Abigail Martin

Names and clothes and shoes, oh my!

It saddens me that not a lot of people know who Charles Perrault is. If you do not know who I am talking about then it is a good thing that you are reading this vblog right now. (To be honest, I did not know who Perrault was until I took this class–and I’m a French major!) He worked for the sun king, Louis XIV, made a lot of people angry with his opinions on antiquity and modernism and wrote many celebrated fairy tales such as “Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Puss in Boots,” etc. In my essay I would like to explore Perrault’s talent for storytelling, specifically techniques he used to write richly textured stories. Specifically, this essay will explore Perrault’s use of titles, his word choices, and his use of clothing as a stepping stone to the progress of his plots .

Titles

Why do Perrault’s main characters not have proper names? If they do not have proper names, how do they live up to their unusual names? For many of his characters, Perrault uses attributes or clothing to describe a character. We see this in stories such as “Cendrillon” where she is named for her condition, “Barbe Bleue” where he is named for a physical attribute, and “Petit Chaperon Rouge” where she is named for her cape. Because of these descriptions, we look at these characters in a specific way. In the story of Cendrillon, Perrault explains, “she would go to the fireplace hearth and sit in the ashes, which made everyone call her Ashwipe” Prof. J’s translation), but the nice version of her name was Cinderella (156). Her step-sisters gave her these names to put her down and equate her with ash. But, interestingly and in spite of them, Cendrillon lives up to her name because, like a phoenix, she rises from the ashes: she becomes a princess. In the story, “Barbe Bleue,” he is named for a physical attribute: “By some terrible misfortune, the man’s beard was blue, which game him such a horrid, nasty appearance that women and girls fled at the sight of him. (125, Prof. J’s translation). People are afraid of him, not simply or necessarily because he is different, but because he is mysterious. He has had many wives and no one knows what has become of them. Read as a sign of something he is hiding, his beard is a negative attribute that marks him as a bad character. Indeed, in the end, he becomes unhinged and even scarier. In “Petit Chaperon Rouge,” Perrault explains “ The older woman had made-to-fit for her a tufted red bonnet with a short scarf attached that cloaked her shoulders. It suited her so well that everyone called her Little Red Riding Hood (119, Prof. J’s translation). In other words, she is not a real peasant girl. Perrault never gave specifics on how old the girl is. She is just a girl that everyone calls “petit chaperon rouge.” In a sense, she becomes her cape in the end: she becomes a piece of meat that the wolf devours. Unlike “Barbe Bleue” and “Cendrillon” who are human beings who that have attributes, petit chaperon rouge becomes an object instead of a subject. Read along with the moral, this objectification can be seen as a warning for court women iduring the time of Perrault, who who would be confronted by the gentlemen ‘wolves’ at court that were hoping to marry them.

Made up/ unique words

Perrault invents words that are unique and add a lot to his stories. He also uses words that were not usually used in French society during that period therefore making the reader question why he uses them. It takes a lot of imagination and creativeness to make these stories not only stick with the reader, but which also open up the reader’s imagination to new possibilities. For example, in Cinderella, the ugly stepsister is discussing what she will be wearing the ball: “je mettrai… ma barrière de diamans” (157). Simply translated, she’s saying, I will be wearing my diamond necklace. The actual word for necklace in French is “collier” and an expression for a busy necklace is “rivière de diamants,” but Perrault chooses to use the word “barrière,” barrier or obstacle in English. It is a bizarre image to be sure, as though her stepsister wearing a barrier of diamonds: an ugly, heavy load on her chest that is not fashionable but painful to see. This image adds to the personality of the stepsister, who seems overbearing, with no sense of style. As mentioned above, Perrault makes up the words “Cendrillon” and “Cucenderon” for the heroine of that story.“Cinderella” has become extremely famous over the centuries, an iconic name that is familiar everywhere and even appears in the dictionary! A different version of this poetic tendency occurs in the story, “Barbe Bleue.” When his wife calls out to her sister for help she says: “Anne, ma soeur Anne, ne vois-tu rien venir” (Anne, my sister Anne, do you see anything coming?) (131). He sister replies, “je ne voie rien que le soleil qui poudroie, et l’herbe qui voudroie” (I see nothing but the sun that d dust and the grass that grows green) (131, Prof. J’s translation). With these two uncommon verbs, which rhyme in French, Perrault takes something very basic from nature and makes it sounds poetic. “Sister Anne” has become immortalized by her words. This question and answer are among the best-known poetic refrains in French culture—not unlike Hamlet’s famous question and answer. Most everyone would understand the obscure reference.

King of Fashion

Clothing/Shoes

To close this analysis, I will turn to how Perrault uses clothing, not unlike names, as symbols. In this case, they are often symbols of movement, prestige, and advancement; this is especially true when he is writing about shoes. Looking at stories like “Le Chat Botté” “Cendrillon” and “Le Petit Poucet” we can see that shoes represent social stratification and division. The shoes represent a way for the characters in these stories to find a place in society as well as create an elemental change in the plot of the story and, of course, their lives. In “Le Chat Botté,” or Puss in Boots, it is interesting to reflect on the meanings of “botté” and “maître.” Boots were worn particularly when riding on horseback–something only men of a certain class could do. If the cat is “Botté” he is presumably attempting to be seen as a figure of some importance. Similarly, the term “maître” denotes someone who is a lord or who possesses land and power. It is in many ways ironic to see these important titles/symbolic objects attributed to a cat. What happens to the cat once he wears boots? The king and the cat’s master are able to take him seriously and he advances considerably in society. In “Cendrillon,” a different kind of footwear is key to the story. It is significant that everything about her changes back when the clock strikes midnight except her glass slippers. Her fairy godmother’s spell permits her keep the shoes in order for the prince/servant to find her. More than anything else, the shoes symbolize her worth and serve as her ticket to becoming a princess. They are much more than a pretty souvenir of her nice time at the ball! In “Le Petit Poucet,” or Tom Thumb, he convinces the ogre’s wife that the ogre wished him to have the ogre’s boots–and his entire fortune! Tom Thumb is able to help his family survive and is able to discover his own identity with the boots by becoming a messenger.

Overall, Perrault is an important figure that brought fairytales to life through his use of specific titling, unique word choice, and clothing. Hopefully, this essay has brought to light some of Perrault’s intriguing creativity—or at least his impressive fashion sense!

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