Little Red Cap Poem Summary and Analysis

Categories: Carol Ann Duffy

Today I'll be analysing the poem ‘Little Red Cap' which is a part of collection ‘The World's Wife' by Carol Ann Duffy. She links fantasy with real life experiences and writes poetry on feminism and aims to empower women. Little Red Cap is a poem similar to her style of writing in which she focuses on how a young woman takes control over her sexual awakening in her own hands. The text was published in 1999. She relates this to the folk Little Red Riding Hood and the poetry flows with the story.

The poetess uses intertextuality with the folktale ‘Little Red Riding Hood' making connections throughout the poem with the folktale.

The poem shows female empowerment as well as in the poem, even though the wolf seemingly leads the way, it is the little girl who takes responsibility of her sexual awakening throughout the poem. In the end she comes out of the forest as a learned young woman who is completely prepared for the adult world.

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In the very first line the poetess indicates that she has exited childhood. She feels that everything has lost its structure. Childhood is a phase where children have rules and strict time table to follow and reaching teenage they're all broken, it refers to the part of life where rigidness disappears. The silent railway might suggest the starting point of her journey and she finally reaches at the edge of the woods may resemble end of her world and about to enter a new world which is yet to be discovered.

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As she enters the new world, she sees the wolf for the first time. It isn't the wolf personified as a man rather the man in the poem is symbolized as a wolf. Her tone of voice gives a feeling of excitement and how she was impatient to discover the new world.In the second stanza she describes how the wolf was clear, he was transparent and had no hesitation to express himself. His appearance seemed confident to the character. She was stunned by his appearance, the tone of voice in the second stanza while describing the wolf's teeth, eyes and ears gives a feel of the poetess's attraction towards him. She sounds attracted and amazed by the wolf's appearance. She made sure she gets his attention, this shows that she had everything under her control which breaks the stereotype of men controlling and dominating over women.

The character lacks sexual experience but she knows how to get his attention and play when it comes to her own game. She mentions that the wolf bought her her first drink. This correlates to her sexual experience and her first experience of being a woman. In the next line the poet uses hypophora, where she asks a question and immediately answers it. She knows the wolf would lead her, here even though the wolf seems to be taking control over the character, she knows what she wants and is prepared for it, she willingly follows. She is being led in a world she has never seen and this could mean she is being led by the wolf to an unexplored world which she is excited to gain an experience of. The poetess says ‘away from home' in the next line which symbolizes the completely leaving her childhood and approaching maturity, reaching the dark, dangerous adult world, which she eagerly waits to see. The owls in the next line refer to the knowledge and wisdom the character possesses. She crawled in his wake clearly shows that she wasn't forced and it was all done in her consent. The act of her stockings being ripped shows loss of her virginity and innocence and childhood. The poetess says she lost both her shoes which shows her lost ability to walk away. The first line of this stanza uses rhyme, the poetess says she learns a lesson that night which could probably mean she gains an experience that night and learns about things of this nature. The next line is a metaphor for her close relation with the wolf. This stanza shows her clarity on gaining what she desires, the lines clearly say that she was the one who clung to his thrashing fur. She enjoys the experience, and says who wouldn't love such an experience in the line ‘what little girl doesn't dearly love a wolf'. She in her naivety feels that she should enjoy this experience and she tries to convince herself that she must enjoy such an experience because that is what she has always been told. Towards the end of this stanza, she searches for living bird- a white dove which could possibly mean ‘love' to replace lust. In the next stanza she says how the ‘bird' goes from her hands to the wolf and dies within his one bite.

This also shows the wolf's greed. The damage to white bird is the destruction of any possible chances of taking the relationship above the level of lust. This makes the character realize the wolf's reality after which she emotionally moves on and waits for the wolf to sleep for her to explore more of this world. She creeps away not in fear or regret but rather in the excitement to explore more.In the next stanza she reflects how naive she was ten years ago and had no knowledge and was so inexperienced. And now that she walks through the forest, she has the knowledge of differentiating a corpse beneath the mushrooms, it took her ten years to gain this knowledge and be able to differentiate.

Further she says the wolf would humm the same song of the same rhythm every night, every season, and now the wolf no longer suits the little girl who walked in the woods ten years ago. Now that she has gained knowledge and become a mature woman knowing herself better than before realizes that the wolf isn't suitable for her anymore. The last stanza ended with the character being violent and as she took the axe starts experimenting more and is impatient to gain more knowledge of the nature around her, the world around her. And she takes the axe to the wolf and just within one chop she ends his dominance on her. The destruction of the wolf's scrotum signifies the destruction of his further generation and sexual skill. The poetess uses grandmother as a metaphor to describe all those female victims of the past. The words ‘glistering, virgin white' describes their goodness and purity. She comes out of the forest with a mask of innocence, singing, happy, as a learned young woman ready to enter adulthood. Finally, she is alone and doesn't need a man and can rejoice in her independence.

Works cited

  1. Duffy, C. A. (1999). Little Red Cap. In The World's Wife. Faber & Faber.
  2. Akbar, F. (2019). Interplay of Power and Control: A Feminist Reading of Carol Ann Duffy’s Little Red Cap. Literator Journal, 40(2), 1-9.
  3. Boulter, M. (2010). Reading Carol Ann Duffy’s Little Red Cap and Extract from The World’s Wife: A Feminist Critique. In J. Worthington (Ed.), Carol Ann Duffy: Poet for Our Times (pp. 85-102). Liverpool University Press.
  4. Fletcher, A. (2009). Carol Ann Duffy's "Little Red Cap": Subversion, Resurrection, and Linguistic Recurrence. The Explicator, 67(3), 167-170.
  5. Gleeson-White, S. (2012). "I didn’t want to go to heaven in a bow-wave": The interplay of allusion and sexuality in Carol Ann Duffy’s "Little Red Cap". Critical Survey, 24(1), 76-86.
  6. Green, L. (2002). "Little Red Cap": Carol Ann Duffy's Political Feminism. In M. Eaglestone & A. Locker (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary British Poetry (pp. 216-232). Cambridge University Press.
  7. Knobler, N. (2006). "The same three warnings": Fairy tale intertexts and interplays in Carol Ann Duffy’s "Little Red Cap". Children's Literature in Education, 37(1), 15-30.
  8. Pache, W. (2016). Under the Wolf's Skin: An Ecocritical Reading of Carol Ann Duffy's "Little Red Cap". Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment, 7(1), 20-35.
  9. Simmons, E. (2013). Wolves in the Text, Wolves at the Door: Little Red Riding Hood in Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 48(3), 397-411.
  10. Smith, K. (2018). Gender, Identity, and Power: A Study of Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife. The Explicator, 76(2), 115-118.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Little Red Cap Poem Summary and Analysis. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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