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The desire that devours: sensuality and sexuality in the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
Caperucita 1- Ana Salguero

The desire that devours: sensuality and sexuality in the story of Little Red Riding Hood.


Illustrator: Ana Salguero
Author: Gloria Ruiz Blanco

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Little Red Riding Hood is another great classic fairy tale. There are several versions of this tale but we will focus on three. On the one hand, Perrault’s version from the 17th century, and on the other hand, the 19th century versions by the Brothers Grimm and Ludwig Tieck.

Perrault’s version.

In Perrault’s version we find the story of a sweet little girl with a red cap who, on her way home from her grandmother’s house, meets the fierce wolf. The wolf would have devoured Little Red Riding HoodHad it not been for a couple of woodcutters who were around. The animal tricks the girl, arrives first at her grandmother’s house, eats the old woman and lies down in her bed. When Little Red Riding Hood arrives, he tells her to undress and lie down in the bed with him. After a series of questions, the wolf ends up devouring Little Red Riding Hood.

At the end of this story, Perrault includes the following moral:

Here we see that adolescence,

especially the ladies,

well made, nice and pretty

they don’t owe it to just anyone to hear with pleasure,

and it’s no wonder

see that many of the wolves are the prey.

And I say the wolf, for under his sheath

 not everyone is the same:

There are those with not a little skill,

silent, without hate or bitterness,

who secretly, patiently, sweetly

they go after the damsels

to the houses and in the alleys;

Moreover, we well know that the smart-ass

Of all the wolves, alas, they are the fiercest.” Perrault. Mother Goose stories. 1697.

Perrault was the first author to write down this story from the oral tradition. The version so cruel that he himself wrote was peculiar, since Perrault’s work is in the style of Louis XIV, where fairy tales stand out for their splendor and magical elements. On the other hand, in Little Red Riding Hood a story is told far from the splendor of Versailles and the court of the Sun King.

More than a story in this case, we are dealing with a lesson in which young girls are warned not to engage in conversation with strangers.

In this version, the evil that is embodied in the wolf is victorious From a psychoanalistic point of view, authors like Lang claim that Little Red Riding Hood goes from being an innocent girl to a woman who lets herself be seduced and loses her honesty.

Another point to highlight in this psychoanalistic perspective is the uncertainty between the principle of reality and the principle of pleasure.

Another point to highlight is the color chosen for the protagonist’s cap. Red symbolizes violent emotions, especially those of a sexual nature.

 In this story we see opposite values in the protagonist of the story, Little Red Riding Hood, and her antagonist, the wolf: the beautiful (Little Red Riding Hood) and the ugly (wolf); innocence and evil; prudence and recklessness; confidence and doubt.

Ludwig Tieck’s version.

After the success of Little Red Riding Hood in France, a century later the story begins an interesting journey at the hands of exiled Huguenots[1] who carried the repertoire of Gallic tales with them. These Protestants arrived in non-Catholic countries such as England, Switzerland, the Netherlands, North America and Germany.

Ludwig Tieck’s (1773- 1853) version dates back to 1800 and is a theatrical work. In this version there is a break with tradition since, apart from adding new characters such as the wolf’s confederate dog, the birds, the peasant and the hunter, dialogues and plots that had not existed before are introduced. In this work, the ending is tragic because Little Red Riding Hood dies without being able to get the help of the hunter who kills the animal.

In this curious theatrical adaptation, Little Red Riding Hood represents the German youth who are attracted by the ideals embraced by the French revolution (the wolf). But, finally, she withdraws in horror at the barbarity of the revolution.

At the time it was common to wear a Phrygian cap as a symbol of republican values. This hat was, like the cap, red.

In this work the wolf is given a complex psychological characterization, unlike Perrault’s version.

Ludwig Tieck was one of the promoters of German Romanticism and was a very active author in political life, so it is not surprising that his play Little Red Riding Hood is a work in key of the political situation of the early nineteenth century.

Ludwig Tieck was one of the most distinguished authors of German Romanticism and was always surrounded by great authors and philosophers of the time. In 1817 he went to London and studied with Shakespeare, even translating some of his works. 

In 1799 he translated El Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes into four volumes and he is credited with one of the first vampire stories in the history of literature, Wake not the Dead. It is the third incursion of the myth of the woman – vampire.

In 1842 the King of Prussia commissioned him to direct the Royal Theatre in Berlin.

The Brothers Grimm version.

The Grimm version written two hundred years later is undoubtedly the best known and most successful version. For their version they took as a reference the text of Perrault and the work written by Ludwig Tieck, “Leben und Tod des kleinen Rotkäppchens: eine Tragödie(“Life and death of little Red Riding Hood. A tragedy“). In this version the character of the woodcutter is already introduced.

The Grimm Brothers write a more innocent version, with less erotic elements than the first one, as well as including a happy ending. This happy ending, the revenge of good over evil, makes this version more successful than its predecessor.

The Grimm tell the story of a little girl who, before going to visit her grandmother and bringing her a cake plus a bottle of wine, is warned by her mother not to get distracted along the way. The evil wolf meets the girl, takes the information from her, tricks her and goes to her grandmother’s house and devours the poor old woman. When Little Red Riding Hood arrives at Grandma’s house she is devoured by the wolf. In this story the figure of the hunter appears, who slits the belly of the beast and takes out alive Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother. On another occasion another wolf tried to stalk the girl but she did not listen to him. When she arrives at her grandmother’s house, the girl tells her everything and between the two they make a trap where they kill the animal.

From a psycho annalistic point of view, this story represents first of all the conflict of puberty that the young girl suffers as well as the attempt to understand the contradictory nature of the male gender that the story itself poses. On the one hand we have the seducer – aggressor who is the wolf and ‘on the other the protector – savior who is the hunter.

In his work Psychoanalysis of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim points out that when the wolf is given a Caesarean, it does not die because it simulates the Caesarean that can be performed on a mother. In this case, both the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood are reborn into a superior being.

Desire, sensuality and sexuality: central theme of the story.

The sexual connotations of the story and the cap are already mentioned in the previous sections.

Whether it is a story that teaches young women not to have sex, a play in code, or a story that tells girls never to disobey, in the end the central theme of Little Red Riding Hood’s story in all its versions is desire.

The first thing to consider in this desire is the gender stereotype in which this story is framed. On the one hand, the female characters, Little Red Riding Hood and the grandmother are represented as weak, defenseless and clumsy in their intelligence. While the girl lets herself be fooled, the grandmother lets herself be fooled.

On the other hand, the male characters are represented as heroes and the wolf is an intelligent being, cunning as well as powerful.

As stated by the author Paredes and Guzmán (2014), the story of Little Red Riding Hood is a tale of patriarchal violence, since in this story a system of oppression and violence by the wolf (the male) is reproduced towards the woman embodied in a girl who becomes a teenager and an old woman.

A fact that I would like to highlight is the fact that within the home of the protagonist there is a matriarchy. None of the versions mentions Little Red Riding Hood’s father or grandfather, which suggests that the three women are alone.

The first to identify the sexual meaning of the story were the psychoanalysts Bruno Bettelheim and Erich From. Both argue that following the more literary versions of this story, these are the most affected by the Judea-Christian morality where the game of desire is punished with life; as opposed to what happened in the versions of the oral tradition

Another interesting contribution from the world of psychoanalysis is that offered by Clarisa Pinkola Estés in her study, Women who run with wolves. The psychoanalyst bets on the integration of the wolf character as the wild essence of personality. The author takes over the proverb “If you are to dwell among wolves, you must learn to howl”. And this is what Little Red Riding Hood is all about, adapting to the environment as the only way to protect oneself in the face of danger.

Within the symbolism of fairy tales, the forest, the place where the story takes place, stands out. The forest symbolizes in the stories the change to maturity, the journey that all people must undertake.  On the other hand, the garment of the cap has a very complex meaning within the grammar of power. The head is a governing body and is closely linked to the will and the intelligence which, curiously enough, is what the protagonist of the story lacks.

As a final conclusion, prohibiting desire, confrontation, can keep us safe as well as fragile. Only the one who dares to cross the forest will obtain the necessary wisdom to survive in it.


Bettelheim, B (1994). Psychoanalysis of fairy tales. Barcelona: Drakontos.

Casar, S (2006). Los estereotipos y los prejuicios. Cambios de actitud en el aula de I2. Revista Dialnet, 6, 135-150.

Paredes, J (2014). El tejido de la rebeldía ¿Qué es el feminismo comunitario? Bases para despatrialización.  La Paz. ASDI  y RFSU.

Pedrosa, JM. Símbolo del cuento y complementos básicos del vestido: del zapato de cristal a la caperuza roja. Actas del curso Folclore, Literatura e Indumentaria

[1] Old name given to French Protestants of Calvinist doctrine during the wars of religion in the 16th century

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