The Theme Of Change In The Bloody Chamber By Angela Carter
The exploration of change and transformation enables the discovery of empowerment. It is through the abuse of power, female empowerment and crossing forbidden boundaries that one can truly transform. The recurring theme of change is evident in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Carter’s interpretation and rewriting of the classic fairytale Bluebeard, by Charles Perrault, is a narrative told from a feminist perspective. Although The Bloody Chamber is an adaptation and interpretation of a fairytale, it is expressed by violent ‘adult themes’ to convey its significant message. Angela Carter's intention was to, “extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginning of new stories”, these ‘new beginnings’ mentioned are a common theme throughout The Bloody Chamber. Carter gives the female protagonist, or heroine, a strong female voice placing great emphasis on the real-life issues she addresses throughout the story.
Power and loss of power is evident throughout The Bloody Chamber, partly on the Marquis’ behalf with how he abuses his power; and also by the heroine, and her attainment of empowerment. Through her own discovery of sexuality and self, The Bloody Chamber denotes a woman’s new awareness of female power, and the responsibility she is given for her own fate. Carter presents a woman as the hero in the end of the story, as it is the bride’s mother who saves the heroine. Contrarily, in the original Bluebeard story it is the bride’s two brothers that come to her rescue. This purposeful change in the stories’ ending, powerfully represents her intent to challenge gender expectations. Carter also achieves this by changing the style in which it is written. The Bloody Chamber is in first person, told from the perspective of the wife versus Bluebeard being written in third person, narrated external to the action. By Carter changing the perspective in which the story is told adds a greater voice and feminine outlook on the events unfolding. Also advancing the heroine’s achievement of empowerment and the transformation she experiences.
The use of a metaphor, of the ‘white lilies’ foreshadows the horror and abuse of power later discovered in the story. “Mirrors on all the walls, in stately frames of contorted gold, that reflected more white lilies than I’d ever seen in my life before”, white lilies often represent purity and innocence; However, they are also associated with funerals, a portent of death. Carter interprets this by referring to them at ‘funereal lilies’ and the reader later discovers that the bloody chamber contains the Marquis’ three ex-wives, who were brutally murdered and were never laid to rest.
Carter’s portrayal of the Marquis’ abuse of power, acts as an obstacle for the heroine to overcome and transform into the strong, powerful and desirable woman that she discovers herself to be. “He dangled the key tantalizingly above my head, out of reach of my straining fingers; those bare red lips of his cracked sidelong in a smile. 'Ah, no,' he said. 'Not the key to my heart. Rather, the key to my enfer.’” The Marquis’ abuse of power is revealed when he describes the bloody chamber as his “enfer”, which in French translates to ‘hell’. The use of this biblical connotation to the Devil, further reveals his cruel nature and intent to punish sinners. When the Marquis gives the ‘bloody key’ to his wife, she is told not to use it, in this moment she is given the power. However, the reader also realizes that the Marquis is testing her, and somewhat wants her to use the key. The bloody key and the forbidden chamber symbolically represent the theme of sexual discovery, at the same time being the heroine’s responsibility of her own fate, which is contradicted by her loss of power in the end. What she discovers behind the door is a rude awakening of her husband’s gruesome violent behaviour and male sexual aggression.
The Bloody Chamber is written and narrated from a strong female perspective, representing female empowerment. The Bloody Chamber was written in 1979, during and in reflection of, the second wave feminist movement. The context and purpose of the story is crucial to understanding its underlying message. Carter believed that the myths of a typical fairytale, could be overcome by demythologising the story. The Bloody Chamber is served as an allegory of a relevant social point in history. Carter’s interpretation was successfully achieved by utilising erotic language, sexual themes and gruesome imagery, to allow the reader to see the extent of gender inequality at the time of the late 1970’s. Although the heroine is a cliché ‘damsel in distress’ in parts of the story, it is written unlike any other mainstream princess fairytale, as it is the mother who assists in her escape, and the heroine discovers empowerment within herself.
Further conveying the lack of gender equality, Carter uses zoomorphism to represent the objectification of women. “…the flashing crimson jewels round her throat, bright as arterial blood”. The ruby choker is used to convey the Marquis’ animalistic behaviour, as chokers often represent a dog collar. The women wearing a collar represent possession, marking and claiming by the Marquis. The ruby choker also foreshadows her possibility of execution and beheading after she uses the key to open the chamber, “a red ribbon like a memory of a wound”.
The heroine’s new awareness of female empowerment is evident when she begins to realize that she is desired. There is certain kind of power in knowing that a female is desired and it is represented in the moment in front of the mirror. Carter again uses objectification to describe the heroine, “…and I saw myself, suddenly, as he saw me, my pale face, the way the muscles in my neck stuck out like thin wire. 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”. This self-discovery versus objectification demonstrates the journey she begins to take. As her knowing of empowerment and sexuality transforms, the heroine learns to utilise her sexuality as power, “I forced myself to be seductive.”
Carter’s choice of the hero to be a woman, differentiates from the traditional fairy tale, typically being a man or prince that triumphs over evil. The Bloody Chamber’s hero is a woman that overcomes the weakness in men. This theme of female empowerment is also evident in the story of Beauty and the Beast, which Carter also re-interprets in her story The Tiger’s Bride. The transformation of the ‘Beast’ and that of the ‘Beauty’ herself is a strong allegory. However, Carter represents this notion of transformation in The Bloody Chamber to a greater extent, by voicing erotic language and a gruesome tone. Both stories have a common ‘room’ that is not to be entered. The Beast’s room and the bloody chamber are a forbidden boundary, that provoke the women’s’ curiosity to the extent, that they find the temptation to overwhelming to ignore. The bloody chamber is a place for the heroine to transform, once entered and having experienced the horrors of the chamber, it changes her irreversibly.
Additionally, Carter uses the bloody chamber as a metaphor for the heroine’s lack of innocence and the growth in transformation she experiences. Her understanding of sexuality and female empowerment changes throughout the story, and significantly changes when she uses the bloody key to open the forbidden chamber. These temptations are portrayed through Carter’s use of intertextuality, “I squinted at a title or two: The Initiation, The Key of Mysteries, The Secret of Pandora’s Box, and yawned. Nothing, here, to detain a seventeen-year-old girl waiting for her first embrace”. When the heroine sees these novels, it foreshadows the climatic events later to come, when the heroine eventually crosses the forbidden boundary, opening the chamber. When ‘Pandora’s Box’ is opened all hell breaks loose, much like the bloody chamber and the repercussions that are inevitable to come afterward. Although the Marquis reiterates that chamber is forbidden, he gives her a key regardless and somewhat expects her to open it. Is this because he wants to punish her? “The secret of Pandora’s box; but he had given me the box, himself, knowing I must learn the secret”, the responsibility and fate of the heroine is handed to her. Similarly, to the bible story of Adam and Eve, “‘You disobeyed him, he said. 'That is sufficient reason for him to punish you.'
'I only did what he knew I would.' 'Like Eve,' he said”. The biblical connotation to Eve symbolises that female curiosity will be punished, if the woman gives in to the temptation.
The theme of ‘transformation’ in The Bloody Chamber is further illustrated by the literary genre being a fairy tale. The realm of a fairy tale is one of transformation, wonder and possibility, by the way the characters overcome obstacles and reach a happy ending. Although The Bloody Chamber is not written in the same way as a traditional ‘princess’ fairy tale, Carter’s interpretation places powerful emphasis on the ‘transformative’ motif throughout the story. The Bloody Chamber reflects the need of concern for the real life issues happening in that moment of time, the second wave feminist movement. Carter continuously reinforces the concept that, “The deepest transformations occur when the characters determine their own destiny”), by the heroine choosing her own fate and opening the bloody chamber. Female protagonists in fairy tales often use voice to present their power, and show their transition into adult hood or discovery of self.
The Bloody Chamber addresses several significant issues, relevant to the time it was written and today. Although confronting at times, Carter forces the reader to recognise the extent of the issues, through the use of erotic language and gruesome imagery. Change and Transformation are a common theme throughout The Bloody Chamber and are explored through the new found awareness of female empowerment, abuse and loss of power and crossing forbidden thresholds. When faced with temptations and obstacles the heroine was able to grow and transform.