Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Feminist Reworking of Folk and Fairy Tales in Angela Carter’s Short Stories

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Feminist Reworking of Folk and Fairy Tales in Angela Carter’s Short Stories

Article excerpt

The concept of gender is a cultural construct evolved in human society down the centuries to prescribe acceptable codes of behavior for men and women. The terms "masculinity" and "femininity" associated with gender have come to be accepted as binaries, which highlight the differences and subdue the similarities between the two sexes. Femininity in the contemporary society is increasingly associated with the traits of docility, frailty, and beauty-traits that emphasize the powerlessness of women as compared to the characteristics of aggressiveness, physical prowess, and vigor generally attributed to masculinity. This stereotyping of women into constricting categories places them at a disadvantage by coercing them to follow the norms imposed by the male- dominated society. It overlooks women's individuality and inner strength, and relegates them to an inferior position, portraying them as dependent on men for their identity and existence.

Foucault (1977) discusses at length the significance of discourse in propagating power relations in society. Foucault avers that discourse is used by people in authority to label certain individuals as "the other." While the use of language in an intellectual group empowers the users by underlining their political authority, it simultaneously marginalizes those individuals who do not conform to the group and those who deviate from the accepted mores. The normalizing judgment of instruments of power in society enables "the subjection of those who are perceived as objects and the objectification of those who are subjected.

. . . [I]n this slender technique are to be found a whole domain of knowledge, a whole type of power" (Foucault 1977, 34). In his study, Foucault analyzes the role of discursive practices during historical periods in shaping human perspectives and thought. The individuals who are excluded from the normative discourse are typified as inferior, and may include homosexuals, lunatics, non-whites, witches, criminals, and women. The discourses of power that are circulated in society stipulate a subordinate identity for people affected by these discourses.

Women have struggled down the ages to break free of the compartmentalizing categories that deny them the right to be themselves. Arts and literature have been employed by women to assert their opinions and to make their voices heard. In works of fiction, women writers have used the technique of subversion to question male authority by blending reality with fantasy to soften their stance. Women's status, both as writers and as intelligent individuals in their own right, is revealed in their narrative strategies. Women-centered narratives and strategies like irony, satire, juxtaposition, and allusion in their writings contribute to defining their refusal to yield to male supremacy.

An important writer who has challenged the dominating discourses of men through her writings is Angela Carter, a novelist and short story writer of British origin. Carter is regarded as a unique and imaginative writer with a sharply political and insightful feminist point of view. Carter, in her fiction, uses powerful imagery and diction to convey her feminist viewpoint as also to develop new notions of women's creativity and narrative skill. Carter's fiction focuses on several themes, which subtly question male authority and power, violence, the distribution of power in contemporary society, and stereotypical notions concerning female sexuality. Using the motifs of folk and fairy tales to weave modern stories, Carter has explored the richness and multiple layers of meanings in fairy tales to present contemporary thoughts about human nature and existence.

Characters and situations from folk and fairy tales and myths recur in different guises in Carter's fiction and help to integrate past themes with the modern dilemmas about sexuality and male authority. However, Carter's short stories, which are modern adaptations of literary fairy tales, are meant not for children but for mature readers. …

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