Today’s lesson focused on what allegory might mean and where we may have come across allegories within films, television and fiction we have read.
Here are our definitions of today’s key words
So, where might you have come across allegory?
The most common allegories are slyly hidden right beneath our noses. Take, for example, X-Men.
In the world of X-Men, the word mutant is used as a substitute for members of society who are excluded because of their differences. Within literary criticism, we call this Othering. This means to treat someone differently because of their perceived differences; that they are alien to you.
Go deeper with the metaphor, the mutants in X-Men find refuge in a school where they are amongst their own kind, whilst those in charge (Governors, Senators, The President) debate how to deal with this apparent threat posed by the mutants. They are different to us, we should fear them, we need to control them, right?
Now substitute the word mutant for all those in society who are looked down upon; minority groups such as LGBT, ethnic minorities, migrants, refugees. When you do this, it should help to break the illusion of the metaphor – within this text, the writers are making a statement about how society treats those that they fear; they exclude and persecute them.
How does this apply to other texts?
Think about fairy tales. French author and academic Charles Perault wrote a collection of fairy tales called Tales of Mother Goose in 1697. Some believe that he invented this genre, this was certainly the first time that stories such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood.
Why do parents tell their children these fables? Consciously or not, some believe it’s because of their didactic quality, that we’ll learn something from them, an important moral message or lesson. Well what of Little Red Riding Hood? Is it simply a message of Stranger Danger? The wolf could be considered as a symbol of an unknown threat that would prey upon innocent young girls.
What interests me most about this tale, is how the different endings might change the allegories of the overall text. When I approach most of my classes and ask them how the story ends, they tell me
the woodcutter appears, cuts open the wolf’s belly and Little Red Riding Hood jumps out
the woodcutter appears, cuts open the wolf’s belly and Little Red Riding Hood jumps out and then they burn the wolf
This isn’t the original ending, in fact this is the ending of Little Red Cap by the Brothers Grimm.
“Fetch a bucket, Little Red Cap,” she said. “Yesterday I cooked some sausage. Carry the water that I boiled them with to the trough.” Little Red Cap carried water until the large, large trough was clear full. The smell of sausage arose into the wolf’s nose. He sniffed and looked down, stretching his neck so long that he could no longer hold himself, and he began to slide. He slid off the roof, fell into the trough, and drowned. And Little Red Cap returned home happily and safely.
Perault’s ending is much, much different
“Grandmother, what big teeth you have got!”
“All the better to eat you up with.”
And, saying these words, this wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her all up.
Moral: Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.
What are the diferences between these two endings and why would many people know the latter published Brothers Grimm version where Little Red is saved as opposed to Perault’s original where she is simply eaten? How does the message of the story change with this different ending? For me, the line
Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf.
Is much more akin to victim blaming and victim shaming. If you are attractive and you talk to strangers, you will be eaten.
Context also has a role to play in our deciphering of these messages. As Perault was writing, John Locke‘s theory of Tabula Rasa emerged, the idea that children are blank slates and that they take in the influences of their society, good or bad.
How does this then link to our readings in the classroom?
When you consider Lord of the Flies, it is far too easy to look at this as a story where children are left alone on an island and kill each other.
To begin to look for possible allegories in this story, you should first identify and explore the meanings of the different symbol in the story. What might the conch stand for? The pig’s head? The principal characters of Raplh, Jack and Piggy.
Why does Jack paint his face?
This is only a starting point. What are your thoughts?