Sunday, 26 May 2013

A2 English Literature: The Bloody Chamber Example Essay

Below is an essay on happy-ever-after endings in The Bloody Chamber (a question made up by my teacher and not taken from any past papers). I know some of the guys on TSR in particular were interested in examples of band 6 essays; whether you can take anything from this or not I'm not sure, but I thought I'd put it here in case it helps anyone! This essay received full marks:

Carter's stories have happy ever after endings, although these endings are somewhat unconventional. To what extent are the endings feminist in their message?

As a feminist, it is almost to be expected that many of Angela Carter’s happy ever after endings will strike the reader with a bold feminist message. However, in The Bloody Chamber, this is not necessarily the case. Although there are several feminist messages in the stories’ resolutions, these messages are not always presented in the way one would expect, and not every female protagonist is presented as a feminist character. By taking the roles of typically Gothic women and toying with the presentation of female characters, many of Carter’s feminist messages are not as one would expect.
        The eponymous story The Bloody Chamber ends with a sense of resolution, love and happiness. The antagonist of the story is no more, and the narrator is able to live a happy and fulfilling life with Jean-Yves. Whether the ending is truly feminist, however, is open to discussion. In one respect, the actual resolution to the story is all down to the narrator’s mother, who is presented at the story’s climax as an incredibly powerful female figure. Carter uses masculine and bestial imagery to describe the mother, in a way that is not dissimilar to earlier imagery to describe the Marquis. The narrator refers to her mother’s hair as “her white mane”; just as earlier she had referenced the Marquis’s “dark mane”. The juxtaposition between light and dark here is a typical example of Gothic extremes; while the Marquis seems to represent darkness – the supernatural and evil – the mother is associated with the colour white, which often symbolises purity, innocence and rationality. She also refers to her mother as a “wild thing”. Carter also uses the setting to complement the powerful image of the narrator’s mother riding to her rescue. The backdrop of the sea is referred to as “savage”, like “the witnesses of a furious justice”. In Gothic literature it is common for great expanses of nature such as oceans or moors to be referred to in the sublime sense; in this instance, the great power of the sea is merely witnessing the justice that the mother is delivering. It is as though her power is greater than nature itself. Furthermore, the sea is used earlier in the story when the narrator describes the Marquis’s voice as “like the soft consolations of the sea”. It appears as though the male and female dynamics have been shifted with these two direct links to the sea; the Marquis is the one associated with softness and docility whereas the mother seems to be the one commanding the sea and bringing about its true power. In this respect, she is certainly a strong female figure who arguably brings about a feminist happy ever after to the story.
However, the strength of the mother is not the be-all and end-all of the story. Firstly, it is interesting to note that particular attention is paid to the fact that the mother holds the narrator’s “father’s service revolver”. The male figure is therefore not necessarily as absent as one might think; the actual tool that is intended to kill the Marquis is explicitly referred to as the item of a man. Furthermore, it is important to note that the narrator does very little to secure her own safety, and the main resolution of the story is placed in the mother’s hands. The narrator is presented as a very passive character in the denouement of the tale; she is simply saved by her mother and is then able to live out her life in happiness. In this respect it is arguable to suggest that she is not a strong female character or, at least, she is not as strong as the reader may have hoped. Carter also highlights the contrasts between the narrator and her mother. The narrator notes that “on her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a man-eating tiger”, and juxtaposes this with “here I was, scarcely a penny richer, widowed at seventeen in the most dubious circumstances”. In this respect, the ending is not particularly feminist at all; although the narrator has been saved and is given a happy ending, her role in the climax of the story appears to be similar to that of a typically passive Gothic female character. She is also physically tarnished by the events of her past, noting that “no paint or powder (…) can mask that red mark on my forehead”. Despite the resolution and the fiercely powerful actions of the mother, the narrator is still objectified even after the Marquis’s death; she is branded with his mark, as though she was never really a woman in her own right.
The ending of The Company of Wolves, however, is arguably the story with the strongest feminist message. The girl survives her ordeal with the wolf by embracing the power of her own sexuality, which in turn saves her life and reverses the predator/prey dynamic of herself and the wolf. Even when allowed into the forest where countless others have been killed, the girl “has her knife and she is afraid of nothing”. When the girl arrives at the house of the wolf at the end of the story, she reacts in a way that none of the other victims have acted. She is defiant in her actions and even mocks the wolf; “the girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat”. The fact that the girl does not fear the monstrous and supernatural beast before her is just one reason why the ending of the story is overtly feminist.
       Unlike those before her, the girl is free and liberated thanks to her own sexual awareness. Carter pays special attention to her virginity, and uses mystical imagery such as referring to it as a “pentacle” and a “magic space” to attach a sense of power to it. Unlike the wolf’s previous victims, the girl embraces freedom and liberation. The typically Gothic servile woman who is killed by the wolf is arguably killed because of her position as a stereotypical female; this interpretation is enforced by the fact that she is killed whilst straining macaroni in a typically domestic setting. The hermit is arguably killed because of his servile nature to God, and the grandmother is also servile to both religion and the domestic setting that she appears bound to. The girl, however, is servile to nothing and nobody. Her virginity is not a weakness in the end, but a weapon. When she embraces it, she seems to take on a role that is stronger than the wolf. Carter notes how just the sight of her makes the wolf “slaver”, and she also actively undresses the wolf as well as herself. It is arguable to suggest that the way in which the girl liberates herself is demeaning, however she does not obey the wolf’s orders out of fear or duty; it is as though Carter is saying that sexuality should not be feared, but embraced. The very last line of the story calls the wolf “tender”, and shows the girl sleeping in the bed with the wolf. She is the only one to have survived the wolf, and has done this through allowing him to liberate her – something that the previous victims were unable to do. In this respect, the happy ever after ending to this story presents a strong feminist message.

        In conclusion, Carter’s stories often have an element of a feminist message to them, whether this is the mother being presented as the heroine in The Bloody Chamber, the girl embracing her sexuality and the power alongside it in The Company of Wolves, or other similar instances of females either being able to bring out the humanity of beasts through compassion, such as in The Courtship of Mr Lyon, or embracing their own primal nature, such as in The Tiger’s Bride. However, that is not to say that all of Carter’s stories have a feminist ending. The main character of The Bloody Chamber seems passive in the story’s ending and the mark that stays upon her forehead does not allow for a true sense of catharsis at the end of the story. Carter’s stories are never black and white; there are feminist qualities to many of the happy ever after endings, but not necessarily in the way one would expect.


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