I N T E R P R E T A T I O N S


“Little Red Riding Hood” has been subject to many revisions over time, reflecting both changes in target audience and social and cultural constructs of its era. The early variations of the story differ from later versions of in a number of ways, including with respect to morality, sexuality, violence, and gender.

Morality
The numerous versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” have undergone many modifications in their moral message. All are consistent with the obvious theme “don’t talk to strangers," but simultaneously address differing issues consistent with the ideals of their era. The stories have also varied in their degree of ambiguity in delivering this moral. Unlike Perrault’s version which is delivered with an addition of text at the end of the story entitled “Moral,” leaving little uncertainty of his intended meaning, other tales do not employ such measures (Zipes 744). Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood” warns girls of the danger of conversing with inappropriate suitors, who may mislead such young maidens into partaking in improper acts of sexuality. The preceding tale “The Story of Grandmother,” has a less explicit message, but may have served as a warning tale to children to be weary of predation from males or bzous. The Grimms adapt their tale to a new audience and a new moral. They emphasize the importance of listening and being obedient to one’s parents. The Grimms’ Little Red Riding Hood promises to “do everything right” to her mother but fails to head the advice by wandering off the path and subsequently winds up trapped in the belly of a beast. At the end of the story, upon being saved, Little Red Riding Hood declares “Never again will I leave the path and run off into the wood when my mother tells me not to” (11). While Perrault’s moral was eventually eliminated from the tale, its message remains today in our reference to men who chase women as “wolves” (Orenstein). In general, as the story gained popularity, it became more socialized and questions of morality more refined.

Sexuality
“Little Red Riding Hood” is morphed into a more and more G-rated tale, with themes of sexuality progressively less emphasized. “The Story of Grandmother” explores sexuality in an uninhibited manner, with the wolf openly instructing the girl to throw all her clothes into the fire as she “[won’t] need [them] any more” and inviting her to jump into bed with him once she undresses. Perrault does not include this "strip tease" in his version, but rather includes sexuality in a more implicit manner. The heroine’s red cap is symbolic of sexuality and the wolf’s literal consummation of Little Red Riding Hood has been considered a parallel to the girl’s sexual consumption by a male. The Grimms keep the red cap but provide even less of an erotic tone, the moral appearing to be focused more on obedience to parents than to Perrault’s sexual warnings. This trend reflects the limitations placed on modern “kid lit” authors who endure mass amounts of criticism when writing works which allude to sexuality or other such elements deemed inappropriate for children.

Violence
While subsequent versions appear more subdued with the removal of Little Red Riding Hood’s unknown cannibalism in “The Story of Grandmother,” violence directed toward the wolf increases. In “The Story of Grandmother” the child merely tricks the wolf and escapes with no harm to either party. In Perrault’s “Little Red Riding Hood” the girl is gobbled up, leaving no chance of retaliation. The Grimms however describe Little Red Cap as filling the wolf’s belly with heavy stones so “his legs wouldn’t carry him and he fell dead.” In the story’s sequel, the wolf is enticed into a trough of sausage water and drowns. Further, the “Chinese Red Riding Hoods” three heroine sisters haul the wolf thirty feet into the air before dropping him to plummet to the ground where he “let out his last howl.” The Italian version has the wolf cornered and killed by pitchforks and shovels before being slit open. The progressively more violent revisions are consistent with a society which is becoming more and more desensitized and tolerant to hearing and seeing violence in the media (Kirsh 7).

Gender
The character of Little Red Riding Hood has become consistently less intelligent and self-sufficient as the story is rewritten. In “The Story of Grandmother," Little Red Riding Hood saves herself from the bzou by tying the leash he puts on her to a tree and running away. Perrault’s revision denies the girl of such cleverness, depicting the “poor girl” as “not knowing that it was dangerous to stop and listen to a wolf.” Instead, her beauty is emphasized and Little Red Riding Hood ends up eaten by the wolf with no escape. While the Grimm Brothers do save the girl from eternal peril, a male is required to cut her free from the beast’s belly. This gender imbalance has attracted the attention of feminist critics who have written responses to the tales’ implication that females are inadequate to males. In the 1970’s, feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, Andrea Dworkin and Susan Brownmiller claimed that classic fairytales from Perrault and the Grimms showcase “passive, helpless, beauty-queen femininity” and make little girls wish to become “glamorous victims” (Orenstein).