“Castration or Decapitation?” A Feminist Reading of Two Stories by Angela Carter
Keywords:Angela Carter, Castration/Decapitation, British Fiction, Psychoanalysis, French Feminism
This article examines two stories by Angela Carter, “The Bloody Chamber” (1979) and “The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter” (1974) to account for Carter’s unique and ambivalent dismantling of patriarchal myths. Carter conflates two patriarchal tropes, castration and decapitation, to figure the oppression of women while allowing for an avenue of resistance. Using the French version of feminism, the work of Hélène Cixous in particular, the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Lacan, and the postmodern critique of Linda Hutcheon, the article contends that Carter uses the trope of decapitation to link beheading to loss of agency and thus to serve her project of exposing violent patriarchal and sexual structures. She utilizes decapitation to interrogate female inferiority and project its castrating impact on those women who are threatened with this punishment. Decapitation, however, becomes a means of undermining patriarchal logic from within since Carter reverses its targets and logic just as she does with castration. Carter’s act of conflating castration and decapitation and unsettling their connotations revises power structures and challenges attributing castration to men and decapitation to women, offering a postmodern critique of patriarchal fixities, oppressive boundaries, and negative gender constructions imposed on women.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Shadi Neimneh
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