“The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter Essay
“With close reference to one of the tales, discuss how Carter draws upon and subverts conventions of the fairy tale”Usually fairy tales are told to children to teach them a moral lesson in life or as is mostly the case, help them tell the difference between good and bad.
Angela Carter is someone known to take elements from fairy tales and turn them into well written, exciting, compelling complex dramas of a Gothic nature filled with sexual innuendo, a combination of different narrations (mainly first and third), strong heroic female characters and the evil villain – the male. “The Bloody Chamber” is a modern interpretation of the “Blue Beard” (character below) fairy tale which uses this very formula to create an exciting and dramatic story.In a nutshell both stories are about young women (in their late teens, on the verge of turning into womanhood) who marry a wealthy man and leave a life of modesty behind them. The young women are given a set of keys which allows them to explore every room in the house – except one (the ‘bloody’ chamber) , if that room is entered, dire consequences shall follow (death). Naturally the young women ignore the advice of their intimidating, menacing and much older husbands to enter the room and fall into the trap set up for them and like every disobedient child, they MUST be punished.
With reading the “Bloody Chamber” one can quite quickly understand that it isn’t a fairy tale at all because of the narrative perspective used and they way the story pans out.First comes the classic Angela Carter theme of sexual domination and submission. The villain is to blame for all this – the male. The male who fits Angela Carter’s classic formula perfectly.
The tall, dark and dominant male is someone who doesn’t usually speak much and has a sinister side to him and his actions are motivated by dishonourable intentions. Like the Bluebeard story, which this in a modern interpretation of, his household reflects his personality : big, rich, dark and filled with secrets, “…that castle..
place…with the melancholy of a medmadian who perches on her rock and waits, endlessly.
That sad…place” that place! That place which had so many room, “which were all so fine that they seemed to surpass one another .
.the best and richest furniture”.Then there is the female or ‘damsel’ as is the case in fairy tales. The damsel is played by a 17 year old girl on the verge of womanhood who is a pretty naï¿½ve person, taken in by the French Marquis’ (her husband) personality, his wealth and the world he can offer her , “I was seventeen, and knew nothing of the world” she says – an indication of her gullibility .
This wouldn’t be a Carter story if Carter used the normal conventions of a fairy tale by using a naï¿½ve girl to play as the helpless female. So in Carter’s story, the damsel is more clever and manipulative than we are initially led to believe. She quickly catches on that she is playing with fire and her husband is not a man to be pushed emotionally. Curiosity drives her boredom to explore the forbidden room in an attempt to find out more about her husband’s secrets, maybe she thinks ,”If I had found some traces of his heart in a file marked: Personal, perhaps, here, in his subterranean privacy, I might find a little of his soul…
” The overwhelming curiosity is too much for her and like a child in a sweet shop she has to find out, Carter also uses imagery to intensify our emotions and plays on the words blood as in the Bluebeard tale where the female also finds herself in the same predicament when she also enters the ‘bloody’ chamber and finds the bodies of the ex wives her husband, “….all covered over with clotted blood.
…”The next part to Carter’s story is that the sexual themes are now set.
Carter sprinkles her gothic tale with subtle yet effective imagery to intensify our emotions to leave us with a sense of curiosity. Carter remains true to her formula of domination and submission and most of the imagery she uses is related to the situations that arise in the book. Red or blood is often used to symbolise the illusion of death or as is the case of Carter the young girl’s virginity ,which she loses and therefore her innocence which she regrets thinking to her self , “I had bled..
. I had been infinitely dishevelled by the loss of my virginity”.Yet The blood imagery has a significant role to play in this particular chapter as the Marquis refers to the hanging of the blood stained sheets (after claiming a wife’s virginity) triumphantly outside to flaunt his successful corruption.The Bluebeard from the original is described as “frightfully ugly that all the women ran away from him” – another contrast from the Carter, as her Marquis is portrayed as a man who exudes class and charisma and can have a plethora of women should he fancy. Music plays an important part in Carter’s story as it symbolises innocence in our narrator (the young woman).
Our narrator finds comfort and salvation at the hands of her piano which she describes as her ‘magic tool’ where here “…own particular magic might help me , now, that I could create a pentacle out of music that would keep me from harm”. The music in Carter’s story has an almost religious significance as the young girl feels as if she can cleanser her feelings of guilt and sinfulness from God.The “Bluebeard” tale has a theme of religious belief running through it, more so than the “Bloody chamber”.
In the “Bluebeard” tale, the young girl prays to God that she can be spared from her husband from killing her. “God be praised” says she after hearing that “two horsemen [are] coming”. The horsemen, (her brothers) – “one a dragoon, the other a musqueteer” – come and drive a sword through her villainous husband who has the blue beard. The blue beard theme is also present in Carter’s story, where the Marquis also has a blue beard.
The blue beard symbolises the coldness of the two men, if someone is told ‘he has a heart as cold as ice’ the colour blue immediately springs to mind and Carter carries on this theme to portray this coldness.Another major difference from the original Bluebeard tale in the Carter take is that the woman has a stronger role than the man. This is true in all of Carter’s stories who does away with the normal conventions that all females are weak and need males to save them. In Carter’s story the saviour of the young girl is in fact her mother who comes exactly on time to save her daughter from getting beheaded. The mother right from the beginning is revealed to be a woman of immense courage who has “shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand before she was older than I” the narrator tells us. This is a sharp contrast from the “Bluebeard” tale where “.
..immediately enter’d two horsemen, who drawing their swords ran directly to the blue beard. He knew them to be his wife’s brothers.
..they ran their swords through him and left him dead”People can look at fairy tales in different ways. They can have their own opinions on symbolism and metaphors. But a person who takes them literally does not really understand the meaning of a fairy tale at all.
Questions like ‘why did he give her the key?’ arise which defeat the purpose of what the story was intended for. This story (the Bloody Chamber) is intended for a more mature audience and not children but if a child was to read it, he or she would get the message rather differently even if he/she didn’t quite understand the metaphorical language or the use of symbolism and this is ‘not to betray your husband because the consequences shall be dire’ – the theme that is common in both tales.