The Bloody Chamber

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Power and Objectification Theme Analysis

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.
Power and Objectification Theme Icon

The book’s sexual violence and Carter’s feminist worldview create a theme of manipulative power and the objectification of women. This is part of the “latent content” that Carter tried to expose in the old fairy tales. In most of the original stories there is already a divide between a poor, virginal heroine and a wealthy, powerful man/monster, but in Carter’s versions this divide also leads to sexual oppression. In “The Bloody Chamber” and “The Courtship of Mr Lyon” the heroines are indebted to bestial men for lifting them out of poverty, and so they must endure their desires.

These archetypes of victim and victimizer lead many of the stories to the stark objectification of a woman, usually through a scene where the woman is naked and the man/beast is clothed. So in “The Tiger’s Bride” The Beast wants to see the heroine naked, and the Erl-King strips the heroine like “skinning a rabbit.” This pornographic image, like the sadistic pictures the Marquis collects in “The Bloody Chamber,” is the ultimate example of the woman as object and the man as powerful manipulator. In a similar vein to the pornographic image is the Erl-King’s hypnotic whistle and Signor Panteleone (of “Puss-in-Boots”) viewing his young wife as another possession to hoard.

While in these situations (and throughout the old versions of the fairy tales) the women seem totally objectified and powerless, in Carter’s stories they can also gain an agency of their own, like the heroine killing the Erl-King and escaping his power. Instead of rejecting the old fairy tales for their objectification of women and sexual violence, Carter retells them from a female point of view, giving the stories’ heroines greater agency in their fates.

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Power and Objectification ThemeTracker

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

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

His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the mysterious Marquis offers the story's Heroine a wedding present: a ruby choker (a tight necklace). The Heroine notes that the choker makes her seem to have a slit throat, and to be bleeding from the neck--a grisly reference to the French Revolution, during which noblemen like the Marquis were beheaded at the guillotine. The Heroine notes that such ironic references to the bloody past are now in vogue among the nobility.

In general, the ruby choker symbolizes the Marquis sadistic tendencies: he clearly desires the Heroine, channeling his feelings into violence and bloodshed. This image of a combination of innocent female beauty, wealthy extravagance, corrupt sexuality, and brutal violence also introduces the general tone and imagery of the story collection.


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I saw him watching me in the gilded mirrors with the assessing eye of a connoisseur inspecting horseflesh, or even of a housewife in the market, inspecting cuts on the slab. I’d never seen, or else had never acknowledged, that regard of his before… When I saw him look at me with lust, I dropped my eyes but, in glancing away from him, I caught sight of myself in the mirror… I saw how much that cruel necklace became me. And, for the first time in my innocent and confined life, I sensed in myself a potentiality for corruption that took my breath away.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Marquis stares at the Heroine, regarding her as a mere object for his sexual gratification: a toy to be played with. The Marquis stares at the Heroine, even when she's not staring back--the very definition of the "male gaze." Furthermore, the mirrors of the opera house (the setting of this scene) make it seem that the Marquis surrounds the Heroine on all sides, symbolizing his power and total domination.

And yet the passage also suggests that the Heroine herself is somewhat complicit in her own objectification. Unlike many feminist writers of the era, Carter isn't afraid to suggest that a woman can enjoy being sexualized or objectified, and here, the Heroine seems to be getting subtle pleasure out of the way the Marquis treats her. Indeed, she thinks of the Marquis as uncovering her secret, corrupt side--the latent potential of her present innocence and virginity. Things aren't black and white in Carter's stories--they are often undeniably about male oppression and female attempts at liberation, but they also toy with sadism and masochism, and the idea that some kinds of objectification can be sexually attractive.

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.

I stammered foolishly: We’ve not taken luncheon yet; and, besides, it is broad daylight…
All the better to see you.
He made me put on my choker, the family heirloom of one woman who had escaped the blade… Rapt, he intoned: “Of her apparel she retains/Only her sonorous jewellery.”
A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Marquis prepares to have sex with the Heroine. He's aroused by the fact that she's a virgin, and can't wait to take her virginity. The Marquis seems to think of the Heroine as a passive part of his own pleasure: he undresses her, and then makes her put on the choker, as if she's a mannequin being arranged on a stage.

The passage uses rich imagery, and even fairy-tale imagery ("The better to see you" comes straight out of "Little Red Riding Hood," often interpreted, including by Carter herself, as a story about sexual seduction) to convey the Heroine's experience. She's surrounded by mirrors, so that she's dominated by the Marquis's presence in all directions (hence the dozen husbands). Furthermore, the Heroine describes the Marquis as "impaling her," conveying the violent nature of his desire for. It's impossible to separate sex and violence in Carter's story: she can't have one without the other.

On her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a man-eating tiger that ravaged the villages in the hills north of Hanoi. Now, without a moment’s hesitation, she raised my father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband’s head.

Related Characters: Heroine (The Bloody Chamber) (speaker), The Marquis , Heroine’s Mother
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

In the climax of the short story, the Heroine's mother emerges from the background to protect her daughter from the threats of the Marquis. The Marquis is about to execute the Heroine, but at that moment the Mother arrives and shoots the Marquis in the head.

Carter here changes the traditional story of Bluebeard to make her version more unabashedly feminist and inspiring. In the original tale, the Heroine would have been rescued by her brothers, but in this ending the "hero" rescuing the "damsel in distress" is another woman--and furthermore, a woman with experience killing "beasts" (like the tiger, and like other Beasts in later stories of the collection) and asserting herself powerfully. The mother appears only briefly, but she is an inspiring figure, like one of Carter's young heroines all grown up.

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 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 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 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.