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Exploratory Essay

The Perils of Childhood Disobedience

In the tales of Little Red Riding Hood, the reader is introduced to a journey that will go from point A to point B. This journey can range from going to grandma’s house to going to the actual wolf’s home itself, as we see in Italo Calvino’s version, “Uncle Wolf.” which involves a spoiled, but poor, girl who lost the chance to eat pancakes in class due to her falling asleep in the bathroom because she didn’t want to do school work. She then complains to her mom, and asks her if she can make pancakes which is when the mom tells the girl to see Uncle Wolf in order to get a skillet. The wolf then gives it to the young girl, with specific requests which she then ignores leading to her being ultimately eaten. This tale was meant for children, with the intent of making them more obedient, and showing them the dangers of not listening to their elders, which in this case if you don’t listen to your elders you will be eaten by a wolf. 

This point is emphasized in Angela J. Reynold’s journal entry, “The Better to See You With: Peering into the Story of Little Red Riding Hood 1695-1939.” in which she talks about the tale of Little Red Riding Hood in-depth, and mentions how Little Red Riding Hood didn’t follow her mother’s orders to go straight to her destination. Instead, the girl got distracted by flowers and therefore left her grandmother vulnerable to any attacks. 

She disobeys her mother by dallying in the forest, picking flowers, thereby symbolizing a lazy child engaged in useless pursuits. Yet she is saved by a hunter, woodsman, or her father—a man to the rescue. Many of the illustrations of this version show the girl clinging to her savior. Both interpretations make sense for the time periods and contemporary modes of thought. (17)

In modern times this can just represent childhood wonder, a little kid getting lost in a forest and taking a slight detour off the road to explore. In these times though, since the child was ordered not to take a break she is seen as disobedient, and by making her a female it emphasizes that not only do children need to stay on the path, but specifically female children. During the time period in which the tale “Uncle Wolf.” it was okay to aim these tales towards children, and parents would read these tales to their children in order to teach them a lesson they hope their children wouldn’t have to learn themselves. Furthermore, by reading these cautionary tales parents were inadvertently exposing their children to sexism, due to the tale being targeted towards a female audience. As seen with females being a huge part of the story from the mom, the main character, and the teacher with only the wolf being the man of the story. 

In the tale of “Uncle Wolf.” though the reader may not feel remorse for the main character, since she is a sinner and committed one of the seven deadly sins, Greed. In Jack Zipes’ article “A Second Gaze at Little Red Riding Hood’s Trials and Tribulations.” the author talks about how Little Red could symbolize a devil incarnate. Zipes specifically states, “she is donned with a red hat, a chaperon, making her into a type of bourgeois girl tainted with sin, since red, like the scarlet letter A, recalls the devil and heresy.” (80). Although, the young girl in Calvino’s tale does not don a red hat, she still exhibits these traits of being a ‘devil’, especially when she disobeys the wolf’s orders and gives him the worst combination of things to eat. She gives him items such as manure, which he eats, and to wash it down she gives him dirty water, he drinks this as well which angers him (153). This, in turn, leads the reader to feel little remorse for the girl who is going to get eaten because, in the end, she did it to herself since she didn’t follow strict instructions. Also, she committed the sin of greed which is also problematic since she herself made the purposeful act of eating, and drinking all that her mother had to offer the wolf.

Furthermore, it is agreed upon between readers of the tale that the story is supposed to indicate a child’s worries. This is highlighted upon in Steven Swann Jones’ journal article, “On Analyzing Fairy Tales: ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ Revisited”  when the author states, “The evidence from the various versions in the oral tradition seems to indicate… that the tale is much more a reflection of a child’s development and concerns.” (101). The girl’s worry in the case of Calvino’s tale is that the wolf might eat her right away if she gives him nothing but the skillet, and it prompts her to give him the horrendous items. These items still lead to her downfall though, and the wolf eats her for her childhood disobedience when the mother fails to protect her. Therefore, when Calvino was writing this tale he wanted to highlight that not all of a child’s development is all good, and parents need to emphasize their role in putting their kid’s on the right path.

In conclusion, “Uncle Wolf.” by Italo Calvino is one of the variations in the “Little Red Riding Hood” fairy tale genre that helps emphasize the role of sin in a child’s life. This tale is a bit outdated though, and people are realizing that maybe it wasn’t the child’s fault that she was eaten, and instead, it’s strict governance of a child that is the true foe. So, a child should be allowed to be greedy once in a while, and they shouldn’t be “eaten” for it when there are way worse things that happen in the world. 

Works Cited

Calvino, Italo. “Uncle Wolf.” Italian Folktales. Translated by George Martin, 1980. p. 152-154.

Jones, Steven Swann. “On Analyzing Fairy Tales: ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ Revisited.” Western

Folklore, vol. 46, no. 2, 1987, p. 97–106. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1499927.

Reynolds, Angela J. “The Better to See You With: Peering into the Story of Little Red 

Riding Hood,1695-1939.”  Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, vol. 16, no. 1, Spring 2018, p. 14–20. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5860/cal.16.1.14. 

Zipes, Jack. “A Second Gaze at Little Red Riding Hood’s Trials and Tribulations.” The Lion and 

the Unicorn, vol. 7, 1983, p. 78-109. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/uni.0.0105.

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