduction.”

The female figures in the story are done away with minimal significance. It is the men who matter, be it the bad wolf who is the seducer or the hunter who becomes the saviour, father figure. “It is as if Little Red Cap is trying to understand the contradictory nature of the male by experiencing all aspects of his personality: the selfish, asocial, violent, potentially destructive tendencies of the id (the wolf); the unselfish, social, thoughtful, and protective propensities of the ego (the hunter),” says Bettleheim. When distracted by the wolf who asks her to give up her school going child-like virtues like “walking singlemindedly” we see Little Red Riding Hood reverting to the pleasure-seeking oedipal child. Why otherwise does she give the address of her grandmother in such precise detail to the wolf? Doesn’t it sound odd? It is almost as if she wanted the wolf to devour her grandmother.

The wolf, if taken metaphorically, is also a symbol of something strong, asocial and selfish, a representative perhaps of the inner animal instincts? So maybe then one could say that the wolf did not immediately want to devour the girl? “He wants to get her into bed with him first: a sexual meeting of the two has to precede her being “eaten up,”” Bettleheim suggests. According to Djuna Barnes, “Children know something they can’t tell; they like Red Riding Hood and the wolf in bed!” Perhaps this is why the children find the story of Little Red Riding Hood attractive? Their unexplained sexual desires find agency in the narrative and as for adults, Bettleheim tells us that they are “vaguely reminded by it of their own childish fascination with sex.”

Now tell me if you do not want to kill Freud and his psychoanalysis theories. Now tell me you can look at the story of Little Red Riding Hood without the graphic sexual images clogging your mind. Now tell me you don’t want to kill Sigmund Freud and blast his sex obsessed genius brains.

Manjiri Indurkar is a writer-journalist and a wannabe poet from New Delhi. Her hobbies include reading, writing and eating (food and words, equally). Borderline neurotic, a bit of a hypochondriac and dwindling between an inferiority and a superiority complex, she is the co-founder and editor of AntiSerious.


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