The representation of women’s condition within literature has been one of the most sensitive parts of literary analysis. Fairy tales, as everyone knows, is a story intended primarily for children that often involves fanciful and extraordinary adventures and characters. However, in today’s modern society, children are being warned about the gruesome involvement of sexual references and immorality in fairy tales. As a result, some fairy tales are being revised to be more acceptable for children.
It has been transparent for the past centuries how writers, either consciously or unconsciously, portray gender in a manner that is sometimes offensive to women’s or men’s sexuality. Some feminists nowadays claim that the dominance and superiority of male over female in literature especially in fairytales have been highlighted. Hence, it is essential to review the origin and cultural background of the author to determine and trace the gender roles and the representation of women in literature.
The stories of Cinderella, Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood are classic famous fairytales that are still in print today and have been adapted into films, plays, and musicals. These stories were adapted from tales of Mother Goose with a single author named Charles Perrault (“Charles Perrault”). For Perrault, fairytales were originally intended for children, since his stories are a combination of folk tales’ retelling and simplicity. He was a French writer of 16th and early 17th century whose name became popular from his fairytales.
The representation of gender in Perrault’s stories has been questioned by many, especially the feminists who perceive his stories as offensive to the sexuality and individuality of women. While the men were perceived as strong during Perrault’s time, the women of his time were viewed as delicate and submissive. Consequently, Perrault’s writings are reflective of the traditional ideas about men and women. For instance, the plots of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella revolve in the heroic deeds of the male protagonists, while the heroines are portrayed as someone who is oppressed and needs to be saved.
There is one fairy tale created by Perrault that is not as popular as compared to his other fairy tales—the story of “The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots,” which primarily features the cunning and clever skills of a cat to save himself from being eaten by his Master. The story begins when the cat’s master gets disappointed when he, as the youngest son of the family, only inherits a cat from his father. The inheritance of his two older brothers is far better than his. He pities himself and contemplates the possibility of eating the cat.
The cat, upon hearing his master’s plan, bargains with him and asks for a bag and a pair of boots to also prove himself as a worthy inheritance. The bag and the pair of boots are significant for the cat’s future tricks that will later make his master a young and powerful man and enable him to marry the princess of the kingdom. The central figure of the fairy tale is not a human being but a cat gifted with the capability to talk and to reason. Human beings in this story are just secondary characters.
The cat’s character is of the greatest importance in the story since his deceits and trickery paid off greater to uplift his and his master’s standings in the society. The cat lied to the king, he handled the ogre very cleverly, and he corrupted and threatened the peasants to make wrong testimonies. The cat’s actions are all manifestations of his extraordinary skills in trickery. These prove his superiority above all characters. However, Perrault did not mention the gender of the cat which may mean that mentioning it will create no importance.
Whether the cat in the story is a male or a female, when gifted with reason, talents, and understanding, it has the capability to use tricks and deceit to uplift oneself. After all, tricks pay more quickly than hard and decent labor. Hence, the cat in the story can be compared to a human servant since Perrault endowed him with words and reason. There is no exception or distinction in doing good or bad. Whether one belongs to a man and woman specie, he or she is not excluded from the temptations of evil and worldly standards.
Everybody is given the free will to act according to their decision. Perhaps, the writer just used the character of a genderless cat to add amusement and enchantment to his target readers, the children. Nevertheless, biases in representation of gender in “The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots” are still evident, one of which can be observed in the only female character in the story. She was a king’s daughter described as “the most beautiful princess in the world” (Perrault). The character of the princess justified the happily-ever-after endings trademark of Perrault’s fairytales.
The princess stood out in the story as an accessory to the goals of the cat for his master. One of the cat’s greatest intentions was to win her heart for his master since marrying the princess meant expanding the possibility to become wealthy and powerful. To make the princess fall in love with the cat’s master was not a hard job since she immediately fell head over heels in love with the cat’s master after seeing him with the “Kings fine clothes that gave him a striking appearance” (Perrault). She “had fallen violently in love” with the master after seeing the assumed vast estate he possessed (Perrault).
Hence, the writer portrayed the princess with a shallow character who can easily be tempted with looks, appearance, and wealth, which may very well be the writer’s perception of a typical woman of his time. Even without knowing the master’s true identity, she easily fell in love with him due to his appearance and vast wealth. In addition to this, the decision of the king to ask the cat’s master to be his son-in-law without consulting the princess for approval first illustrates the women’s sense of dependency and their restricted rights to decide for themselves.
During the author’s era, the women never participated in decision making. Hence, this also suggests that the individuality or the identity of the princess as a human is not complete. In a way, she is like a flower that completes the garden. The princess is also depicted as a symbol of acquiring a fanciful, happily-ever-after ending and the master’s acquisition of power when they married in the end. On the other hand, the men were depicted in the story as someone who highly values wealth, status, and power. However, the author presented this trait as more of a flaw rather than strength.
This flaw was especially apparent in the king’s character. Like the princess, he was immediately entranced by the master’s assumed wealth that he immediately chose him to be the future husband of his daughter. The way Perrault’s represented gender in this fairy tale is far different from his other stories. Although the princess was still portrayed as weak, the male protagonists’ characters varied depending on the situation. Perhaps, this is because Perrault as a male understood well that he can easily conform to the evil tendencies of humans.
Hence, this is not a story about how the writer makes a distinction about male and female as genders with different tendencies; rather, it is a story that deals with human nature itself.
Work Cited “Charles Perrault. ” Encyclop? dia Britannica. 2008. Encyclop? dia Britannica Online. 17 November 2008 <http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/452539/Charles-Perrault>. Perrault, Charles. The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots. 8 October 2003. University of Pittsburgh. 17 November 2008 <http://www. pitt. edu/~dash/perrault04. html>.