Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood"

Miranda Schouten, Beth Hendricks
  • Author
    Miranda Schouten

    Miranda has a BA in English from the University of Iowa and is currently pursuing her MA in secondary education. Throughout her coursework she has written and implemented several lesson plans in the classroom setting.

  • Instructor
    Beth Hendricks

    Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Explore ''Little Red Riding Hood'' by Charles Perrault. Read a summary of the fairy tale's plot, understand its meaning, and discover its symbolism. Updated: 12/09/2021

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"Little Red Riding Hood" by Charles Perrault

"Little Red Riding Hood" by Charles Perrault tells of a young girl who comes across a cunning wolf on the way to her grandmother's home. The wolf deceives both her and her grandmother and eats them, a grim ending for the protagonist of the story. This version, by Charles Perrault, was first published in France in 1697. Many spoken versions of the tale existed, but Perrault is thought to be the first to write and publish the story. Because the moral of the story warns pretty young girls against the trickery of wolves, its intended audience is assumed to be the young girls of the French court.

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"Little Red Riding Hood" Summary

"Little Red Riding Hood" is the story of a beautiful, young girl whose mother sends her, with a basket of goods, to her ill grandmother the next village over. This journey requires that the young girl enter the woods.

Upon entering the woods, the girl comes across a hungry wolf who has half a mind to eat her, right then and there, but refrains because of some wood-cutters nearby. Instead, he asks her where she is going, and she says that she is going to her grandmother's house. He asks if it is far and she responds that it is the first house in the next village over.

The wolf tells her that he will go to her grandmother's house too. He tells her to take one path while he takes another and they will see who gets there first.

The wolf, having made sure he arrives first by choosing the shorter path, races to the grandmother's house while Little Red Riding Hood takes her time, collecting nuts and chasing butterflies on her way.

When he arrives, he disguises his voice to sound like the little girl and the grandmother allows him into her home. Upon entering, he eats her. He then dresses in her clothing and climbs into bed to wait for the little girl.

When the girl arrives and calls to her grandmother, the wolf responds, telling the girl to enter. He tells her to set the cake and butter aside and climb into bed with him. The girl undresses, climbs into bed, and begins to comment on the wolf's arms, legs, ears, eyes, and finally teeth, to which the wolf replies, "all the better to eat you with," and gobbles up the girl.

Page from Little Red Riding Hood, 1922

Little Red Riding Hood illustration, 1922

Analysis of "Little Red Riding Hood"

Upon first glance, Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" appears to be a story warning children of the dangers of speaking to strangers, but as the reader examines the text further, it becomes a coming of age story as well.

  • Little Red Riding Hood is a beautiful, young girl whose mother tells her to take a basket of cakes and butter to her ill grandmother in the next village over. She puts on her red hood, goes on her way, and when she reaches them, enters the woods. - The hood covering her hair symbolizes that she is unavailable to men, but the red color represents sin and sexual impurity. The entering of the woods symbolizes danger and transformation.
  • The girl, upon entering the woods, comes across a hungry wolf who tricks her into telling him where her grandmother lives. The wolf tells the girl he will race her to her grandmother's house, giving himself the shorter path and running as fast as he can. - The wolf is meant to symbolize a manipulative man.
  • Little Red Riding Hood gets distracted and collects nuts and chases butterflies on the way. - Getting distracted by her environment is a display of childish behavior, reminding the reader that she is young and naive.
  • The girl finally arrives, after the wolf has already eaten her grandmother, and enters the cottage. The wolf, dressed in the grandmother's clothes, tells the girl to set the goods aside, undress, and climb into bed with him. She does as she is told and begins commenting on the size of the wolf's arms, legs, ears, eyes, and finally teeth, to which he responds, "all the better to eat you with" as he goes on to eat her. - The undressing before climbing into bed further proves the earlier mentioned sexual innuendos. The wolf eating up the innocent, young girl represents an evil man taking advantage of her.

Little Red Riding Hood in bed with the wolf, illustration by Gustave Dore, 1862

Little Red Riding Hood illustration, 1862

"Little Red Riding Hood" Meaning

The meaning, or moral, behind "Little Red Riding Hood" can vary based on the interpretation that is read. In some versions, the mother gives the young girl specific instructions to keep to the trail and not wander. The mother's instructions emphasize a moral of the importance of listening and following instructions. However, this is not the case in Perrault's tale. Instead, Perrault's version urges beautiful, young girls not to talk to strangers, because a wolf is not always "noisy, hateful, or angry" and easy to spot; it is the "tame, obliging, and gentle" wolves that are the most dangerous.

How Does "Little Red Riding Hood" End?

Perrault's version of "Little Red Riding Hood" ends more menacingly than many of the other adaptations. In this rendition, the wolf deceives both the old woman and the little girl, devouring each of them by the end of the story. No hunter comes to save them and they perish in the belly of the wolf. Perrault then goes on to write a poetic moral for the story, warning beautiful, young girls of the wolves that intend to prey on them, warning them that "tame, obliging, and gentle" wolves are the most dangerous of all.

"Little Red Riding Hood" Symbolism

The tale of "Little Red Riding Hood" is full of symbolism. This symbolism indicates that "Little Red Ridding Hood" is a coming of age story rather than a simple children's story.

The Hood

In the 17th century, when "Little Red Riding Hood" was written, an of-age girl's hair was the most powerful attribute when it came to attracting a male. The hood covering the girl's hair is meant to send the message that she is not available, making the wolf's advances all the more unsettling.

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Frequently Asked Questions

When and where did Charles Perrault write "Little Red Riding Hood?"

Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" was published in France in 1697. His publication was a written version of several oral tales that he had collected.

How does the Perrault version of "Little Red Riding Hood" end?

At the end of Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" the wolf gobbles up both the grandmother and the girl and they meet their end. This ending differs slightly from various other versions where a hunter stumbles upon the cottage and cuts the little girl and her grandmother from the wolf's stomach.

How is Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" different from other versions?

Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" differs slightly from the other various versions. For example, in a version by the Brothers Grimm, both Little Red Cap and her grandmother are saved by a hunter. In another version originating in Italy/Austria, it is an ogre that Little Red Hat meets, instead of a wolf.

What is the moral lesson of "Little Red Riding Hood?"

The moral of "Little Red Riding Hood" is that children, especially young girls, must be cautious of strangers. While they may appear to be "tame, obliging, and gentle," they will eventually show their teeth and eat up innocent young girls. This animal reference hints strongly towards a sexual warning.

What are the main events in "Little Red Riding Hood?"

Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother is sick, so her mother sends her, with a basket of food, to walk the short distance through the woods to the next village over where her grandmother lives. On her way, she sees a wolf who chooses not to eat her due to workers near by. Instead, he tricks her into telling him where her grandmother lives, then races her there. Little Red Riding Hood gets distracted along the way and the wolf beats her to her grandmother's house, posing as the little girl to get into the house where he eats the grandmother. When Little Red Riding Hood arrives, the wolf poses as the grandmother and when she enters, he eats her too.

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