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Not Your Average Beauty: Empowerment of the Female Body in Angela Carter’s “The Tiger’s Bride”

And so, the knight swooped in and saved the fair maiden, giving her a second chance at life… is that not how the story goes? In “The Tiger’s Bride,” Angela Carter subverts the traditional fairy tale tropes. She creates a new fairy tale in which the girl saves herself. In this story, the girl turns subjugation into empowerment and agency. In this essay, I will contrast the beginning of “The Tiger’s Bride” with the end and show how the girl goes from being owned to owning herself and her sexuality.

“The Tiger’s Bride” starts: “My father lost me” (Carter 61). From the beginning of the story, Carter makes it clear that the girl has no agency. Here, the girl is typical of many fairy tales – a girl locked in a tower, forced to clean floors, and in this case, sold to The Beast (Carter 64-5). The father has no problem selling his daughter because oftentimes, women are treated as objects instead of people by men. The Beast tells the father - “If you are so careless of your treasures, you should expect them to be taken from you” (Carter 66). While The Beast calls the girl “treasure,” there is still a sentiment of the girl being an object passed from one male figure to another.

The only difference is that at least the girl is called a “treasure” by The Beast because the father does not care – he gambles her life away. In fact, the father kills the mother due to his carelessness – she does “not blossom long”; she herself “bartered for her dowry” (Carter 63) by her own family (assumably, her father). We can gather that the father sees women as expendable in his eyes as long as he can continue with his selfish needs. Instead of the father buying a rose for his daughter to prove his love – à la the original Beauty and the Beast - the girl is the rose that is given to another male figure and shows the father’s un-love toward his daughter. The girl’s body is not her own; it is her father's to take and sell to someone else. Her agency is owned by her father and sold to The Beast. However…

“The Tiger’s Bride” ends: “The Beast “left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs” (Carter 81). At the end of the story, the girl turns a loss of agency into empowerment. Instead of her father losing her to The Beast as in selling her, he is losing her to her growing desire and strength as a sexual, empowered woman. A patina is “A gloss or sheen… produced by age and polishing” (OED def. 1.b). Through the experience of being sold and asked to strip for The Beast (Carter 70) and deciding to do so (Carter 78), the girl finds strength in her body and how she can wield it to her benefit.

At the same time, Carter describes the girl’s new fur as “nascent,” meaning “That is about to be born or coming into existence; beginning to form, grow, develop, etc. (OED def 2). By “stretch[ing] out [her] hand” (Carter 81), the girl is being reborn as a woman – one who owns her body and is not afraid of The Beast. The girl notes: “his appetite need not be my extinction” - by the end of the story she discovers that she can either be destroyed by the scenario she has been placed in, or she can let it unlock a new side of her. Carter chooses her words carefully so the reader fully understands that the girl has come into her own.

If we flash back to the beginning, Carter writes: “at home, we are at war with nature but here… the blessed plot where the lion lies down with the lamb” (61). She is subverting the traditional fairy tale, such as the original Beauty and The Beast, when Beauty falls in love with Beast – in this story, the girl “lies” with The Beast, showing that it is her body that empowers her in this version of the tale, and that makes their union “blessed.” This makes the tale more of a sexual awakening than a love story. It shows a true coming-of-age, which is understanding your body and its power - an important message for women to learn. In many cases, fairy tales require a woman to be a pure virginal figure in order to be saved; in this tale, it is the loss of her virginity that saves the girl from the oppression of men. She does not need The Beast’s approval; in fact, he is more “frightened of [her] than [she] was of him” (Carter 81).

So many stories feature a strong, virile man who “takes” a woman and shows her the ways of passion, but in this case, we see the girl taking on that role and allowing The Beast to come into her space. The girl lets “everything... disintegrate” (Carter 81). According to the OED, disintegrate means to “destroy the cohesion” (def 1.a). The girl breaks the mould of narratives surrounding females both in fairy tales and in real life. Instead of painting all women with the same brush, the girl is given autonomy over her body. When the valet lets her know that she will be sent back to her father the next morning after showing The Beast her body, she refuses and instead elects to go to The Beast’s room (Carter 79, 80). In a change of narrative, she, not he, decides on a sexual encounter.

Furthermore, Carter makes a reference to Three Billy Goats with the line, “He will gobble you up” (81). Three Billy Goats uses an “eat-me-when-I'm-fatter” fairy tale plotline. Again, Carter subverts the traditional fairy tale trope. If “The Tiger’s Bride” followed a traditional storyline, the girl would say something like, “Do not sleep with me until I am married!” But, instead, she lets The Beast “lick the skin off” her (Carter 81), not making excuses in the name of purity but owning the moment.

Carter writes that The Beast is “nursery fears made flesh” (81), but nursery rhymes are the “earliest and most archaic of fears, fear of devourment” (81). The girl is placed in what would be a scary scenario in a typical fairy tale, a girl losing her purity and, therefore, her youth. But in this story, Carter gives the girl, and you could say the reader, permission to embrace devourment. It is “archaic” to believe a woman cannot enjoy her sexuality, as the girl learns to do by the end of this story. The Beast “demand[s] the abominable” from the girl (Carter 80), and yet she still chooses to go to “The Beast’s Room” (Carter 80). She does not shy away from an encounter with The Beast but walks right into it. The girl decides that sex is not abominable but natural and okay for women to want.

The girl “offer[s]” herself to The Beast, stating: “in myself, the key to a peaceable kingdom” (Carter 81). The girl realizes that not only is it within herself to take control of the relationship between her and The Beast, but she also has it within herself to find peace when away from her gambling, manipulative father. The girl gains autonomy sexually and personally as well. She states: “When I looked in the mirror again, my father has disappeared, and all I saw was a…girl whom I scarcely recognized” (Carter 79).

Instead of seeing a patriarchal male figure, she sees herself and her own agency. When she sees her father in the mirror, she sees his control over her body, his indifference in selling her as an object, seeing her as “no more than a king’s ransom (Carter 65). After showing her body to The Beast, what reflects in the mirror is a personally and sexually free person. She turns her body into power, and showing herself to The Beast becomes empowering for her, liberating her from the grips of male power.

If we flash back to the beginning again, the girl says: “By the time my rose lost its petals, my father, too, was left with nothing” (Carter 64). By the time she loses her virginity/becomes a woman, she turns into a tiger and therefore gains her agency. Her father has lost his hold on her. In the mirror, she sees someone who can rise up to The Beast’s abomination instead of shy away from it, which is how the fairy tale should go. It is when she sees herself, instead of her father, that she breaks free of patriarchal ideas of women. She is free to use, enjoy and love her body without masculine energy hanging over her.

The magic mirror in Sleeping Beauty never lies, and in this case, shows the girl the power she has within herself and who she can be outside the sphere of her father’s control. When the girl chooses to stay with The Beast and not return to her father, she says that she will “send her [maid] back to perform the part of [her] father’s daughter” (Carter 79). Now that she has freed herself from being owned to owning herself, she does not need to return to a scenario where she will once again be owned by her father. When she is with The Beast, he and she are equals - both he and she, a tiger. She chooses to stay in that power instead of going back to being a lamb – obedient and sacrificial. With The Beast, there is no “extinction” (Carter 81), just exploration and growth.

In the beginning, the girl and her father enter a land that has a “deathly, sensual lethargy” (Carter 61). It is her father that has “expectations of perpetual pleasure” (Carter 61) and sells his daughter to find it. But by the end, it is his daughter who finds pleasure, not only sexually but through liberating herself. She finds the death of her old life through The Beast. She lives trapped in her own body under the rule of her father, needing “more luxury” (Carter 61). The Beast gives her that - he picks her up in a carriage that looks like a “hearse” (Carter 66) – the death of her old life and the rebirth of a new woman.

In the beginning, her father’s forehead veins “throb” (Carter 61), but by the end, The Beast is “throbbing” for the girl (Carter 81). The “throbbing” has turned from something that ends up hurting the girl, showing the father’s willingness to sell his daughter, to aiding in her liberty. In the beginning, candles drip “hot acrid gouts of wax on [her] bare shoulders” (Carter 61). At the end, water “trickle[s] down [her] shoulders (Carter 81). In some cultures, candle wax represents magic spells. The girl was under the spell of her father, having no choice but to do as he says and go with The Beast.

In addition, we see foreshadowing - The Beast lets out “a growl and a roar; the candles flared” (Carter 66). We see a manifestation of this flare - the water representing life - new life, and interestingly, purity. This is a puzzle piece back to The Beast’s “appetite” not needing to be the “extinction” of the girl. There is purity in accepting every part of yourself, including your agency and sexuality. Instead of going from one captor to another, she gains new life where she can be herself openly and freely. In the beginning, the girl says, “it was not my flesh but, truly, my father’s soul that was in peril” (Carter 65). Where her father lost everything through gambling - his wife, his daughter, and his life, the girl has gained her independence, agency, and sexuality.

It could be said that the girl has no choice but to do as The Beast says and reveal herself. However, in this story, not only does the girl tame The Beast, but both are also at their most primal at the end of the story. She is allowed the space to be raw, and he encourages that side of her instead of denying it. Carter turns the story from one of a girl captured to a girl embracing the opportunity she is placed in – she takes the chance to get in touch with herself and her sexuality. She takes control of being seen naked and seeing the tiger naked. She controls her own body and, through that, what is around her. She even, through exposing her own body, encourages the valet to strip to his natural self as well (Carter 80). The whole abode is liberated with the help of the girl.

The question stands whether the girl needed a male figure to set her free to be liberated, but indeed many women cannot flee abusive male-female relationships and must find a way to liberate themselves. Carter weaves real-life lessons through an indulgent fairy tale – not only teaching females that they can have ownership of their own bodies but that your life can still be a fairy tale even when it does not follow every trope and stereotype. In the introduction to The Bloody Chamber, Kelly Link notes that Carter’s “kind of work” makes the reader feel “delight… terror… beauty… humour” but seems “unadult” (xiv). Carter takes a seemly childlike genre and transforms it into important lessons for adults – but does so in a sexy, thrilling way – a way that reaches her readers. Angela Carter was “bold” (Link xiv), and through that, revolutionary in her writing. The girl in “The Tiger’s Bride” is a lesson for all women – that they can own themselves and their sexuality – they can be the tiger.

Works Cited

Carter, Angela. “The Tiger’s Bride.” The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Penguin Books, 2015, pp. 61-81.

"disintegrate, v, def. 1.a" OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2021, Accessed 8 November 2021.

Link, Kelly. Introduction. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, by Angela Carter, 1979, Penguin Books, 2015, pp. xiv.

"nascent, adj, def. 2" OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2021, Accessed 8 November 2021.

"patina, n, def. 1.b." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2021, Accessed 8 November 2021.

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