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“Many of the characters in these tales are symbolic or are symbols: they represent aspects of human nature or society”
Many of the characters in The Bloody Chamber symbolise strength and some symbolise weakness. Some of Carter’s female characters are able to represent aspects of human nature. For example, the female characters learn to control their lives from men who seek to control them, while others must change themselves, even their species in one case. For example, in “The Erl-King”, the young girl resolves to “take two huge handfuls of his rustling hair as he lies half dreaming… wind them into ropes...with hands as gentle as rain” and shall “strangle him with them”. This establishes the sense that the narrator is imagining to kill The Erl King, Carter employs an image used in “The Bloody Chamber”: long hair, a symbol of female beauty and masculine strength, wound around the neck in strangulation. The simile of “with hands as gentle as rain” display a destructive side of human nature in contrast to the less destructive side of nature itself. Alternatively, this could also suggest the young girl’s naivety has been lost as she develops a mindset to understand how The Erl King entraps young girls in cages like birds. Thus, the readers are able to recall the Erl King as a cruel being, he is described as a man with “white, pointed teeth”. This description immediately hints to the readers he is perhaps a deadly predator, whether he is a real wolf of imaginary vampire. This could also suggest the young girl is vulnerable under the Earl Kings power, therefore he traps the female spirits in “pretty cages”. The modern readers may be surprised by the fact the Earl King dehumanises young girl’s. This employs the male gender as cruel and dominant. However, some may say the caged women may symbolically represent the objectification of free souls. The fact the Earl King is affectionate towards the women, feeds them well and impresses them by his domestic abilities portrays a metaphorically caring patriarchy. The fact he doesn’t give women their full freedom represents the Earl Kings thirsty desire for young innocent girls as he seeks pleasure in nurturing them. Similarly, in the poem ‘The Erl King’ by Von Goethe the young man is presented to collect beautiful things for the sake of beauty. For example he states, “I’m charm’d by thy beauty”. This highlights the active nature of the male gender either sexually, mentally or practically. However, this contradicts with the ideology of the young girl in “The Earl King” by Carter as the young girl mentally matures and transforms into a young thoughtful woman who prepares the murder and hopes to free all the trapped girls. Helene Cixous argues if women refuse to play the roles that the patriarchy gives them, they can ignite a revolution. Instead of being ashamed of being labelled as “monstrously different from men”, they should embrace it as society has traditionally presented women as passive. This puts men in a position of dominance in all areas of culture and society. Therefore, not only men represent certain aspects of human nature but women do too. However, due to societal organisations, the organisation of literature and philosophy has been separated on the ground of hierarchised binary oppositions. For example, the key opposition of active/passive implies how male privilege is sustained. This outlines the fact the struggle is not yet over as even our narrator struggles to symbolise the dominant strength like the Earl King. Overall, the heroine consciously explodes the binary oppositions of a patriarchal society and releases the trapped women free.