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Angela Carter’s Exploration of Masks and Society

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Essay title: Angela Carter’s Exploration of Masks and Society

society's stereotypes? Perhaps it is a tautological circle in which people usually wear the masks they are meant to wear and thus continue creating the same classifications over and over.

One of the greatest modern writers, Angela Carter, deals often with stereotypes in her adaptations of classical fairy tales. Andrew Milne explains the power this practice has had in society, "rewriting of traditional European tales forces the reader to question himself and to think a great deal about the imaginary milestones of our cultural make-up...the reader sees not only his own reflection but also that of society and his culture" (Milne, Manuscrit-Universite).

Fairy tales present modern society's stereotypes, especially about the roles of men and women, and therefore create common ideas that many people believe without consideration. These stereotypes have become so ingrained in our subconscious that they register as facts and we continue the cycles of adorning the masks we are supposed to, according to the rules of society. Angela Carter's “The Bloody Chamber” and “The Tiger's Bride” are both explorations of masks and stereotypes in society. They explore the many masks people can wear, the difficulty of seeing the truth behind masks, and why living behind a mask is not truly living.

Types of Masks and Their Connotations

In many cultures masked creatures or people are represented as evil. Masked creatures, however, are not always evil and evil does not always wear a visible mask. In "The Tiger's Bride", a version of “Beauty and the Beast”, a wealthy land owner is feared as a beast. He literally wears a mask though the exact reason is unknown. Perhaps it is because he is fearsome, as the Beauty muses, "it cannot be his face that looks like mine" (Carter 158). Did society force him into hiding his true form or did he choose to cover it himself? The Beast's mysteriousness makes it seem like he must be monstrous and frightening but no one really knows his true nature. In the end Beauty discovers that although The Beast may look frightening he is not violent. In "The Bloody Chamber" the Marquis is violent though no one would suspect it since he wears a mask of perfect composure that hides his true nature. Although his age and experience should make the Marquis look older, “experience seemed to make it perfectly a mask, as if his real face, the face that truly reflected all the life he had led in the world...lay underneath this mask” (Carter 113). The Marquis' money and status allow him to hide who he truly is. He seems like a regal man from afar and though his fiancйe senses there is something more sinister underneath it is too well hidden to expose. Carter's exposition of masks truly show you can not judge a book by its cover.

Gender Roles Ordained by Society

In both "The Bloody Chamber" and "The Tiger's Bride" the main female characters become possessions of men. This is one of society's stereotypes shattered by Angela Carter's stories. The girl in "The Bloody Chamber" allows herself to be objectified willingly because she believes she loves the Marquis. In truth he only takes the place of a father figure and also offers her material objects and comfort. Beauty in "The Tiger's Bride" is won and lost in a game of cards when her father tries to win riches from The Beast. For both the men the girls' nudity and innocence have power. The Beast offers to let Beauty freedom and money if only she will undress in front of him. She is given this power because she has “'a young lady's skin that no man has seen before'” (Carter 163). Carter also suggests that the reason the Marquis chose his most recent bride is because she is virginal and innocent unlike all the other women he married before her. After they are married there is a “formal disrobing of the bride” that shows the importance of the female body to the Marquis (Carter 118). Then when the Marquis is about to kill his new bride she narrates, "of my apparel I must retain only my gems" (Carter 141-142). For the Marquis it is ritualistic and a final act to objectify the wife with nudity. The girls follow this and many other stereotypes of female roles.

Not every woman in these stories automatically follows the stereotypical code of behavior. The Mother in “The Bloody Chamber” becomes the heroic savior of the story, a place usually reserved for men. The Mother comes riding in on a horse with, "her black lisle legs exposed to the thigh, her skirts tucked round her waist" and saves her daughter (Carter 142) . This courage extended to the daughter earlier in the story, making her fearless in her pursuit of the true nature of her husband. It

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