As sad as it may be, violence is a major part of the world in which we live. War, murder, assault, and even rape take place everyday despite the efforts of many people to prevent such things. However, society’s view of violence has changed as centuries have passed.
Now violence is looked down upon when not many years ago it was viewed as an honorable act to attack enemies on a whim or duel until the death over petty arguments. The fairy tales written through these ages reflect the population’s feelings on violence at the time of the story. Angela Carter uses vivid details to show the ugliness of violence, both physically and sexually in her fairy tales. She uses more gore and violent imagery to show that there is more to the carnage that we have grown accustomed to in older fairy tales. She does this in contrast to earlier fairy tales, which contained softer language and imagery. These prior stories were also more childish. As fairy tales were written, the violence in them has been altered, along with other vicious aspects, becoming more gruesome and horrific as centuries passed and the world evolved.
Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales possess the classic fairy tale projection of violence that we are used to reading. The violence in theses stories is without detail and gore that accompanies later fairy tale writing. Violence is used to build heroism and is not shown in a manner that truly embodies its full spirit. In The Dragon with Seven Heads the gracious knight simply “rushed upon the dragon, swinging around his sword with all his might until every single head was off and rolling on the ground.” (The Dragon with Seven Heads, 191). This battle was fought without blood and gore, leaving no impression of the true horror that such a battle could produce. This quote illustrates the glorified aspect of fighting in older fairy tales. Later in the story, the eldest brother “unsheathed his sword and killed [his two younger brothers]” (The Dragon with Seven Heads, 196). This also is done without any bloodshed. Furthermore, it is immediately undone by a magical balm, allowing the readers to condone such violence. Many of these fairy tales are read to a younger audience and could give them a glorified idea of violence. The violence in older stories is much different from later literature, and shows how much violence was accepted in our own history.
Marriage and sex has also changed tremendously in literature over time. Many of the older fairy tales contain stories of men marrying young girls and robbing them of their virginity. This is without any thought to the feelings of their sexual partner. Those who take advantage of young girls are unpunished, and the significance of a girl losing her virginity is not shown in fairy tale literature until much later. It is also much easier for young women to get out of marriages in the Calvino stories. This is evident in stories such as Serpent King, where all that the young bride must do is wear seven dresses to elude her unwanted husband. This task is not so easy in The Bloody Chamber. Overall, the stories are a reflection of the times, when women were objectified and warring was commonplace.
Later writing reflects the change in society’s view of violence. The stories in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter are far more graphic than anything seen in the older Italian folktales. Carter uses vivid details to describe sequences of violence that make the Italian folktales seem childish. Warring kings are no longer glorified through courageous battle, but are now seen as murderous criminals committing senseless executions. Violent acts once seen as heroic or in the spirit of chivalry not longer amuse our population. As our world has progressed over time, writing has changed with it. Violence is a real, terrible thing and Carter’s writing reflects this transition, as her stories portray society’s views of the violence taking place in the fairy tales.
In the Bloody Chamber tale, we enter “a room designed for desecration” (The Bloody Chamber, 28) with “instruments of mutilation” (The Bloody Chamber, 28) littered about. This room is a far cry from the bland prison that the mother in The Fine Greenbird is placed in. In this room is “a skull, so utterly denuded, now, of flesh, that it scarcely seemed possible the stark bone had once been richly upholstered with life.” (The Bloody Chamber, 29). Later, we encounter a “pool of blood” and learn that the castle owner’s former wife “was pierced, not by one but by a hundred spikes” (The Bloody Chamber, 29). This descriptive writing exposes the violence for what it really is, disgusting and gruesome. It gives the reader a mental image of what the violence in the stories really looks like, and does not fantasize about brutality as earlier stories did. These details would never be featured in earlier fairy tales, more evidence of how fairy tale writing has changed.
Aside from a changed view of violence, many other factors have influenced the way Carter writes her fairy tales. Gender roles have influenced these changes as women are no longer dominated by men; they are equals and free to do what they please. Carter shows this at the end of The Bloody Chamber when the young girl triumphs over her male oppressor. She is able to do this when her mother “raised [her] father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband’s head” (The Bloody Chamber, 40). This is also another descriptive example of violence. Even though good triumphs at the end of the tale, the violence in it is still descriptive and real. Carter does not distinguish between types of violence, showing us the ugly side of all kinds.
In our world today, women may also choose who they want to marry and are no longer given away to husbands at the onset of puberty. The perverse nature of men that was so common and normal in the Italian folktales is now disgusting and vile. The men who dominate and essentially rape young women are now portrayed as creepy and disgusting. Pedophiles and sexual predators are some of the most ostracized members of our society. The awkward old men that dominate and marry young girls are viewed differently today than the noblemen who just needed a wife in Calvino’s stories. In The Bloody ChamberThe Bloody Chamber, than his young wife. He calls her “Baby” and makes fun of her for it. The young woman given away to marriage admits she “was seventeen and knew nothing of the world” (The Bloody Chamber, 9). She proceeds to tell the reader that the day before her marriage she story we are constantly reminded that the man who smells of Russian leather was “much older” (
“…saw him watching me in the gilded mirrors with the assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh, or even of a housewife in the market, inspecting cuts on the slab. I’d never seen, or else never acknowledged, that regard of his before, the sheer carnal avarice of it;” (The Bloody Chamber, 11).
This description shows how many men viewed their wives, as pieces of meat that they had bought and were bringing home to feast on.
Along with the change in gender roles, sex itself has changed as well. Virginity is a woman’s possession, not something to be stolen as it is in many of the stories. Carter shows us the ugly side of this thievery. Before the act, the girl shivers at the thought of being bedded by her husband. She describes it as being “impaled” and a “one-sided struggle”. She sees herself as a “massacre”. The young girl in the story “had been infinitely disheveled by the loss of [her] virginity.” (The Bloody Chamber, 18). It is sad that she “remember[s], very little” (The Bloody Chamber, 19). Angela Carter uses explicit detail and imagery to show the darker side of these happenings that we have come to accept in the older fairy tales we love to this day.
Violence in our world is still changing every day, but it does not look as if mankind will stop fighting anytime in the near future. Death, gore, and violence are real, and literature is a reflection of this reality. With so much violence, it is appropriate to cast it in the gruesome light that Carter does. During the time in which Carter wrote The Bloody Chamber, many exciting changes were taking place that contributed to her writing style and her own personal views. In the 1970’s, there was an emphasis on peace and a disdain towards violence, much of which came from the horrors of the Vietnam War. Many young men lost their lives for what many consider to a meaningless engagement. Sexual freedom was also being explored by the young adults of this time.
The changing views of a nation contributed to the literature of the time, and changed our country for generations to come. Today, countries are still at war, and valuable lives are being lost, in spite of all the progress we have made in our quality of life and technology. However, times have changed for the better. Young men now have the option of deciding whether or not to go to war, and it is not as glorified as it once was. Rapists now can face the rest of their lives in jail as opposed to going unpunished in previous centuries. Assaulting others and fighting is punished by the law and is no longer acceptable for settling arguments. As a society, we are shying away from the violence that controlled life centuries ago. Fairy tales project this and have started make violence look as terrible as it is in reality. Hopefully, as years go on we will be able to eliminate more and more violence from our lives, and as we keep reading and writing, fairy tales will illustrate that change.