Little Red Cap is a poem written by Carol Ann Duffy in 1999. The action in the poem revolves around a young girl who is also the speaker in this poem, she tells her story through a first person narrative perspective.
The personas are two characters a young girl and a wolf. Her story is about the transaction from being a little girl to being a woman, with lust and curiosity towards men, but the poem takes a sudden turn towards the end when she kills the wolf which is presented as an allegorical element and as a symbol for a man. In this poem it is easy to interpret that the man is fabricated into an imagery role as a wolf. Such as in the first stanza when she clapped eyes on the wolf. An explanation to this interpretation could be the association which is given already in the headline; “little red cap” and towards Grimm Brothers fairytale “little red riding hood”.
The tone of speech is through the young girl and it expresses independence and an adventures way of talking to the readers in an informal way. The action in the fairy tale is also about a young girl, but she gets lost and the wolf wants to eat her. In this poem the setting is quite different. It is almost like the young girl takes the role as the hunter; “she made it quite clear that he spotted her.”
The girl wants the wolf to see her even though she is innocent and hiding, showing her virginity as the same time as she is giving into the wolf; “sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and brought me a drink.” Later in the last stanza the girl takes the fairy tale hero role as the hunter, now she is the one killing the wolf and filling the wolf’s belly with stones. In fairy tales the hero is the one who saves the day. For the girl in this contest to engage the heroic part of the story is a brave and shows her transaction into being an independent woman.
Other similarities connected between the fairy tale and the poem is in the second stanza; “What big ears he had! What big eyes he had! What big teeth! This is a direct transcription line from the fairytale. A tool used to trigger the readers thinking and give an association to something familiar, it triggers the reader’s memory and also gives an association to the wolf and how it usually is presented as a predator.
The author also underlines this association by giving the wolf a figurative character description, as displayed in the second stanza; “in his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw, red wine staining his bearded jaw.” The wolf in this verse line is both given the acts and appearance of a human, but at the same time description of an animal appearance.
Even though the poem has a consistency of six verse lines in almost each stanza, it does not follow any rhythm nor has any other clear distinctions towards a structured poem such as a lyric poem with rime, rhythm and consistency throughout the poem. In almost every stanza there are no punctuation, no ending of the sentence, so the reader is forced to remember the last ending. Using this as a structure tool, the reader experiences a desire to follow the poem like a story being told.
The fact that this poem does not have any special poem structure or endings underlines my view of continuous learning through life. There is however some repetition and short phrases, but these also underline this point as well; “my first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.” Overall, the poem is more consistent with a free verse poem. There are several symbolic features in the poem like the white dove in the fourth stanza. It is quite a contrast too in the action of the scene, from being; “slid from between his heavy matted paws and went in search of a living bird-white dove”. From there on the dove is killed by the wolf in the next setting.
It seems that the two characters were having a nice time, the dove representing the good, pure and innocent. The dove is the denotation and the meaning behind it is the connotation witch in this case stands for her innocence and purity being taken from her, not being able to take it back when the wolf eats the dove for breakfast. Perhaps she is regretting her choice to join the wolf in the woods? I see it as her way of learning things the hard way, learning by doing, even if it means mistakes being made. The color red as in the heading “little red cap” also has a symbolic meaning which gives the reader a clue of the action still to emerge in the poem.
Red is often associated with passion, energy, danger, strength and determination. Throughout the poem there are several different encounters with this symbolic feature. One example is from the third stanza; “my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer”,”snagged on twig and branch, murder clues, I lost both shoes.” These two verse lines show the passion and energy between the two characters. Red is also an indicator of courage which occurs towards the end of the poem when she gets the courage to leave the wolf after ten years. This is significant to the interpretation since I see the poem as a moral story of growing up.
I personally relate to this twist in the story, the importance to take a choice, be brave and stand tall in every outcome. At the same time the girl in the poem shows a strong side of her when she decides to slay the wolf. The poem displays womanly strength and courage, that she is capable to make her own decisions. This aspect appears in the last stanza when she maims the “man” by taking an axe and cutting him up from scrotumn to throat. Taking away his manhood. And then she comes out of the woods; “Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.” As if nothing ever happened. This last verse line is also the only sentence written in the present tense, the rest of the poem is written in the past tense. Instead of being saved by someone else or never rescued at all, she comes out of the situation victorious.
The flowers and the singing represent a new start, a happy tone of voice, a new beginning. In the third stanza it is revealed that she knew that the wolf would lead her into the deep woods;” away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place lit by the eyes of owls.” This verse line pictures an unhappy, creepy, scary and dark place, especially for a young girl. Why would she join him into such a place? She left behind the safe surroundings of her home in her lust for adventure, experience.
Almost like today’s”bad guy syndrome”: some young girls are longing for something different, tired of being a “goody two shoe”, always doing what they are told, so they find guys that are the exact opposite. Advices given by an adult, do not mean anything, they have the need to figure out things for themselves, life experience, even though they might regret it in end. Why did I not listen? one might say. Based on this theory the theme of the poem is life experience in general, that life has its ups and downs. Many critics may interpret this poem from a biographical perspective, relates the poem back to the author Carol Ann Duffy and her life.
I, however look at the poem from another point of view. Seeing the poem through a female perspective and relate it back to self experiences and my female friends growing up. The road each person takes, mistakes being made, tasting of the “forbidden fruit”, falling down and getting up again emotionally, a moral attitude through life.