Little Red Riding Hood:  Cannibal Mothers
  <1> The story most commonly known today as "Little Red Riding Hood" (from this point on LRRH), has a far-reaching and controversial history. One of the most studied and interpreted fairy tales, this story has many variants, problematizing interpretation, namely, which version is considered by folklorists as the "authoritative" version of the tale. LRRH is a multi-voiced, multi-cultural tale that has been told and retold, suffering endless plot and character morphing and reinterpretation.  
  <2> I believe that any comprehensive psychoanalytic or interpretive study of this particular tale, and other tales with several variants, must address and include as many major variations and contexts surrounding the tale as possible, disparate as they are. When discussing LRRH it is also necessary to chart its journey from oral tale clearly connected with cannibalism, abjection and sexuality, to Perrault's French version whose Royal audience necessitated serious alteration of content, to the Grimm version which extends the Perrault alterations and significantly changes the moral point of the tale by changing the ending (twice).  
  <3> As many readers are unfamiliar with any oral variant of LRRH it seems prudent to reproduce one here (the version which, according to Paul Delarue, was the source material for the Perrault tale). The translation here is from Delarue via Jack Zipes from his Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood:
The Story of Grandmother
There was a woman who had made some bread. She said
to her daughter:
"Go carry this hot loaf and bottle of milk to your granny."
So the little girl departed. At the crossway she met bzou,
the werewolf, who said to her:
"Where are you going?"
"I'm taking this hot loaf and bottle of milk to my granny."
"What path are you taking." said the werewolf, "the path
of needles or the path of pins?"
"The path of needles," the little girl said.
"All right, then I'll take the path of pins."
The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles.
Meanwhile the werewolf arrived at the grandmother's house,
killed her, and put some of her meat in the cupboard and a bottle of her blood on the shelf. The little girl arrived and knocked at the door.
"Push the door," said the werewolf, "It's barred by a piece of wet straw."
"Good day, granny. I've brought you a hot loaf of bread and a bottle of milk."
"Put it in the cupboard, my child. Take some of the meat
which is inside and the bottle of wine on the shelf."
After she had eaten, there was a little cat which said:
"Phooey!... A slut is she who eats the flesh and drinks the
blood of her granny."
"Undress yourself, my child," the werewolf said, "And come
lie down beside me."
"Where should I put my apron?"
"Throw it into the fire, my child, you won't be needing it
any more."
And each time she asked where she should put all her other
Clothes, the bodice, the dress, the petticoat, the long stockings,
the wolf responded:
"Throw them into the fire, my child, you won't be needing
them anymore."
When she laid herself down in the bed, the little girl said:
"Oh granny, how hairy you are!"
"The better to keep myself warm, my child!"
"Oh granny, what big nails you have!"
"The better to scratch me with, my child!"
"Oh granny, what big shoulders you have!"
"The better to carry the firewood, my child!"
"Oh granny, what big ears you have!"
"The better to hear you with, my child!"
"Oh granny, what big nostrils you have!"
"The better to snuff my tobacco with, my child!"
"Oh granny, what a big mouth you have!"
"The better to eat you with, my child!"
"Oh granny, I have to go badly. Let me go outside."
"Do it in the bed, my child!"
"Oh no, granny, I want to go outside."
"All right, but make it quick."
The werewolf attached a woolen rope to her foot and let her
go outside.
When the little girl was outside, she tied the end of the rope
to a plum tree in the courtyard. The werewolf became impatient and said: "Are you making a load out there? Are you making a load?"
When he realized that nobody was answering him, he jumped out of bed and saw that the little girl had escaped. He followed her but arrived at her house just at the moment she entered (348).
  <4> The important elements of this particular variant include its relative purity (remaining, according to folklorist Zipes, closer to the traditionally told oral story, he reproduces this version originally from Paul Delarue's "Les contes merveilleux de perrault et la tradition populaire" Bulletin folklorique de I'lle-de-France, 1951), its clear cannibalistic element, and the sexual component. Jack Zipes also calls attention to the change in representation of the heroine who, in the oral tale, is crafty and able to save herself from destruction, to the representations in later versions in which she is eaten in the Perrault tale and saved via male agency in the Grimm tale (Zipes 1993, 348).  
  <5> This version of the tale presents a maternal-conflict context in which the child must successfully navigate her way through a dangerous situation and avoid death presented by the wolf/grandmother. The context of the oral variant includes several maternal stand-ins (three): the "woman" in the opening, who is the mother, but not referred to by that name, the grandmother, and the wolf dressed as grandmother. In this tale, the "good mother" is represented by the woman (mother) who sends the child with milk and bread. The "bad mother" is clearly the wolf who threatens to eat the child, or tricks her into (unknowingly) eating her grandmother. In this way, the mother is split as object into good and bad elements, much as Klein posits the infant splits its own image of the mother into good and bad: the good mother who gives the food and the bad mother who refuses and threatens to retaliate and consume the child.  
  <6> In the first written version of the oral tale, Perrault's, several major changes occur. The first and most obvious is the title which becomes "Little Red Riding Hood." Much has been made of the famous red cloak, but few address the fact that this detail was fabricated by Perrault himself and was not, apparently part of the oral source. The written tale is longer and more detailed. The "girl" in the oral tale becomes "the prettiest creature that ever was seen." Her mother is mentioned explicitly in Perrault's version, where only a "woman" existed in the oral tale. It begins:
Once upon a time there lived in a certain village a little country girl, the prettiest creature that ever was seen. Her mother was very fond of her, and her grandmother loved
her still more. This good woman made for her a little red riding-hood, which became the girl so well that everyone called her Little Red Riding Hood (Griffith 10).
 
  <7> The child is to bring custards and butter to the grandmother who is believed to be ill. On the way she meets the wolf, who wants to eat her right there, but fears the wood cutters near by. She answers, "not knowing that it was dangerous to stay and hear a wolf talk" (Griffith 10). Here the story returns to the oral format except that the paths of needles and pins are omitted. Instead, the wolf chooses the fastest path while the child dallies picking flowers. The wolf eats the grandmother and dons her clothing. When LRRH enters, she is told to leave her clothes and come to bed with the wolf. At this point there is much talk of hair, claws and the like, and then the story takes an entirely new twist. Missing in the written variant is the girl child's pressing need "to go," and she is not allowed to trick the wolf and escape. Instead, she is simply eaten by the "wicked" wolf.  
  <8> This version above is taken from Classics of Children's Literature, and different details change in other versions. The version reprinted in Zipes' "Trials and Tribulations..." includes the following changes: custard becomes biscuits, and the Zipes edition includes the moral Perrault adds to the tale, which follows:
Moral:
One sees here that young children
Especially young girls,
Pretty, well brought-up and gentle,
Should never listen to anyone who happens by,
And if this occurs, it is not so strange
When the wolf should eat them.
I say the wolf, for all wolves
Are not of the same kind.
There are some with winning ways,
Not loud nor bitter, nor angry,
Who are tame, good-natured and pleasant
And follow young ladies
Right into their homes, right into their alcoves.
But alas for those who do not know that of all the wolves
the docile ones are those who are the most dangerous
(Zipes 1993, 93).
The implication, by those readers and interpreters who choose one version of the tale to discuss, that the tales remain the same in content through the revisions they may suffer is put to the test here. The fact that several major changes are apparent which definitively change the content, characterization, action and plot is undeniable.
 
  <9> Some scholars, most notably Iona and Peter Opie, have failed to take into account the pre-Perrault variations on the tale, stating that "the tale of Little Red Ridinghood is remarkable both for its extraordinary popularity, and for the fact that no version of the story has been found prior to Perrault's manuscript of 1695" (119).  
  <10> The changes made in the Perrault version have been discussed by scholars like Alan Dundes, John Ellis and Jack Zipes, but little has been expanded upon about the curious deletion of the child's overt cannibalism of the grandmother, the most clear link in the tale to more deeply hidden infantile psychic impulses. Jack Zipes mentions the cannibalism in the oral tale, but attributes it simply to Little Red symbolically replacing her grandmother by eating her flesh and drinking her blood (Zipes 1993, 12). Alan Dundes has pointed out that "Perrault left out such 'crude' elements as the cannibalistic eating of the grandmother's flesh, the ritualistic striptease, and the ploy of going outside to defecate to escape the wolf's clutches" (21).  
  <11> It is clear that the audience for Perrault's tale (the French Royal Court) influenced some of his revisions. But I would argue about the deletion of cannibalism as falling under the rubric of "crude" or in bad taste. Cannibalism exists in many fairy and folk tales, as will be apparent during this investigation. So, I would argue, it is not the cannibalism per se, that causes the difficulty in this tale, but rather the context in which the cannibalism occurs.  
  <12> This is one of the few (if not the only) places in the most popular European tales (featuring female cannibalism) in which cannibalism is perpetrated by a child and by a "good" character. To foist cannibalistic impulses (even though effected through trickery, and without intent on the part of the child) onto a "pure" female character endangers the clearly set boundaries of expected and appropriate behavior, in the sense of Kristeva's "clean and proper body." The very mythic and "historical" nature of cannibalism and how it was perceived assigns it to a specific area: that of Otherness and evil.  
  <13> The cannibal figure or meatphor is that which threatens the system and attempts to "eat away" at whatever borders are constructed. The well-loved and pretty (desirable) Little Red should not count cannibalism among her charms; it would make her too dangerous (and empowered). Thus, it is possible to see that it is a dis-empowering of Little Red that occurs in the Perrault tale. (Jack Zipes also sees a dis-empowering of Red, but more clearly in terms of her as a victim of sexual assault). She is no longer clever enough to outsmart the beast, and is eaten. She is associated with neither cannibalistic power, nor intellectual power, nor common sense. She has, in fact, become a cautionary tale.  
  <14> Perrault created a very different character for his readers in the "new" tale, and many would argue that she no longer stands for purity. Zipes argues that she becomes a kind of rape fantasy, in the sense that she "asks" to be "eaten," and is punished for her behavior. (Zipes 1993, 349). But if, in fact, Perrault wanted to make an example out of her, it still doesn't reason that he would eliminate the eating of the grandmother. Something else is at work there.  
  <15> In another move that complicates a clear or singular interpretation, noted by Dundes, it has been erroneously assumed that either the tale originated with Perrault and had no oral source, or there are no other cultural variants (21). Both assertions are proven false by Dundes who unearths many variations on the LRRH theme. The cannibalistic child also appears in the Northern Italian version of the tale in which the child consumes the grandmother who is presented in the guise of a mouth-watering array of traditional Italian dishes: tortellini, lasagne, and manfettini (Dundes 21). Aside from the Italian version, Dundes locates other versions of this type of tale found in Japan, Korea and China. In these versions, the cannibalistic child remains, but instead of eating the grandmother, portions of the siblings are consumed by the child.  
  <16> Interpretations of this tale (originating almost exclusively from the Perrault or Grimm version) run an astounding gamut. The mythic/ritual, is seen in Bettleheim's Uses of Enchantment, which finds such things as: "night devouring the day, of the moon eclipsing the sun, of winter replacing the warm seasons, of the god swallowing the sacrificial victims, and so on" (13). Other interpretations range from a focus on the idea that it is a simple cautionary tale, to a plethora of psychoanalytically based interpretations which generally radiate from a sexual / initiation source, but for the most part exclude the object relations/abjection reading I am attempting.
  <17> The "final" major reworking of the tale I will discuss is performed by the brothers Grimm in their Kinder-und Hausmarchen. Once again, in the re-telling of the tale there are some changes. These changes are not only of details (the Grimm version is a longer version with many added specifics), but also serious alterations in the plot. The tale opens:
Once upon a time there was a sweet little maiden. Whoever laid eyes upon her could not help but love her. But it was her grand-mother who loved her most. She could never give the child enough.One time she made her a present, a small, red velvet cap, and since it was so becoming and the maiden insisted on always wearing it, she was called Little Red Cap.
(Complete fts,Zipes,110)
Some seemingly insignificant changes have occurred already, notably, the shift from the mother to the grandmother as a primary character. In the oral version and in Perrault's version, it is the mother who is mentioned first. In a typical Grimm twist, the mother is absent in the first paragraph and doesn't appear until the second paragraph. From the start, it is a mother "substitute" who is discussed.
 
  <18> The mother then appears and asks Little Red to deliver (again a change) cake and wine to the ailing grandmother. Both cake and wine seem to be symbolic of the Christian communion/cannibalistic rite. This represents a curious shift from the oral variant in which the child brings bread and milk, which I would code as symbolic of the feminine/mother figure to the cake and wine, which may symbolize a patriarchal/religious context. This is followed by a list of warnings given to the child about not straying from the path, and being courteous when entering the cottage.  
  <19> Another curious twist is in the dialogue between the wolf and the girl. Even though illustrations clearly demonstrate that Little Red carries a basket with her into the forest, the wolf asks her what she carries under her apron, alluding to the food, but sexually suggestive. The wolf does not eat Little Red on the spot, not because he fears woodcutters as in the Perrault version, but because in a specifically greedy twist, he wants to devour both the grandmother and the child. The wolf suggests the girl look about her and enjoy the scenery and then makes a hasty exit for the grandmother's house. She complies and becomes distracted by picking flowers. The tale remains true to Perrault's telling, and then the wolf gobbles up the child when she approaches the bed.
  <20> Grimm's major change in the story is the addition of a male character who comes in, divines the problem, and rescues the two women from the wolf's belly. With a pair of scissors, the hunter cuts the belly open and out pop Red Ridinghood and Grandmother in a male-effected birth. The Grimms here illustrate a movement from a primarily female identified (oral) story to a tale ending with two insertions of male power: first in the rescue and then in the male birth. The hunter then kills the wolf by stuffing his open cavity with stones which causes him to fall down dead. The hunter gets the wolf pelt for his troubles and the women go home happy. Perrault's moral is summed up in the Grimm version as Red's last thought to herself " Never again will you stray from the path by yourself and go into the forest when your mother has forbidden it" (Zipes 1988, 113).  
<21> The Grimm version changes in interesting ways to include both mythic and religious references more explicitly than other versions. First, myth is evoked as rocks are placed in the wolf to replace the bodies that are reclaimed in the "birth" which has, as Bettleheim pointed out, a clear connection to the Cronos myth in which Cronos swallows his children to prevent his usurpation, and is tricked by a rock enclosed in a blanket which he eats. (Zipes 1993, 168). And second in the change from butter and custards to cake (or bread) and wine, closely connecting it to a kind of religious communion, which may have muted the cannibalistic overtones and moved them into a more acceptable realm (away from the terrifying idea of maternal incorporation).
  <22> In some Grimm versions of the tale there is an added section in which the women meet another wolf and are able to demonstrate what they have learned. The wolf waits on the roof to gain entrance to the cottage and is lured into falling in a cooking pot by the smell of sausage water that emanates from it.  
  <23> Adding to the interpretive difficulty is the fact that around the time of the Grimm publication of the tales, there was a developing concern that the fairy tale as a literature be constructed for the (moral) education of children. This idea emerged during the one hundred year span between the Perrault version and the Grimm conception of the same story. Thus we find the additions of religious and social morals and cautions. Although a reading can be (and has been) made of the Grimm version, and despite the creeping urge I may harbor to delve into the implications of a male-oriented birth scenario, the implications of the cooking of the second wolf, or what lies behind the implication that Little Red has something to eat under her dress, I firmly believe this does little to illuminate the true infantile aggressive and abject meanings inherent in the earlier versions of the tale.  
  <24> It is Geza Roheim's interpretation that served as the jumping off point for this study; Roheim reads the tales as representing "oral aggression on the part of the infant" (33). Roheim's appears to be the only critical interpretation that addresses the cannibalism present in the oral tale. Dundes elaborates on Roheim's thesis in a particularly instructive way:
Infants who breast-feed eventually learn that when their teeth are in place, they possess their first real weapon. Any mother or wet nurse can testify to the pain that such little teeth can inflict when a nursing baby becomes satiated or unhappy during nursing. Through the principle of lex talionis, a guilty act is punished by the same means as those employed in the commission of the original crime. Hence biting or eating the mother's breast would be punishable by the mother's (or father's) biting or eating the naughty infant (34).
  <25> Roheim points out that "hunger or otherwise unsatisfied cravings mobilize body destruction fantasies. The wolf is a condensation of the child's oral fantasies of destroying the mother's body and the talion punishment for these fantasies" (Roheim, 165). While this thesis pushes the analysis into the realm of object relations (Klein), it still does not fully complete what it begins, nor does it attempt to discuss the abject elements present in the tale as I do here.  
  <26> Only in Dundes and Roheim do we see the beginnings of a reading that includes infantile themes. Dundes states, "the tale of Little Red Riding Hood is full of infantile fantasy. I believe that the evidence of the infantile nature of LRRH has been available for centuries, but folklorists and literary scholars have chosen not to consider such evidence" (Dundes 43). It is perhaps the very elements that have been neglected and cast aside that offer the real keys into unlocking a new psychoanalytic reading of the tale. For example, the eating function remains in the tale variations, but changes to include more acceptable contexts. Instead of the child eating the grandmother, the girl is eaten by the wolf. The cannibalism is thus removed from a system in which it more clearly signifies an infantile psychological urge to one in which it simply represents a "natural" urge: that of the wolf's survival.

  <27> In its "oral" manifestation (here I mean spoken rather than written text) the story is steeped in infantile abjection and revolves around important issues for the infant: defining borders, testing independence, oral aggression, and the threat of retaliation by the stand-in mother in the figure of the wolf. The defecatory element (also "abject" -- in Kristevan terms) is another factor removed in later versions. The child's choice to "go" outside (appropriate behavior in growing children) is countered by the wolf's directive to soil the bed. The wolf then can be seen as clearly connected to the primitive urges, and the desire to remain locked in an abject state. The wolf also wants to eat the child, thus incorporating her into its body.
  <28> Eating is the overall theme and clear motif in the oral tale. And correct "eating" may very well be the "moral" of the story -- more specifically, the correct choice in advancing out of the infantile "paranoid-schizoid" and "depressive" positions (as described by Klein) and continuing a path of psychic development. Reading this as a narrative of the child's psychic journey shows the girl as first splitting, then introjecting, the "mother" and progressing to the point where she is able to refuse the (imagined/projected) yearnings of the mother to return to a state of unity.
  <29> The child comes offering the "appropriate" food choice (bread and milk) , taking over as provider of food rather than consumer. She is then tricked into an abject and regressive eating of the grandmother by the wolf (clearly symbolizing the imaginary mother) who seems to want to keep her in a more primitive stage in her development. Twice the wolf entreats the girl to "give in" to infantile occupations: eating of the (grand)mother, and defecating in the bed, and once tries to incorporate the child into itself. This interpretation is also associated with Kristeva's abjection , and the ejection of the abject, which occurs in the death of the wolf. Throughout, the girl's conscious choices represent appropriate developmental decisions and illustrate proper movement away from the "primitive" instincts.  
  <30> The wolf asking her to remove her clothing, while seen as a moment of seduction for some, also signifies a return to the infantile status. Naked as a babe she enters the primitive bed, is asked to defecate there and is threatened with incorporation by the maternal stand- in. The child's challenge then, is to realize the dangers inherent in such an endeavor and to refuse such a movement back into the primitive; refuse to confuse her borders and boundaries. When the "correct" choice is made by the girl, she escapes from the wolf.  
  <31> All of the wolf's motivations are a movement back to the primal state between mother and infant, representing the "perverse pleasure" and urge to be at one with the mother again-an urge that must be rejected in favor of an autonomous existence. The child is offered a meal of blood and meat from her relative, much in the same way a fetus and mother share nourishment in the maternal body. Her defecatory impulses are directed to the maternal bed as well, recalling the same fetal/mother connection. When the child refuses, the wolf has no choice but to attempt to physically incorporate the child into its body, playing out the retaliatory fear of the infant about the mother from whom it receives its earliest nourishment.  
  <32> Other evidence to support this object relations/abject interpretation comes from transgender position of the wolf (trans-species as well). The wolf is coded as male, yet presents itself as female to the child. Symbolically the wolf then is both genders, a conflation of male and female. This troubling of gender represents a blurring of boundaries which Creed identifies as representative of the abject (Creed 11). The young child beginning to grasp its position in relation to its mother and possible dangers inherent in their relationship does not differentiate father from mother; in fact, according to Klein, it sees the father as an extension of the mother. Thus the child sees only a female (grandmother) not a male wolf: she is unable to see through the disguise.  
  <33> Other evidence to support the object relations/abjection reading of this text also revolves around the understanding of the wolf as representative of a type of female monster (via Creed), specifically as representing the vagina dentata. The wolf may be "male" in the text, but an understanding of the deeper fear and fantasies surrounding its actions and desires requires that the reader see it as a manifestation of the female.  
  <34> In her chapter "Medusa's Head: the Vagina Dentata and Freudian Theory," Creed first explores the rich mythic history of the vagina dentata, and discusses its appearance in horror film. In these manifestations, the vagina represents (to men) a terrifying "black hole which threatens to swallow them up and cut them into pieces" (106). Seen by Creed as a manifestation of male castration fears and fears of female sexuality in film, in the case of the tales, the vagina dentata specifically represents fears of reincorporation connected with the mother. It is important to understand that as far back as Freud, the teeth and appearance of teeth (in dreams for example) have been theorized to represent female genitals: "the lower part of the body is frequently transposed to the upper; it is most likely that the mouth refers to the vagina and the rows of teeth which open and close to a phantasy about castrating vaginal teeth" (Creed 118). Thus the (male) wolf figure whose teeth are its most prominent feature can be connected with the female as it represents female genitalia.  
  <35> Creed discuss the symbolic appearance of the vagina dentata in such images as "close up shots of gaping jaws, sharp teeth and bloodied lips [which] play on the spectator's fears of bloody incorporation" (107).The wolf as character is most clearly identified with elongated (phallic) snout, hair, and rows of sharp teeth. This connects it with the fantasized image of the toothed vagina. The "gender" of the wolf as male/female can be analyzed in several ways. I see it most clearly as a representation of the fear of the woman as castrator/incorporator, which often leads to an image of woman as phallicized.  
  <36> When analyzed in this light the narrative is replete with images of abjection and can be read as a progression of development which describes the child's early fears and fantasies about its mother, and in which the child must navigate its way symbolically through object relations "positions."  


Little Red Riding Hood


Hansel and Gretel


Snow White

Conclusion