"Wolfings": Angela Carter's Becoming-Narrative
Swyt, Wendy, Studies in Short Fiction
Who has not known the violence of these animal sequences,
which uproot one from humanity, if only for an instant, making
one scrape at one's bread like a rodent or giving one the yellow
eyes of a feline? A fearsome involution calling us toward unheard-of
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (240)
The wolfsong is the sound of the rendering you will suffer, in
itself a murdering.
Angela Carter, "The Company of Wolves" (110)
In his essay "Angela Carter's Desire Machine" Robert Clark claims that Carter's reworking of the Little Red Riding Hood story plays out "the standard patriarchal opposition between a feral domineering mate and gentle submissive female" (149). In Carter's "The Company of Wolves" Red Riding Hood ends up in the wolf's arms instead of his stomach, significantly, as the wolf pack's howls rise around them on the night of the solstice. What I will argue in this essay is that, contrary to Clark's interpretation, the components of this peculiar alliance challenge the narrative of masculine desire rather than reinforce it. Because he overlooks the dimensions and determinations of this bond, Clark's reading remains on the Oedipal path in a psychosexual forest, a path that I believe Carter's version actually foregrounds and critiques.
When the beast and his prey lie down in each other's arms, consumption is narrativized in "The Company of Wolves" as a metamorphosis, what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari term "the becoming-woman." Although Carter's Red Riding Hood might be interpreted as the modern heterosexual woman "out on the town" (Clark describes her as a woman "enjoying her own sexuality and using it to tenderize the wolf"), the girl's alliance with the wolf attests to more than just a rewritten feminist ending. Instead of reinscribing the full meal deal, Carter's narrative performs a deconstruction of "the virgin function" (what Vladimir Propp might term the "minimal unit" of wolf-o-centric desire). It is a tale of girl becoming . . . more than just meat or nourishment for the quest.
With his interpretation of the wolf as "sexual threat metaphorized . . . literally," Clark reads Carter's version as a typical story of sadistic male dominance without closely examining the terms of this metamorphosis (148). He most obviously overlooks this transformation with his failure to consider the significance of the werewolf legends that begin the narrative. In Carter's version, a sampling of folk wisdom about wolves and three distinct werewolf legends precede the actual Red Riding Hood tale. The move from these old wives' tales to the "tamed" nursery fable challenges the oppositions of purity and danger that Clark insists upon reading the story through. Carter deliberately saturates the tale with a proliferation of genres and thus, in a sense, reframes the sexual socialization that the nursery tale implies. These narrative transformations, or "becomings" as Deleuze and Guattari term them, suggest a (dis)ordering that explodes the "natural" sublimation of civilized glances and table manners that hold the binaries of purity/evil, subject/object, and beast/girl.
The legends and old wives' tales that open "The Company of Wolves" encode an ideology of borders and the human subject, a dialectics of safety and dissolution of the self. "[S]tep between the gateposts of the forest with greatest trepidation and infinite precautions," the narrator warns, "for if you stray from the path for one instant, the wolves will eat you" (111). The warnings, a pack of wolf tails, suggest a narrative multiplicity, a proliferation of the tale within its own variations that indicates the metonymic dislocation of old wives' tales into folk legends into a child's nursery fable.(1) This multitude of stories mimics tales told round the fire, blessed by the dark circumference of forest. …