Transforming Of Literary Genres In David Malouf’s ‘Ransom’ And Angela Carter’s ‘The Company Of Wolves’

Genre is a set of established and exceedingly organized restraints on the production and interpretation of meaning. It is the base that gives the reader a premediated idea of the text before it is even read. Its structuring effects are productive of meaning; they shape and guide, in the way that a builder’s form gives shape to a pour of concrete, or a sculptor’s mold shapes and gives structure to its materials. The topic of literary genre features and how they create meaning will be discussed through David Malouf’s ‘Ransom’ and Angela Carter’s ‘the Company of Wolves’ as both texts rely heavily on intertext and generic framing in order to form meaning. Both texts manipulate and transform genres in order to create a new and diverse perspective for the reader to consider.

Angela Carter’s ‘The Company of Wolves’ propositions a dark interpretation of the traditional story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. The text embodies the element of gothic fiction whilst still paying homage to the fairy tale genre, creating a new and profound meaning to the reader. Carter employs intertextuality from the original versions of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ to distorted fairy tales such as ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ and ‘Gretel in the Darkness’ to add depth and plurality to the tale, whilst portraying sexual acts of pornography with a feminist angle intertwined throughout. It is only in the past few decades that the tale of red riding hood has been reinvigorated through the efforts of writers who have challenged the disciplinary edge to the story and challenged its basic assumptions, which we can see through Carter’s version. ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ and ‘Gretel in the Darkness’ are two texts based off traditional fairy tales. ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ follows the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, but the text, similarly to Carter’s other text ‘The Company of Wolves’, explores the themes of sexuality and femininity, creating new meaning for the reader to consider. In this version of the fairy tale, the Beast does turn into a human form, but the Beauty is turned into a Beast, by exploring her own sexuality. The Beauty gradually develops attributes of being active, in control of her body, independent and full of aspiration and sexual appetite, attributes that the Beast had had all along. Louise Gluck’s ‘Gretel in Darkness’ follows the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, but offers a feminine perspective to the situation at hand. Gluck represents the psychology of Gretel throughout the text, emphasizing numerous issues such as stereotyping, repression and the patriarchal norms that subsist for women, even for one in a fairy tale. Angela Carter’s ‘The Company of Wolves’ encompasses ideas from each of the texts mentioned, following the idea of sexuality as ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ and the feminist angle of ‘Gretel in Darkness’. The tale starts by informing readers of this young, sensible woman who “married a man who vanished clean away on her wedding night”, but “dried her eyes and found herself another husband”. Soon the first husband returns and learns of the woman’s infidelity, wishing he were a wolf again “to teach this whore a lesson!”. This interprets to the reader how woman are portrayed in society as being weak, vulnerable and inferior, as well as their adultery and sexual relationships with men to be seen as unfitting for their gender. The next protagonist of the tale is presented to the reader as being a “strong minded child” who “insists she will go through the woods”, ignoring that it is “the worst time in all the year for wolves”. As “children do not stay young for long”, hints of sexuality are relayed through the colourful imagery the child’s red shawl, which has the ominous look of “blood on snow”, symbolizing the “unbroken egg(s)” fast progression into being of age and maturing sexually. The final scene is a culmination of Carter’s themes and a powerful illustration of the psychological and sexual truths she brings out of the traditional fairy tale. The girl, who was once a child, affirms her sexuality and begins to take control of it, knowing that she is “nobody’s meat”. The child turns into her own kind of ‘wolf’, becoming a sexual being and robbing the wolf of his power, ripping “his shirt off” and flinging it “into the fire”. Bacchilega perceives this scene as an indication to Little Red Riding Hood’s desires: “by acting out her desires — sexual, not just for life — the girl offers herself as flesh, not meat… Both carnivores incarnate, these two young heterosexual beings satiate their hunger not for dead meat, but flesh, while at the same time embodying it”. With this shifting dynamic (as aggression and sexual dominance has never been interpreted as a female feature) Carter allows readers to create new meaning by exposing them to the representation of gender and sexuality seen through the dark origins of the popular fairy tale.

Like Carter’s text offered a new interpretation of the classic ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ fairy tale, David Malouf’s ‘Ransom’ shines a new light on Homer’s Iliad, adding twists and reflections in order to create a new and diverse meaning for the reader to consider. Ransom is an intertextual novel, as was Carter’s text as both are contingent on the reader’s knowledge of the original stories in order to make meaning. Homer’s Iliad is the main intertext that Malouf draws upon, as does Louise Glück’s ‘The Triumph of Achilles’. The Iliad is read today as the earliest example of Western literature, the first work in a long tradition of heroic narrative. Malouf extends the text beyond the traditional god centric narrative and mystical elements, using lyrical language to elucidate the emotions of the protagonists, essentially humanising them. The rage of Achilles, that is central to the dramatic structure of the Iliad, is portrayed by Malouf as an expression of the most deeply instinctive, primal emotions, unmediated by cultural or social codes, an innate human response in its most raw, animal state, diminishing any god like expectation the reader once may have hand. Achilles had grieved the loss of Patroclus, “but silently, never permitting himself to betray to others what he felt”, which evidently led him to take his emotions out on Hector, dragging his “raw” corpse until it was “caked with dust”, “bounded and tumbled”, “bloody and unrecognisable”. Louise Glück in her poem ‘The Triumph of Achilles’ also takes an emotional route, humanising and exposing Achilles as he “grieved with his whole being and the gods saw he was a man already dead, a victim of the part that loved, the part that was mortal”. Both texts allow the reader to see Achilles from a different viewpoint, as a mortal who has real emotions of grief, pain, anger and love. Malouf, throughout the novel, not only expands on the existing characters and their lives, but also incorporates new characters that did not subsist in the original story. Malouf introduces Somax to the reader, giving him the qualities of a vernacular character, chosen for his unremarkable identity; he is an expression of the colloquial human nature and is representative of the ‘common man’ (“a plain worker man”). Somax, on his journey with Priam, teaches him how to deal with loss and death, which is the “fee paid in advance” (Malouf). This journey allows Priam to experience an array of human emotions that are inherent to mortality and which are known to separate man from god. Somax introduces Priam into the world of humanity, to the “unnecessary and particular” where “pain and pleasure were inextricably mixed” and to what it feels to be “simply a man” (Malouf) – one that is not imprisoned by the expectations of a ‘god like’ man and that experiences the vehement intimacy of grief. By Malouf exposing various characters feelings throughout the novel and extending the text beyond the traditional god centric narrative, readers gain a new meaning to the Iliad, one that is filled with real and relatable human emotions.

Both Angela Carter’s ‘The Company of Wolves’ and David Malouf’s ‘Ransom’ manipulate and transform genres in order to create a new and diverse perspective for the reader to consider. For both texts, the authors are contingent on the readers knowledge of the original stories in order to make meaning, therefore relying heavily on intertext and generic framing. Carter, by casting Little Red Riding Hood “in the role of a sexual nymphet, a typical object of male fantasy”, transforms the classic fairy tale genre into one of sexuality and femininity, creating “tensions with the hegemonic erotic, challenging readers to find another erotic in a dramatically different, often disturbing, sexual imagination”. Malouf, in ‘Ransom’, allows his readers to gain a new meaning of the classic Iliad by going beyond the god centric narrative and putting an end to the classical cult of heroism by equalising all men and portraying the raw, real and human emotions of the characters.

Conclusively, both Angela Carter’s ‘The Company of Wolves’ and David Malouf’s ‘Ransom’ successfully challenge their readers to consider new interpretations of the traditional fairy tales (Carter) and historical fictions (Malouf) by transmuting genres in order to create meaning. 

09 March 2021
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