The Bloody Chamber

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Themes and Colors
Sexuality and Violence Theme Icon
Virginity Theme Icon
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Power and Objectification Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Bloody Chamber, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Metamorphosis Theme Icon

Many of the characters of The Bloody Chamber are creatures who are half-human and half-beast, or else undergo some change from beast to human or vice versa. These creatures, like The Beast, the Erl-King, and the huntsman werewolf, exist in an in-between space in the world, neither fully human nor fully non-human. They are the traditional creatures of the ancient fairy tales, but Carter also links their kind of “life on the threshold” with the sexual awakening and loss of virginity that most of the stories’ heroines experience. So Mr Lyon is transformed from beast to human by the heroine’s love, while the heroine of “The Tiger’s Bride” is transformed into a tiger. These fantastic metamorphoses as part of sexuality and virginity then lead to Carter’s more subtle point – that even the women who experience no magic metamorphosis (like the young woman of “Puss-in-Boots”) still live on a kind of threshold, treated as both humans and objects (of sexual desire, usually). It is only through some kind of extreme action – like the young woman colluding in Signor Panteleone’s death to escape him – that the heroines can cross the threshold and become fully human.

Metamorphosis ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Metamorphosis appears in each story of The Bloody Chamber. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Metamorphosis Quotes in The Bloody Chamber

Below you will find the important quotes in The Bloody Chamber related to the theme of Metamorphosis.
The Bloody Chamber Quotes

He stripped me, gourmand that he was, as if he were stripping the leaves off an artichoke… And when nothing but my scarlet, palpitating core remained, I saw, in the mirror, the living image of an etching by Rops… He in his London tailoring; she, bare as a lamb chop. Most pornographic of all confrontations. And so my purchaser unwrapped his bargain. And, as at the opera, when I had first seen my flesh in his eyes, I was aghast to feel myself stirring.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Marquis has taken the Heroine, his new wife, back to his home. There, he undresses her and prepares to have sex with her for the first time. The Heroine notes that the Marquis "owns" her completely--it's implied that she has no rights, no ways of fighting back against the Marquis. As in the previous passage, she watches herself in the many mirrors on the walls, and again sees herself as an object--here presented as food to be inspected and consumed, an "artichoke" or a "lamb chop."

The passage emphasizes many of the themes of the story collection. The heroine undergoes a "metamorphosis" (as many of the later characters also will) in being stripped of her outer layers to reveal the "palpitating core" within her. Her virginity is also again portrayed as a kind of power and potential, here an opportunity for both violence and pleasure. Finally, the Heroine witnesses her own disempowerment and objectification, but can't help feeling sexually "stirred" by the sight of herself as a "pornographic" image (the man clothed and the woman naked--the ultimate symbol of female objectification and male power). Violence and sexuality are intimately tied together in Carter's stories, but to slip too far in the direction of violence and dehumanization is to risk entering a state of horror and fear.


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No. I was not afraid of him; but of myself. I seemed reborn in his unreflective eyes, reborn in unfamiliar shapes. I hardly recognized myself from his descriptions of me and yet, and yet – might there not be a grain of beastly truth in them? And, in the red firelight, I blushed again, unnoticed, to think he might have chosen me because, in my innocence, he sensed a rare talent for corruption.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Immediately after losing her virginity to the Marquis, the Heroine feels that she's been  "reborn." She describes looking at herself in the "mirror" of her husband's eyes and not knowing herself: it's as if the Marquis has unleashed an inner wildness and corruption in the previously virginal and innocent Heroine, which she's now forced to confront.

The passage suggests the possibility that the Heroine somewhat enjoys being abused and objectified by her husband--a possibility that shocked many feminists of the day. Although the Marquis seems to treat the Heroine as an object, she has also internalized a similar view--she sees herself as passive and virginal, and only now that she is "corrupted" she seems reborn into a new state of sexuality and violence.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon Quotes

How strange he was. She found his bewildering difference from herself almost intolerable; its presence choked her. There seemed a heavy, soundless pressure upon her in his house, as if it lay under water, and when she saw the great paws lying on the arm of his chair, she thought: they are the death of any tender herbivore. And such a one she felt herself to be, Miss Lamb, spotless, sacrificial.

Related Characters: The Beast (The Courtship of Mr. Lyon), Beauty
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

This next story is one of two based on the fairy-tale "Beauty and the Beast." Here Beauty has come to live with the titular Beast. The Beast, later Mr. Lyon, is an intimidating, wild-looking creature, frightening to any "herbivores" (which the virginal, harmless heroine considers herself to be, no matter what she might actually eat). In this passage, Beauty has taken her father's place in the Beast's home, as punishment for her father's decision to steal a rose from the Beast. Beauty feels that she's a helpless object, a sacrificial lamb to be consumed by the Beast: she's sacrificed herself to free her father, after all.

The Beast sunk his great head on to his paws. You will come back to me? It will be lonely here, without you.
She was moved almost to tears that he should care for her so. It was in her heart to drop a kiss upon his shaggy mane but, though she stretched out her hand towards him, she could not bring herself to touch him of her own free will, he was so different from herself. But, yes, she said; I will come back. Soon, before the winter is over.

Related Characters: The Beast (The Courtship of Mr. Lyon) (speaker), Beauty (speaker), The Beast (The Courtship of Mr. Lyon), Beauty
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beauty plans to leave the Beast to visit her father, whose legal troubles are over. The Beast is devastated that Beauty wants to leave: he's lonely in his home, and wants her as a companion. Beauty promises to return to the Beast at some point in the future, as they've now forged a strong bond in their time together. She seems sympathetic to the Beast's loneliness, and yet she can't entirely force herself to show her physical compassion for him. The Beast is so ugly and frightening-looking that she doesn't want to kiss him.

The passage shows Beauty in a halfway point in her relationship with the Beast. By the end of the story, she'll have conquered her own aversions and kissed him--but this connection will require a metamorphosis of some kind. For now, however, Beauty seems somehow insensitive and selfish for leaving the Beast so readily (and when she reunites with her father, she doesn't return to the Beast for a long time).

She flung herself upon him, so that the iron bedstead groaned, and covered his poor paws with her kisses.
“Don’t die, Beast! If you’ll have me, I’ll never leave you.” When her lips touched the meat-hook claws, they drew back into their pads and she saw how he had always kept his fists clenched but now, painfully, tentatively, at last began to stretch his fingers. Her tears fell on his face like snow and, under their soft transformation, the bones showed through the pelt, the flesh through the wide, tawny brow. And then it was no longer a lion in her arms but a man…

Related Characters: Beauty (speaker), The Beast (The Courtship of Mr. Lyon), Beauty
Page Number: 50-51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, a sly subversion of the "Beauty and the Beast" story, Beauty returns to the Beast and finds herself full of sympathy and love for her old companion. The Beast seems to be dying of loneliness, and Beauty promises to love the Beast forever. She kisses his paws, only to notice that they've transformed into hands--the Beast has been transformed into a human being, thanks to the power of Beauty's love. (The image of his claws and paws as just being "clenched fists" that are now finally opening is also a lovely one, blending the animal and human as Carter often does.)

The Tiger’s Bride Quotes

And The Beast gave me the rose from his own impeccable if outmoded buttonhole when he arrived, the valet brushing the snow off his black cloak. This white rose, unnatural, out of season, that now my nervous fingers ripped, petal by petal, apart as my father magnificently concluded the career he had made of catastrophe.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Tiger's Bride) (speaker), The Beast (The Tiger's Bride)
Related Symbols: Roses
Page Number: 52-53
Explanation and Analysis:

In this story, a kind of inversion of the previous one (but another re-interpretation of Beauty and the Beast), the Heroine watches as her father gambles away all his money to the Beast. The Beast gives the Heroine a white rose, which the Heroine nervously rips apart, reflecting her father's plummeting fortunes (and also calls back to the first story, where the Marquis stripped away the Heroine's clothes like the leaves of an artichoke). Soon, we sense, the father will be forced to gamble away the Heroine herself.

Now that we're at the third story, it's clear that certain images, characters, and motifs will reappear in different manifestations throughout the book: roses, beasts, virgins, etc. Carter changes the significance of such objects and characters, however: here, it's not that the Heroine sacrifices herself for her father, as in the previous story; rather, the father selfishly gives up his own child to please the Beast. The Heroine's frantic ripping might symbolize the loss of her innocence and virginity: as we'll see, her time with the Beast will bring out her inner wildness.

The valet held out his master’s cloak to screen him from me as he removed the mask. The horses stirred.
The tiger will never lie down with the lamb; he acknowledges no pact that is not reciprocal. The lamb must learn to run with the tigers.
A great, feline, tawny shape whose pelt was barred with a savage geometry of bars the colour of burned wood. His domed, heavy head, so terrible he must hide… I felt my breast ripped apart as if I suffered a marvelous wound.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Tiger's Bride) (speaker), The Beast (The Tiger's Bride), Valet
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

The Beast, now the "owner" of the Heroine, has repeatedly asked to see the Heroine naked--but she has refused. Here, the Beast responds by saying that the Heroine must then see the Beast naked. He then strips off his own clothes, revealing his true nature. Carter builds the suspense by describing the way the valet (also seemingly an animal in disguise) hides the Beast, and noting that the horses are stirring. When the Beast has removed his clothes, it's clear that he's really a tiger. The Heroine, metaphorically, is a sweet, virginal lamb--a creature that simply doesn't get along with tigers.

Can tigers and lambs get along? Carter gives us the sense that the Beast's wildness and savage beauty is inspiring the Heroine to be wild, too--to cast aside her lamb-like demeanor and reveal herself as a new being. The final lines suggest that the Heroine, too, is "stirring," as Carter again equates sexuality and violence in a single phrase.

He dragged himself closer and closer to me, until I felt the harsh velvet of his head against my hand, then a tongue, abrasive as sandpaper. “He will lick the skin off me!”
And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Tiger's Bride) (speaker), The Beast (The Tiger's Bride)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this lyrical, dreamlike passage, the Beast turns the Heroine into a tiger, just like himself--an inversion of the previous story and of the legend of Beauty and the Beast (both of which involve the Beast becoming a man, rather than the Beauty becoming a Beast). Here the Beast licks the Heroine's skin--an unmistakably sexual act--until it tears off, revealing the tiger that was "hidden" within the Heroine all along. It's important to note that the Beast hasn't really changed the Heroine at all; he's just unlocked her potential.

At the beginning of the story, the Heroine seemed quiet and shy--now, the Beast seems to have saved her from her own repression, teaching her how to be powerful and independent. He's violent with her, and yet his violence might be justified by the end result. The Beast, a man, is still very much the actor in the story: the Heroine, a woman, is more passive, waiting to be transformed into something better. We also have the usual elements of Carter's stories in this scene--a transformation, layers being stripped away, and a conflation of sexuality, violence, and liberation.

The Erl-King Quotes

In the evenings when the cold darkness settles down, I always go to the Erl-King and he lays me down on his bed of rustling straw where I lie at the mercy of his huge hands.
He is the tender butcher who showed me how the price of flesh is love; skin the rabbit, he says! Off come all my clothes.

Related Characters: The Erl-King (speaker), Heroine (The Erl-King) (speaker)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this story, the Heroine has become the live-in lover of the Erl-King, a powerful elfish figure who lives in the forest. Like so may of the women in Carter's short story collection, the Heroine seems simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the Erl-King: she enjoys the feeling of domination (being treated like a "piece of meat"), and yet also finds his brutality and objectification repellent. Carter sums up the Heroine's attitude toward the Erl-King with one oxymoronic phrase: "tender butcher."

As in several other stories involving "metamorphoses," the Erl-King seems to be singularly fixated on removing "layers"--an act that's both liberating and violent. He gets pleasure from stripping away clothes skin, fur, etc. The Heroine likewise seems to enjoy the Erl-King's actions, and yet also recognizes how dangerous they can be.

When I realized what the Erl-King meant to do to me, I was shaken with a terrible fear and did not know what to do for I loved him with all my heart and yet I had no wish to join the whistling congregation he kept in his cages… His embraces were his enticements and yet, oh yet! they were the branches of which the trap itself was woven. But in his innocence he never knew he might be the death of me, although I knew from the first moment I saw him how Erl-King would do me grievous harm.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Erl-King) (speaker), The Erl-King
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Heroine becomes aware that the birds the Erl-King keeps in cages are actually past lovers of his: if the Heroine stays with the Erl-King for any longer he'll surely transform her into an animal. And Carter's choice of animal is no coincidence: birds in cages are traditional symbols of women being stifled and kept under a man's control.

The Heroine is conflicted in her feelings toward the Erl-King: she really does love him, and yet she values her freedom more highly than her love. She seems to find something inevitable about her falling-out with the Erl-King: indeed, she claims to have recognized that he was trouble from the very beginning. It's worth noticing that in this story, the Heroine is more active than in many of the previous stories: she's a character with agency, journeying to and from the forest and fighting against the allure of domesticity and male domination (i.e., being a bird in a cage).

I shall take two huge handfuls of his rustling hair as he lies half dreaming, half waking, and wind them into ropes, very softly, so he will not wake up, and, softly, with hands as gentle as rain, I shall strangle him with them.
Then she will open all the cages and let the birds free; they will change back into young girls, every one, each with the crimson imprint of his love-bite on their throats.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Erl-King) (speaker), The Erl-King
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're told how the Heroine strangles the Erl-King with his own hair--an allusion, perhaps, to the Biblical story of Samson, another tale about a man's downfall caused by hair (and a woman). The Heroine's act of murder is both brutal and tender; it's as if she's making love to him one last time, rather than choosing to spend the rest of her days in a cage.

The passage is surprising in that it transitions back and forth between the present and future tenses, and between the first and second persons. It's as if the ferocity of the Heroine's feelings about the Erl-King are shattering her own consciousness, causing a kind of out-of-body experience--or else that Carter is delving deeper into the singsong, fairy-tale world of her stories. Furthermore, the disjointedness of the passage makes us wonder if the Heroine ever actually kills the Erl-King, or if she's only imagining a murder, from the security of a birdcage. Even in this passage, when the Heroine is dominating the Erl-King, the conditional syntax suggests the Heroine's weakness and hesitation (echoing the freed women, who still retain the Erl-King's "love-bite"), making us wonder how complete her rebellion is.

The Lady of the House of Love Quotes

She is not sleeping.
In death, she looked far older, less beautiful and so, for the first time, fully human.
I will vanish in the morning light; I was only an invention of darkness. And I leave you as a souvenir the dark, fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs, like a flower laid on a grave. On a grave.

Related Characters: The Countess (The Lady of the House of Love) (speaker), The Countess (The Lady of the House of Love)
Related Symbols: Roses
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Young Man discovers that the Countess has been transformed into a mortal woman, and has died. The night before, she had her own blood sucked, reversing her vampirish identity and giving her the ambiguous "gift" of mortality. There is then another lyrical change of tense, as the narrator assumes the voice of the dead Countess, speaking once more in the second-person from beyond the grave (but with a universal, poetic voice that could come from many of the characters in the story sequence.) In the final lines the Countess doesn't seem angry with the Young Man for bringing death to her; on the contrary, she leaves him a strange memento of their time together--"a dark, fanged rose I plucked from between my thighs." In this brief image Carter condenses many of her themes and motifs: beauty, death, sex, virginity, violence, and roses.

The Company of Wolves Quotes

Every wolf in the world now howled a prothalamion outside the window as she freely gave the kiss she owed him.
What big teeth you have!…
All the better to eat you with.
The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing…
Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh appeases him.

Related Characters: Child (The Company of Wolves) (speaker), Huntsman (speaker)
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the story, the child (a version of Little Red Riding-Hood) arrives at her grandmother's house and finds the wolf, waiting in bed, disguised as her own grandmother, as other wolves howl a "prothalamion" (a celebration of a marriage) outside. In this retelling, the child isn't fooled or frightened in the slightest: she recognizes the wolf for what he is. And yet the child seems to play along with the wolf's charade: she praises the wolf, and freely offers the kiss he asks for. And when it's time for the wolf to "eat" her, the child instead seduces the wolf, using her confidence and sexuality to conquer him. Unlike the heroines of other previous stories, who are described in terms of food or meat, the child knows she is "nobody's meat."

The passage shows the child using her sexuality and femininity as weapons--asserting her own agency and independence. With sexuality, the child saves her own life; furthermore, she seems to be genuinely enjoying herself, savoring the danger of having sex with a carnivorous wolf. As in some of the other stories in the book, the child emerges victorious by undergoing a metamorphosis into a "wolf" herself; i.e., by transforming from a virgin into a sexualized, "man-eating" beast.

It is Christmas Day, the werewolves’ birthday, the door of the solstice stands wide open; let them all sink through.
See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.

Related Characters: Child (The Company of Wolves), Huntsman
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

The story ends on Christmas Day, with the child and the wolf sitting in bed together. In yet another kind of transformation, the wolf has become a calm, domesticated creature, with "paws" instead of claws, and a "tender" demeanor (recalling the earlier description of the Erl-King as a "tender butcher). By the same token, the child has changed from a shy, virginal girl to a wolfish, sexualized young woman who knows how to assert herself confidently.

The passage suggests that the child and the wolf have reached a kind of pact, meeting each other halfway. The strongest relationship, Carter suggests, is always a "meeting halfway"--as in the book's other stories, the beast might become a human, but the human must also become something of the beast. Furthermore, the passage reiterates some of the images of "Puss in Boots" by showing the characters making love in a dead woman's bed--the thrill of death seems to make the characters' lust more intense.

Wolf-Alice Quotes

The wolves had tended her because they knew she was an imperfect wolf; we secluded her in animal privacy out of fear of her imperfection because it showed us what we might have been, and so time passed, although she scarcely knew it. Then she began to bleed.

Related Characters: Wolf-Alice
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we meet "Wolf-Alice" after she has already been raised by wolves, and then "rescued" by humans. The nuns who find her seek to raise her, but then she begins to "bleed" (menstruate), and they decide to give her up to the Duke, a werewolf.

As in most of the stories in the book, a kind of metamorphosis is a central aspect of "Wolf-Alice." At this point, Alice is in a transition state--not a wolf, but not a true human either. This is then connected to her menstruation as another transition state, one involving both sex and violence (blood); she is becoming a woman, and virginity is giving way to sexuality. It's especially notable that Alice is staying with nuns--who embrace virginity and chastity and fear sexuality--and they only give her up once she begins to "bleed."

Poor, wounded thing… locked half and half between such strange states, an aborted transformation, an incomplete mystery, now he lies writhing on his black bed like a Mycenaean tomb, howls like a wolf with his foot in a trap or a woman in labour, and bleeds.

Related Characters: Wolf-Alice, The Duke
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the story (the last in the book), the Duke, a werewolf, has been shot. He lies in bed, wounded, caught halfway between wolf and man. Carter notes the feminized aspects of his character: he looks like a woman giving birth, and he "bleeds" like a menstruating woman (as Alice was described earlier in the story). To be caught halfway between wolf and man, then, is also to be caught halfway between man and woman.

Like many of the characters in the book, the Duke is an androgynous character: even at his most hyper-masculine, Carter portrays him using feminizing language. Because of Wolf-Alice, the Duke will eventually transform toward the human, masculine side of his being, and yet here, he's caught halfway--man and woman, human and wolf.