The Deadly Damsel: Exploring the Gender Construction of the Villainess within Selected Children's Fantasy
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This dissertation explores the gender construction of the villainess within selected children’s fantasy literature and film. It identifies and examines three archetypes of feminine villainy from across the centuries, charting the developing complexity of their representations of gender in relation to sociocultural perceptions of femininity. Chapter One focuses on the figure of the wicked stepmother within the Grimm versions of the tales of Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel. It explores the concept of binary forms of femininity, and positions the wicked stepmother as a foundational female villain. Walt Disney’s animated adaptations are also examined, with a focus on their aesthetic presentation of the wicked stepmother in contrast to that of the heroine. Chapter Two considers the figure of the female villain in the Twentieth Century through an exploration of the gender performativity of witches, including the White Witch, Maleficent and the Grand High Witch. A focus is set on critiquing their appropriation of femininity with regards to Butler’s theoretical work on the subject, and discussion is made of their transformation into feministic advocates of empowered womanhood. Chapter Three focuses on contemporary female villains from post-feminist children’s fantasy, and examines the gender construction of Ursula and Cruella de Vil from the Disney Renaissance, and Professor Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter saga. It explores how far they are reflective of the successes of the feminist movement, and considers their declining status as rebels to patriarchy. Overall, this dissertation examines and critiques numerous gender issues surrounding the figure of the female villain, and charts a broad but structured timeline of her developing power and influence in relation to social and cultural changes.
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