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The Little Red-cap is a poem by Carol Ann Duffy published by Picador as a part of her 1999 collection of poetry’, ‘The World’s Wife”. The book consists of re-telling of fairytales, mythology, female figures in history and folk tales. In these re-telling Duffy gave voice to these female characters allowing them to express themselves and give its audience an experience about viewing the world through a female’s perspective. She has also allowed the characters to be important or dominant which is in contrast to the usual male dominance and patriarchal ideas. Duffy is well known for her feminist literary works and little red-cap is one of the many works where she allow us to view the world through a feminist lens.
Little red-cap is the re-telling of Brother Grimm’s “Little Red Riding Hood”. The very first thing that gives us the glimpse of the nature of the character is in the title itself. Little red-cap instead of LRRH, the protagonist instead of the usual hood is now wearing a cap. The hood which is usually associated with modesty, shyness or something that is normally wore by the women is replace by cap which is not so traditional, very unique, unisex and not so commonly wore by the women in those times show the that this Little red-cap is not someone who is like the usual girls of that time she is different. And also the little red-cap is narrating this poem herself in first person which is very important as this tells us that she had a voice of her own which is rare in a patriarchal society where female voices are often shut down and neglected. According to John Welford, “Red cap is the name given familiarly to Royal Military Police of the British Army. Anyone who knows this is therefore likely to expect that this young lady is a girl with an attitude who is not to be messed with.
“At childhood end’s” we see that the protagonist has now reached biological maturity. She is now entering the age of adulthood. Since she has now hit puberty it is natural for young girls to be wanting to know more about the world, explore, gain new experiences, find themselves, their passion and even explore love life, which is what we see the protagonist do. She is seen embarking on a new journey travelling from well civilized areas to areas which are less populated and at last she stops on the edge of the forest. A Young girl who has just entered puberty begun a journey all alone without any adult accompanying her to give us the idea about how enthusiastic she is about exploring and another quality that the protagonist seems to have is bravery and self-confidence. We don’t see anywhere in the poem little red-cap being scared even though the places where she is going is scary filled with dangers like the forest. It is possible that her going to the forest represents that the protagonist is a free spirit girl.
“It was there that I first clapped my eyes on the wolf” coming of age brings with it not just physical changes but also hormonal changes, she is filled with passion. We see the protagonist exploring love life where she is seen stalking a wolf who is twice her age which is courageous for someone her age.. The character of the little red cap is seen exploring a sexual fetish which many young girls have for older men and even for bad boys. More than exploring love she seems lustful noticing the wolf from head to toe. She is raging with sexual desire and attraction for the wolf. “He stood in the clearing, reading his verse out loud” another thing that tells about the character of little red-cap is that she is fond of poetry and knowledge she seems eager to learn wisdom and thinks wolf is the way to get her hands on poetry and books tell us the she is not naive rather she is smart and manipulative knowing how to get things done. “In the interval I made sure he spotted me, sweet sixteen, never been babe, waif, and brought me a drink” she is alluring the wolf putting forth all her attractive qualities and even the fact that she is a virgin. When we compare little red-cap to Little red riding hood we major differences in the character, in Brother Grimm’s version Little red riding hood is seen as a naïve, innocent girl however in this retelling Duffy has brought significant changes in the character like that of a girl who is indomitable. Further we see little red-cap approaching the wolf instead of the wolf approaching her she is seen breaking the stereotype about how male is always expected to make the first move. According to Molly Clark Hillard this poem displays the predations of poor girls in a market economy .This is evident in the poem she is seen selling herself ,listing her marketable attributes,” sweet sixteen”. “Never been babe”. Etc. Although we see her selling herself I quite not agree with Molly’s claim, we see that little red-cap makes her own decisions she is seen alluring the wolf to herself taking the first step .One cannot claim that little red-cap is a prey but rather she can be seen as a predator because we did see the wolf in original version had motives hidden from little red riding hood about how he planned on eating her grandmother and her and in this version little red cap hides her motive of gaining knowledge about poetry from the wolf. However one of the attributes she uses to describe herself to the wolf is “waif” which means a homeless or abandoned person especially a child this shows us that she is trying to represent herself as someone who has no one and is pitiful which tells that she is quite diplomatic as well.
Further in the fourth stanza we see her saying “The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods” she seems well aware what the wolf is going to do but she still goes with him fearlessly and curious of the unknown. She is embracing all the dangers just to get her hands on poetry and knowledge. We see that the protagonist path to learn poetry and knowledge from the wolf cost her to sacrifice her virginity “my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer” this line us about the sexual encounter she has with the wolf and also this encounter seems like an aggressive one because we see her stockings are ripped, scarps of red the color red might represent the blood and by “murder clues” tells us she didn’t just lost her virginity but rather it was murdered , and a red blazer tell us about the appearance of little red-cap the red blazer might represent her school uniform and it getting sort of ruined in her sexual encounter with wolf tell us that she has now left behind school girl life and has begun a journey towards being a woman.
”I lost both shoes” both shoes might be a symbol of her virginity and innocence that she loses in that encounter. Another way we can look at this is as if she is making a business deal negotiating her virginity and innocence for poetry and knowledge. We know that she is manipulative. ”but got there, wolf’s lair, better be aware” her sacrifice of her virginity and innocence opens the gate of wolf’s lair for her. She is successful in accomplishing her task of getting hands on wolf’s poetry and wisdom. “went out in search of a white dove” white dove here symbolizes a lot things like innocence, purity and some critics also consider white dove as a symbol of poetry produced by little red-cap who represents female poets which is then eaten by the wolf who represents the male poets. This tells us a little about relationship between little red-cap and the wolf, even though little red-cap has her life in control but we see that in this relation she isn’t treated as an equal and even her poetry is something that the wolf eats up telling us her work in the eyes of wolf who is portrayed as sophisticated male poet is nothing. Although she has control over things in her life yet she isn’t in control which is ironic.
“As soon as he slept, I crept to the back of the lair, where a whole wall is crimson, gold, aglow with books” it is interesting how she only access the lair only after the wolf sleeps this is another instance which tell us about the kind of relation between the protagonist and wolf which still seems as if the protagonist in spite of being so fierce and confident isn’t an equal to the wolf. At the back lair she finds the treasure she has been in search of and the words she uses to describe the books like “crimson” “gold” “beating” gives us an idea about what poetry meant to her. She didn’t think of poetry as writing or literature but rather as something that is a living thing.
“But then I was young- And it took ten years in the wood” the protagonist after having spent ten years will the wolf seem to have a realization about how mundane her life has become and eventually even though she might not have wanted it have entered the role that are assigned to the female gender of being a submissive wife. “That a greying wolf howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out” this indicates that the very thing that attracted little red-cap to the wolf is no longer attractive. This type of mundane lifestyle gives us a sense about how the sixteen year old little red-cap who was so enthusiastic and filled with curiosity is now sort of stuck with a greying wolf who sings the same songs throughout the year with no freedom as we have seen that wolf dominated the relationship between them. The protagonist’s identity is seen to be not growing like use to, even her poetry. Another way we can look at this is like after staying with the wolf and gaining all the knowledge, learning all things about poetry from wolf she could have needed to improve herself as a poet now she is bored of him she wants to add new experiences and explore things further which would not be possible by staying with wolf so we see a brand new version of little red-cap who is now 26 years old and is experienced.This also tells us the protagonist is now trying to find herself, her voice which is lost in the forest, her thoughts, her innocence, which have been devoured by the wolf. She is a representation of female poets and how throughout history we then see them being projected as incapable beings who aren’t apt to be poets and their works have been brushed off from people’s view or have been suppressed by male poets. This is the very state we see the protagonist to be in.
We see that she is again trying to have control over her own life and she is seen experimenting and then we see she kills the wolf breaking free from his bondages and also from the oppression of male poets/wolf that she has been subjected to for so many years. She also presents that the act of killing the wolf is a source of liberation for all female poets. “ one chop, scrotum to throat” the way she cuts the wolf is interesting if we see scrotum to the throat these two body parts of the wolf attracted her to the wolf, scrotum representing the sexual attraction and throat being wolf poetry. Further we little red-cap does what we see do in the original version filling his belly with stone however in this re-telling we see she saves herself without any men like the huntsman in the original version.
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