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Basic intro to the storyline that everyone knows, identify the two versions that you will be focusing on. As a child one believes that the folktales read to them are just folktales, but in reality, they signify so much more. One can compare the Perrault and Grimm versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” from a Marxist perspective by analyzing the implementations of class struggle, hegemony, and ideology relating to their differing time periods.
Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood” was published in the late seventeenth century, with the intended audience of the upper-class French aristocracy (bourgeoisie). Given that Perrault, himself was a part of the French aristocratic society, he would have been less likely to challenge the then prominent French aristocracy’s dominance and instead promote it. During the late seventeenth century with the rise of French salon culture, the ideologies of the Enlightenment were on the rise with the looming threat of new political, economic, and social ideas. These new ideas related to the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and peasant classes and the end of the bourgeois ideology and hegemony. The class struggle between the bourgeoisie and peasants was beginning to come into focus, with the peasants wanting the ability to advance in society, while the bourgeoisie wanted to maintain their hegemonic control by convincing peasants this structure was best for all. Perrault’s version of “Little Red Riding Hood” accentuates his advocation for the importance of hegemony by influencing bourgeois ideology with the suppression of class conflict.
Little Red Riding Hood represents the protagonist in the form of the bourgeoise, whereas the wolf is antagonistic peasant who wants the lifestyle he cannot have. Little Red Riding Hood’s name is derived from her red riding hood. The color red is known in many western cultures to signify a person’s wealth and status. Therefore, the bold color a red piece of clothing would have only belonged to a member of the bourgeoisie due to the unlikelihood of a peasant being able to afford such finery. Peasants dressed in a uniform fashion with dull colored clothing that was made to last for numerous years on end. After the peasant Wolf encounters Little Red Riding Hood in the woods and persuades her to take the long way to her grandmother’s house, where she becomes distracted, the wolf arrives at the grandmother’s. The Wolf notably “ate her up in a moment, for it had been more than three days since he had eaten”. The bourgeoisie lived in a life of excess, where peasants lived a life of uncertainty resulting in ongoing tension between the two classes. The Wolf’s eating of the grandmother and donning of her clothes represent his craving of the materialistic aspects associated with bourgeoisie life. When he later requests Little Red Riding Hood to “take off her clothes and get into bed” with him and she obliges and is then eaten, representing the loss of bourgeoise’s dominance. Perrault is implying that a peasant is successful in obtaining what the bourgeoisie have then their economic, political, and social control would be interrupted. By the nineteenth century, the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm would publish their collections of traditional folklore including “Little Red Cap,” which was their rendition of Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” They transcribed and published the popular tales whose tradition was still alive in the German Confederation states at their time,” wanting to “preserve them from oblivion before their decline became irremediable”.
The story of “Little Red Cap” would undergo several edits and publications before the final version was published in 1857. This final publication came after the arrival of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engel’s Communist Manifesto in 1848. It was published around the time Revolutions began to appear in various parts of Europe where working class people wanted to replace Bourgeoise dominant societies. The Grimm brothers’ fairytales appealed to the growing new market of middle-class families from the industrialization and urbanization of German Confederation states. These middle-class families who wanted to teach their children traditional stories that often contained a lesson. The Grimm brothers themselves originally haled from a middle-class or bourgeoisie family and in “Little Red Cap” promote the need for people to remain confined to their social status. Similarly, to Perrault’s version, there is the protagonist and antagonist relationship represented by class struggle, however there is deeper relationship between ideology and hegemony between the bourgeoisie and peasant.
The protagonist Little Red Cap and her family are the property-owning middle class, while the Wolf is the peasant. The Red of their cap represents her desire not to conform to her middle-class status and instead be ambitious in moving up the social ladder from middle class lifestyle. This desire will later be exploited by the peasant wolf who has similar ideas. Little Red Cap is told by her mother not to “leave the path” when she ventures to her sick grandmothers with “a piece of cake and bottle of wine”. On her way to the grandmothers Little Red Cap encounters the Wolf and is tricked into straying from the path. While Little Red Cap is distracted by picking flowers for her grandmother, she strays “further and further into the woods” as she comes across “even more beautiful” flowers (Grimm). Consequentially without realizing she has allowed the Wolf more time to eat the grandmother.
Little Red Cap’s picking of flowers is her attempting to look outside of her Petite bourgeoisie middle class to find new opportunities to advance her social status to that of the haute bourgeoisie. The Wolf could be a representation of the peasant’s belief in the empty promises that capitalism provides, the empty promise of being able to move up in society that in reality does not happen. The path symbolizes her mistake in not conforming to where she belongs, that she was led astray. If one tries to move up in social class, they risk contributing to social disorder, which can lead to disaster or in this instance the killing of the grandmother by the wolf. Once again, the after the wolf eats the grandmother, “her took her clothes, put them on, and put her cap on his head” and “got into her bed” and waited for Little Red Cap to appear to eat her as well. The huntsman then “was just passing by” and notices the wolf he had been hunting and opens him stomach with a pair of scissors. He frees both the grandmother and Little Red Cap. They then filled the Wolf’s body with “large heavy stones” so that “when he woke up and tried to run away…he fell down dead”. The peasant Wolf ends up murdered for trying to gain the benefits available to the middle class. When he kills the Wolf, he is feeding into the cycle of complacency. The huntsman has internalized the sense of hegemony because he does not challenge his low social status like the Wolf, which fuels the continuation of class struggle. Little Red Cap and the huntsman are aware by the end of the tale that the place they are is the one they will remain in; the haute bourgeois dominant society is the best option.
While there are many great differences between the Perrault and Grimm versions of “Little Red Riding Hood,” they can both be analyzed in through Marxist theory by identifying the issues of class struggle, hegemony, and ideology. All three of these issues are intertwined in both versions and serve to promote the socio-economic-political beliefs of the bourgeoisie.
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