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.
Power and Objectification ThemeTracker
Power and Objectification Quotes in The Bloody Chamber
His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.