Little Red Riding Hood
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Red Cap
In the oral-tradition fairy tail, the girl in the story did not have a red hood, cap or hat. This accessory and its color is particular to Perrault’s version and not a general trait. This fact is one reason why it is believed that Perrault’s version was a basis for the Grimm’s version. [1]

In France in the 1600’s, when Perrault wrote his version, titled "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge," a chaperon was worn by women of aristocracy and middle class. Thus for a village girl like Little Red Riding Hood to wear a "red chaperon" made her a nonconformist. Clothing codes were strictly enforced during Perrault’s time. Thus the wearing of the red cap is one way that Perrault sets up Little Red Riding Hood as not doing what one should. It also contributes to why she is punished in the end. [2]

In Erich Fromm’s psychoanalytical interpretation the red cap is a symbol of menstruation.

In the Myth-ritual interpretation, a red hood is a symbol of the May Queen. During the May celebration the May Queen would wear a flowery hood made of white or red roses as a crown.

In the wolf-solar interpretation, the red cap symbolizes the rising sun.
Jack Zipes (1983) discredits the Myth-ritual and Wolf-solar interpretations. He states that since the original oral tales lack the red riding hood or the color red, one cannot use traditional interpretations of sunrise/sunset or ancient rituals. [3]

In the historical/political interpretation , the red cap is a symbol of the wearing of Republican caps in honor of the French Revolution. The version of the Little Red Riding Hood from Tieck’s play, "The Life and Death of Little Red Riding Hood: A Tragedy," is where Perrault’s chaperon was changed into a cap (käppchen).

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Wolf or Werewolves
It is believed that the original oral tale of Little Red Riding Hood was based on actual accounts of werewolves attacking and devouring children. [4] The oral version from which the story came contained "werewolves". These oral versions were influenced by the material conditions of their time (the Middle Ages). It wasn’t out of the ordinary for little children to be attacked and killed by animals and grown-ups (driven by hunger) in the woods. Traditional pagan superstitions also influenced the oral versions. During the Middle Ages, the period believed where the story originated, there were strong superstitions and beliefs in werewolves. The social function of the original tale was to show how dangerous it could be for children to talk to strangers in the woods. [5]

Thus, Marianne Rumpf argues that the original villain in French folklore was probably a werewolf, and that Perrault in his version changed the werewolf to a simple wolf since in his time the witchcraft craze had subsided. [6]

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Happy Ending
This is where the "happy ending" begins. Grimms’ version of Little Red Riding Hood has a happy ending. It is a more complete ending which Perrault purposely left out in his version. Perrault's version ends here with the wolf swallowing up Little Red Riding Hood. His version was to be a cautionary tale (not a fairy tale) which deliberately threatens the child with an anxiety producing ending. [7]

The Brothers Grimms' happy ending is one of the biggest and obvious differences in their version and previous literary tales. For a tail to be a folktale the "happy ending" is an indispensable component. It is what makes folk tales different from literary tales. [8]

The Grimms' happy ending also reflected educational views of their day. It was thought that a child must derive moral lessons from every event, experience, or story to which he is exposed. Thus the Grimms transformed Perrault’s tale from a satire to a tale about reward and punishment and learning a lesson. [9]

According to the wolf-solar theory, Little Red Riding Hood represents a new year. She needs to be rescued or the story would be incomplete. [10]

In the historical interpretation the positive ending was needed to be used as motivation.

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Alternate Ending
The alternate ending added by the Grimms is another tale of Little Red Riding Hood. In this part she has learned her lesson from the previous story and is more wise. Red Riding Hood childish innocence dies and rebounds a young lady. It is this young lady’s story which is the "alternate version" we see at the end of the main story. [11]

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Myth-Ritual Interpretation
In this interpretation, it is believed that the tale reflects a seasonal ritual in which typically spring conquers winter. It is believed that the story originally was a commentary upon a ritual of May. During the May Festival, the Red Hood was a symbol of the May Queen. For a crown she would wear a flowery hood made of white or red roses. Images of the birds singing and the "seeing" and "picking" of the flowers are all images in the celebration of May. The cakes (May cake) and the May wine were all used in the celebration of May custom. [12]

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Wolf - Solar Theory
The Solar Theory sees the wolf as a symbol of a voracious sun that devours the dawn. Little Red Riding Hood symbolizes the light, the wolf the night, and the huntsman is the Sun god coming and liberating Little Red Riding Hood. The light is swallowed by night and in the morning the hero cuts darkness, causing the light to reappear. [13] The huntsman sees the red-cap shinning; the rising sun. Another Solar Theory sees the wolf as the winter or the new year. Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother is the old year of the old dawn. The autumn sun (thus the color for Little Red Riding Hood’s hood) cannot reach the end of the year without being absorbed by winter.

Scholars, Alan Dundes and Jack Zipes, criticize the use of traditional interpretations of sunrise/sunset for Little Red Riding Hood. These interpretations use the color red of the hood for the basis of their interpretations. The red cap was introduced in the first literary versions of the tale. It was not in the independent oral tales from which the story is based and from the time where the rituals were believed. [14]

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Wolf Dying
Why doesn’t the wolf die when Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother are cut from his body? This way the fairy tale protects a child from anxiety of childbirth, fearing that a child coming out of the mother’s body kills her. Here the wolf really dies because of the stones. [15]

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Historical/Political Interpretation
In this interpretation the wolf is seen as French intruders. The huntsman is seen as the one who liberated Little Red Riding Hood and he tale is seen as the innocence of the seduced and devoured Little Red Riding Hood. The voracious and cunning manner of the wolf reflect the political fate of the German states under foreign rule. [16] Here the wolf has a double identity. He is seen as a French revolutionary who comes to liberate German youth and/or the French oppressor who comes to destroy the virtues of Germany. [17]

The Grimms used contemporary images of contemporary political events in their adaptation of a traditional story. This is one of the reasons for the change in the ending from Perrault’s version. Supporters of the Political Interpretation suggest that a positive ending was needed to be used as motivation as means of political encouragement which might inspire hope for freedom in an age of bondage. [18]

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The stark opposites woods/path and nature/school were added by the Grimms to give the story an anti-French and anti-Enlightenment sentiments. [19]

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New Life
Little Red Riding Hood died as the girl who permitted herself to be tempted by the wolf and when she sprang out of the wolf’s belly, she came to life a different person. [20] Little Red Riding Hood’s childish innocence dies and she rebounds a young lady. It is this young lady’s story which is the "alternate version" we see at the end of the main story.

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Fromm’s Psychoanalytical Interpretation
In Eric Fromm’s interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood she is known as the "pubescent girl." Here Little Red Riding Hood has become a mature woman and is now confronted with sex. [21] In this interpretation the red cap is a symbol of menstruation.

The warnings by her mother of "do not run off the path" and "break the bottle," are warnings against sex and losing her virginity. Little Red Riding Hood promises to obey. This contract is broken when Little Red Riding Hood is tempted by sensuous delights of the forest.

In this interpretation the wolf is an expression of animal (male) sexuality. [22] The moral of the tale is a warning of the danger of sex (the wolf) and the consequences of violating Mom’s warnings. [23] [24]

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Huntsman
The huntsman servers as the protective and rescuing function. See the section below on Bettelheim’s Psychoanalytic Interpretation. Little Red Riding Hood is rescued by a male hunter, symbolizing that only a strong male figure can rescue a girl from herself and her lustful desire. [25]

The huntsman that is in Grimms version was first introduced in 1800 in Tiecks’ play-version of Little Red Riding Hood, "The Life and Death of Little Red Riding Hood: A Tragedy."

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Learning/Didactic Tale
During Grimms' day, it was thought that a child must derive moral lessons from every event, experience, or story to which he is exposed. The lesson that Little Red Riding Hood has learned is that "as long as I live, I will never by myself leave the path, to run into the wood, when my mother has forbidden my to do so."

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Family Relationship
The Grimms' version had an explicit family relationship. It shows strong family ties and a great amount of attention to Little Red Riding Hood (a child). This "family" relationship was not existent in Perrault’s day, but was central importance during the time of the Brothers Grimm. [26]

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Bettelheim’s Psychoanalytical Interpretation
His interpretation is the best known psychoanalytic interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood. He sees her has a pleasure seeking oedipal child. [27] Bettelheim interprets this as an oedipal tale where Red Riding Hood has an unconscious wish to be seduced by her father (the wolf). Little Red Riding Hood’s danger is her budding sexuality for which she is not yet emotionally mature. In Bettelheim’s interpretation, the father is represented in two forms the wolf (dangers of overwhelming oedipal feelings) and the hunter (the protective and rescuing function).

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The Glutton
According to the Aarne-Thompson, The Types of the Folktale, Little Red Riding Hood has been classified as type #333. This type is described by "the wolf devours human beings until all of them are rescued alive from his belly." [28]

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The Seduction and Rape
According to Jack Zipes, the eating of Little Red Riding Hood is a sexual act, symbolizing the uncontrollable appetite or chaos of nature. [29]

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Little Red Riding Hood lays the grounds for her own seduction and rape. She wears a red cap and she stops to listen to a stranger, the wolf. Her "dallying" of picking flowers, or her undisciplined ways, lead her to where the wolf is waiting. Because of her acts she is responsible for her own rape. [30]

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Little Red Riding Hood wants to break from the moral restraints of her society to enjoy her own sensuality (inner nature) and nature's pleasures (outer nature). [31] Where order and discipline reign young girls will be safe from both their inner sexual drives and outer natural forces. Where inner and outer nature are out of control chaos and destruction reign. For this indulgence in sensuality, more specifically - sexual pleasure, and her disobedience, she must be punished. [32]

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NOTES

1. Alan Dundes, ed, Little Red Riding Hood (Madison Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 19. Back

2. Jack Zipes, "A Second Gaze at Little Red Riding Hood's Trials and Tribulations," The Lion and the Unicorn 7/8 (1983): 80. Back

3. Jack Zipes, The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood (London: Bergin and Garvey Publishers, Inc. 1983), 6. Back

4. Maria M. Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimm Fairy Tales (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 39. Back

5. Zipes, Trials and Tribulations,7. Back

6. Dundes, 73. Back

7. Ibid., 189. Back

8. Ibid., 148. Back

9. Ibid., 149. Back

10. Ibid., 82. Back

11. Ibid., 183. Back

12. Ibid., 77. Back

13. Christa Kamenetsky, The Brothers Grimm and Their Critics: Folktales and the Quest for Meaning (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1992), 257. Back

14. Dundes, 80. Back

15. Ibid., 182. Back

16. Ibid., 100. Back

17. Zipes, Trials and Tribulations, 17. Back

18. Dundes, 100 Back

19. Zipes, Trials and Tribulations, 17. Back

20. Dundes, 183. Back

21. Ibid., 211. Back

22. Julius E. Heuscher, A Psychiatric Study of Myths and Fairy Tales: Their Origin, Meaning and Usefulness, 2nd ed. (Springfield, IL: Charles Thomas, 1974), 99. Back

23. Zipes, "A Second Look", The Lion and the Unicorn, 16. Back

24. Maria M. Tatar, Off With Their Heads!: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) 36. Back

25. Zipes, "A Second Look", The Lion and the Unicorn, 81. Back

26. Dundes, 151. Back

27. Ibid., 218. Back

28. Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography ( FF Communications, 2nd rev., no. 184. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1961), 125. Back

29. Zipes, Trials and Tribulations, 55. Back

30. Ibid., 57. Back

31. Ibid., 56. Back

32. Ibid., 16. Back

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Annotated by Sherry Lake © 1999, thelakes@firstva.com
Last Updated: December 9, 1999