Skip main navigation

Just how “little” is Red Riding Hood?

In this article, Caroline Webb points out a slight plot hole in 'Little Red Riding Hood' when placing the character alongside the moral of the story.
Two butterflies on lavender flowers
© The University of Newcastle, Australia

Once Red Riding Hood leaves the safety of her mother’s house, Perrault shows her engaging in childish activities—gathering nuts and flowers, chasing butterflies. Whether or not real peasant children, who normally would have led hard lives involving household and other work from an early age, would actually have spent their energies doing such things, Perrault would certainly have known upper-class children who did enjoy this. Running after butterflies and picking flowers, in fact, are both classic images of what well-bred children might do for recreation well into the twentieth century. Those in need did gather nuts as food to live on, of course, but Perrault’s heroine is clearly doing this as play. This fits with his image of her in the story itself as very childish and naïve; it doesn’t seem quite to fit with the idea that this is actually a story about a young woman who might be seduced.

One result of the gap between the character Perrault describes and the moral he draws is that illustrators and others have found it hard to decide just how old Little Red Riding Hood actually is. Some nineteenth-century illustrations show her as practically a toddler, just three or four years old, while others suggest that she may be in her early teens. The red hood has been interpreted as a sign that the girl has just reached puberty and is menstruating.

A lady never tells

How old do you think Little Red Riding Hood is in the story? Why?

© The University of Newcastle, Australia
This article is from the free online

Fairy Tales: Meanings, Messages, and Morals

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education