Little Red Riding Hood

Fairy tales say a lot about a culture. Many European fairy tales were popularised by the Grimm Brothers in the 19th century and Disney movies in the 20th century. With each retelling of a fairy tale, children are taught more than a story; they are taught social constructs. And these constructs often relate to gender roles.  

  1. Are you familiar with the story of Little Red Riding Hood? Could you retell it to a friend?  Read one of the oldest written versions of the story below by the Grimm Bothers. Discuss your answers to the following questions:
      • How is this version of the different from how you know the story? 
      • What is the meaning of this story? Why do people tell it to children?
      • How does this story reflect cultural values that might be outdated?
      • How does this story continue to construct social constructs about gender roles?
      • In what ways would you make changes to this story for a modern audience.

    Once upon a time there was a dear little girl who was loved by every one who looked at her, but most of all by her grandmother, and there was nothing that she would not have given to the child. Once she gave her a little cap of red velvet, which suited her so well that she would never wear anything else; so she was always called ‘Little Red-Cap.’

    One day her mother said to her, “Come, Little Red-Cap, here is a piece of cake and a bottle of wine; take them to your grandmother, she is ill and weak, and they will do her good. Set out before it gets hot, and when you are going, walk nicely and quietly and do not run off the path, or you may fall and break the bottle, and then your grandmother will get nothing; and when you go into her room, don’t forget to say, ‘Good-morning,’ and don’t peep into every corner before you do it.”

    “I will take great care,” said Little Red-Cap to her mother, and gave her hand on it.

    The grandmother lived out in the wood, half a league from the village, and just as Little Red-Cap entered the wood, a wolf met her. Red-Cap did not know what a wicked creature he was, and was not at all afraid of him.

    “Good-day, Little Red-Cap,” said he.

    “Thank you kindly, wolf.”

    “Whither away so early, Little Red-Cap?”

    “To my grandmother’s.”

    “What have you got in your apron?”

    “Cake and wine; yesterday was baking-day, so poor sick grandmother is to have something good, to make her stronger.”

    “Where does your grandmother live, Little Red-Cap?”

    “A good quarter of a league farther on in the wood; her house stands under the three large oak-trees, the nut-trees are just below; you surely must know it,” replied Little Red-Cap.

    The wolf thought to himself, “What a tender young creature! what a nice plump mouthful she will be better to eat than the old woman. I must act craftily, so as to catch both.”

    So he walked for a short time by the side of Little Red-Cap, and then he said, “See, Little Red-Cap, how pretty the flowers are about here why do you not look round? I believe, too, that you do not hear how sweetly the little birds are singing; you walk gravely along as if you were going to school, while everything else out here in the wood is merry.”

    Little Red-Cap raised her eyes, and when she saw the sunbeams dancing here and there through the trees, and pretty flowers growing everywhere, she thought, “Suppose I take grandmother a fresh nosegay; that would please her too. It is so early in the day that I shall still get there in good time;” and so she ran from the path into the wood to look for flowers.

    And whenever she had picked one, she fancied that she saw a still prettier one farther on, and ran after it, and so got deeper and deeper into the wood.

    Meanwhile the wolf ran straight to the grandmother’s house and knocked at the door.

    “Who is there?”

    “Little Red-Cap,” replied the wolf. “She is bringing cake and wine; open the door.”

    “Lift the latch,” called out the grandmother, “I am too weak, and cannot get up.”

    The wolf lifted the latch, the door flew open, and without saying a word he went straight to the grandmother’s bed, and devoured her. Then he put on her clothes, dressed himself in her cap, laid himself in bed and drew the curtains.

    Little Red-Cap, however, had been running about picking flowers, and when she had gathered so many that she could carry no more, she remembered her grandmother, and set out on the way to her.

    She was surprised to find the cottage-door standing open, and when she went into the room, she had such a strange feeling that she said to herself, “Oh dear! how uneasy I feel to-day, and at other times I like being with grandmother so much.”

    She called out, “Good morning,” but received no answer; so she went to the bed and drew back the curtains. There lay her grandmother with her cap pulled far over her face, and looking very strange.

    “Oh! grandmother,” she said, “what big ears you have!”

    “The better to hear you with, my child,” was the reply.

    “But, grandmother, what big eyes you have!” she said.

    “The better to see you with, my dear.”

    “But, grandmother, what large hands you have!”

    “The better to hug you with.”

    “Oh! but, grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have!”

    “The better to eat you with!”

    And scarcely had the wolf said this, than with one bound he was out of bed and swallowed up Red-Cap.

    When the wolf had appeased his appetite, he lay down again in the bed, fell asleep and began to snore very loud. The huntsman was just passing the house, and thought to himself, “How the old woman is snoring! I must just see if she wants anything.”

    So he went into the room, and when he came to the bed, he saw that the wolf was lying in it. “Do I find you here, you old sinner!” said he. “I have long sought you!”

    Then just as he was going to fire at him, it occurred to him that the wolf might have devoured the grandmother, and that she might still be saved, so he did not fire, but took a pair of scissors, and began to cut open the stomach of the sleeping wolf.

    When he had made two snips, he saw the little Red-Cap shining, and then he made two snips more, and the little girl sprang out, crying, “Ah, how frightened I have been! How dark it was inside the wolf;” and after that the aged grandmother came out alive also, but scarcely able to breathe.

    Red-Cap, however, quickly fetched great stones with which they filled the wolf’s body, and when he awoke, he wanted to run away, but the stones were so heavy that he fell down at once, and fell dead.

    Then all three were delighted. The huntsman drew off the wolf’s skin and went home with it; the grandmother ate the cake and drank the wine which Red-Cap had brought, and revived, but Red-Cap thought to herself, “As long as I live, I will never by myself leave the path, to run into the wood, when my mother has forbidden me to do so.”

    It is also related that once when Red-Cap was again taking cakes to the old grandmother, another wolf spoke to her, and tried to entice her from the path. Red-Cap, was, however, on her guard, and went straight forward on her way, and told her grandmother that she had met the wolf, and that he had said “good-morning” to her, but with such a wicked look in his eyes, that if they had not been on the public road she was certain he would have eaten her up.

    “Well,” said the grandmother, “we will shut the door, that he may not come in.”

    Soon afterwards the wolf knocked, and cried, “Open the door, grandmother, I am little Red-Cap, and am fetching you some cakes.”

    But they did not speak, or open the door, so the grey-beard stole twice or three times round the house, and at last jumped on the roof, intending to wait until Red-Cap went home in the evening, and then to steal after her and devour her in the darkness. But the grandmother saw what was in his thoughts.

    In front of the house was a great stone trough, so she said to the child, “Take the pail, Red-Cap; I made some sausages yesterday, so carry the water in which I boiled them to the trough.”

    Red-Cap carried until the great trough was quite full. Then the smell of the sausages reached the wolf, and he sniffed and peeped down, and at last stretched out his neck so far that he could no longer keep his footing and began to slip, and slipped down from the roof straight into the great trough, and was drowned. But Red-Cap went joyously home, and never did anything to harm any one.

  2. Compare the Grimm version of the story above to the story below. How and why has this author chosen to tell this story differently? How does his version compare to your

  3. The forest was my home, I took care of it. One day, I saw a little girl coming down the trail. I was suspicious of her because she was dressed strangely - all in red. Naturally, I asked who she was and where she was going. She told me she was going to her grandmother’s house and walked off.As she went she threw a sweet wrapper on the ground. Imagine that! First she was rude to me, and now throwing rubbish! I decided to teach her a lesson.

    I ran to her grandmother’s house.When I saw the grandmother, I explained what had happened, and she agreed to help me.The grandmother hid under the bed and I got into the bed, dressed in her clothes.

    The girl arrived and immediately started to insult me, making nasty comments about my big ears, and my big eyes. I tried to stay calm, but she wouldn’t stop and insulted my big teeth next. By then, I couldn’t control my anger any longer. I jumped up from the bed and growled at her, ‘All the better to eat you with!’

    No wolf would ever eat a little girl, that red cloak would taste bad anyway. I just wanted to scare her. But she started running around screaming. I jumped after her, to calm her down. But a big lumberjack barged in with an axe.That meant trouble, so I jumped out the window to escape. But that’s not the end of it.The grandmother never told my side of the story.Word got around that I was mean and nasty. Now everyone avoids me. Maybe Little Red Riding Hood lived happily ever after, but I didn’t.

  4. There are many different ways to tell and interpret a story. The most widely accepted interpretation of a story is called a dominant reading. An interpretation that is not widely accepted is referred to as alternative reading. An alternative reading that challenged the dominant reading is called a resistant reading. Uvaldo Palomares' version is an example of a resistant reading of Little Red Riding Hood. The diagram below helps you understand the three readings. Discuss each of the wall paper images below, taken from and comment how the artists have made dominant, alternative and resistant readings of the texts.

  5. Did the wall paper images make you think see the Red Riding Hood story differently? These texts are not the first to explore the portrayal of gender, sex and violence in this fairy tale. Read the poem below by Carol Ann Duffy and the advertisement by ghd, which sells hair-styling products. If you were to prepare these two texts for an individual oral, in which you speak for 5 minutes about each text, how would you connect them to a common 'global issue'? Discuss common global issues with your teacher and classmates. Write an outline your individual oral on these two texts and your global issue.

  6. At childhood’s end, the houses petered out
    Into playing fields, the factory, allotments
    Kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men
    The silent railway line, the hermit’s caravan
    Till you came at last to the edge of the woods
    It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf

    He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud
    In his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw
    Red wine staining his bearded jaw. What big ears
    He had! What big eyes he had! What teeth!
    In the interval, I made quite sure he spotted me
    Sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink

    My first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry
    The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods
    Away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place
    Lit by the eyes of owls. I crawled in his wake
    My stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer
    Snagged on twig and branch, murder clues. I lost both shoes

    But got there, wolf’s lair, better beware. Lesson one that night
    Breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem
    I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur, for
    What little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?1
    Then I slid from between his heavy matted paws
    And went in search of a living bird – white dove –

    Which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth
    One bite, dead. How nice, breakfast in bed, he said
    Licking his chops. As soon as he slept, I crept to the back
    Of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books
    Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head
    Warm, beating, frantic, winged; music and blood

    But then I was young – and it took ten years
    In the woods to tell that a mushroom
    Stoppers the mouth of a buried corpse, that birds
    Are the uttered thought of trees, that a greying wolf
    Howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out
    Season after season, same rhyme, same reason. I took an axe

    To a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon
    To see how it leapt. I took an axe to the wolf
    As he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw
    The glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones
    I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up
    Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone

  7. Little Red Riding Hood is not the only fairy tale that contributes to harmful gender stereotypes of women and girls. As a portfolio activity, take one of the fairytales below, as retold by Brad Philpot, and retell them in your own way, encouraging alternative and resistant readings, in the spirit of Uvaldo Palomares.

  8. This is a story about a girl named Goldilocks who came upon the house of three bears: Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Since the bears were out, she let herself in to the house. She noticed three bowls of porridge. The first one was too hot to eat. The second one was too cold. But the third one, which belonged to Baby Bear, was just right. So she ate it all. After her meal she decided to sit by the fireplace. The first chair was too soft. The second chair was too hard. But the third one, Baby Bear’s, was just right. Goldilocks sat in it until a leg broke. Disappointed and tired, she looked for a bed to sleep in upstairs. After trying Mama and Papa Bear’s beds, she fell asleep in Baby Bear’s bed. When the bears came home and discovered the eaten porridge and broken chair they became suspicious and went upstairs. They chased Goldilocks out of Baby Bear’s bed and out of the house.

    Once upon a time in a far away kingdom, a princess was born. The king and queen of this kingdom invited seven fairies to come to the castle and bless their daughter. Living in the castle, however, was a witch, who felt rather perturbed that she had not been invited. After the fairies gave the baby princess their blessings, the witch cast a spell on the girl, declaring the princess would die by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. Fortunately, one fairy still had enough magic to alter this spell, turning the princess’ death sentence into a 100-year slumber. The king banished all spinning wheels from the kingdom and protected his daughter. Nevertheless, when the princess became a curious teenager she wandered into an old woman’s home and discovered a spinning wheel. She pricked her finger and fell asleep. Thorns and trees covered the tower in which she slept. One day by chance, a prince was passing by on a hunting expedition. He cut through the thorny branches and discovered the princess. He gave her a kiss and she awoke from her slumber. They married and lived happily ever after.

    An old miller went before the King and, trying to impress him, told the King his daughter Rose could spin straw into gold. The King ordered the girl to be locked in a room full of straw. He said she was to spin the straw into gold or her head would be cut off. Rose began to cry, and suddenly a little man with a long gray beard appeared and said, “I will help you spin the straw into gold if you give me something in return.” The first night, she gave him her ring. The second night, she gave him her necklace. But then she had nothing left to give. The little man wanted to have her first-born child. Rose had to agree or have her head cut off by the King for not spinning straw into gold. The little man kept his promise, and the King made Rose his queen. When Rose had her first child, the little man with the gray beard came to take the baby away. He said he would not take the baby if Rose could guess his name. She had three days to come up with three guesses. Rose sent messengers out to spy on the little man and found out his name was Rumpelstiltskin. And the baby remained with the king and queen.

  9. In the past 100 years, no single organisation has done more to further 'princesss' myths than Disney. As an HL Essay, you may want to explore how leading female characters from Disney 'Princess' movies have constructed or challenged stereotypes about girls and women.

Last modified: Tuesday, 3 November 2020, 6:10 PM