Little Red Riding Hood is a fairy tale that has changed much in its history. Being more commonly known as a fairy tale, it may be considered a children’s story, however, it contains in it, themes of sex, violence and cannibalism. It is a multi-voiced, multi-cultural tale that has been told and retold, suffering endless plots, character transformation and reinterpretation.
The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud created many theories on how people are and why they do the things they do. Freud’s three key zones of mental process are the id, the ego and the superego. The id is one of the most important of the three when talking about Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault. It represents part of one’s unconscious mind and acts on primitive instinctual urges. The composer is trying to demonstrate that impulsiveness and surrendering to one’s basic desires is not always the best way to live life. It illustrates evidence towards underlying sexual motivations and tensions. Thus, a constant interplay between parts of the human psyche is perceived.
The title of the fairytale implies a female subjectivity which is evident in most tales of this genre. Little Red Riding Hood suggests to the responder the social position of the girl through symbolic red clothing, and her name. The Grimm’s version of this tale – The Little Red Cap, places its emphasis on the importance of temperament, size and sexuality. This can be clearly seen in the line “Once upon a time there was a sweet little maiden.” A level of superficiality is also suggested with the line “Whoever laid eyes upon her could not help but love her,” implying that love is strongly influenced by appearance.
The red cape she openly wears is symbolic of her emerging sexuality, being on the verge of puberty. Red, being a colour symbolising violent emotions can also be on of many sexual ones. However, it also demonstrates the dangers during this period. Some versions of Little Red Riding Hood show the cape to be a gift from her grandmother, a symbol of childhood innocence. This cape is representative of the barrier between the world and her femininity. It can also be viewed as a premature transfer of sexual attractiveness, further emphasized by her grandmother’s sickness. Thus it is evident that for her sexual maturation, this cape must be destroyed, which is shown in the line, “throw them into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing them anymore.”
The red colour of Little Red Riding Hood’s hood symbolises the unconscious part of her psyche which contains her sexual desires. The act of the wolf devouring her grandmother may represent the oedipal desires of the girl and her unconscious wish to be “rid of her mother and have her father to herself.” (Bettelheim) Her mother warns her not to leave the path; which may be looked upon as the one of sexual virtue, as she might fall, breaking the wine bottle – this represents the mother’s apprehension for the loss of her daughter’s virginity.
In Little Red Riding Hood, the mother and grandmother are symbolic of the superego. They represent morality and social conscience. They raise Little Red Riding Hood by controlling her natural urges which are forthcoming from the id. The wolf signifies the psychic energy of the id. He lacks logic and principle, his actions unpredictable and solely for instant gratification. Little Red Riding Hood represents the ego which attempts to balance the two extremes. At the beginning of the tale, she is described as a “pretty little girl” who dresses as “fine ladies do”. She leaves the protection and seclusion of the superego which she has been kept under and goes into the woods to encounter the id.
There she further disobeys her mothers instructions and becomes “the poor child”. The essence of moral in this tale is that “pretty nicely brought-up young ladies turn foolish upon talking to strangers”. It is her own fault that she leans too far towards the irrational id represented in the wolf. Once trapped by desire, she is lead further from the path; “each time she plucked one, she believed she saw another one even prettier and ran after it further and further into the woods.” For her to run ‘further into the woods” represents her getting closer to her desires, and as Freud implies, closer to her death.
There is a belief in society that establishes a forbidden aura on sexual urges, and resulting from this, consequences in suppression of sexual desires. There is a clear instance of this in Little Red Riding Hood, within the character of the wolf. From the beginning, he has the ability to control himself, skilfully awaiting the ideal moment to satisfy his thirst of hunger and desire. Instead of feeding his hunger on the male woodcutters in the woods, he sets his target on a pretty little girl. In the process, he persuades her to get into bed with him, also discarding her clothes. Having repressed his sexual desires for so long, he ends up losing control and caring only about pleasing himself. He does not contemplate on whether his actions are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and this shows us the fundamental characteristics of his id as he relies on his aggression and desire to attain what he wants.