“Trauma isn’t stored as history. It is stored as myth.” – Nathan Schwartz-Salant
If fairy tales could choose us, Caperucita Roja chose me. Early in my childhood, I glimpsed myself in this Cuban version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” thanks to the clever ingenuity of my older siblings who sat me down in front of their makeshift radio to listen to a special “story hour.” The dramatic storytellers’ voices coming through the box seemed eerily familiar to me, but to a 4-year-old, the narrative was riveting. My siblings never attempted to explain the fairy tale; they simply told the story. But their Caperucita had an uncanny likeness to me, same hair, same dress, same mannerisms. This description allowed me to draw my own inferences and hang my own projections upon the protagonist of the story. It was not until much later that I realized they had narrated the fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” while stealthily attributing distinctive characteristics of my personality and appearance to the heroine – making me and her one in my young mind.
A year later, I was boarded onto a plane to the United States—an unaccompanied 5-year-old coming to America as a Cuban refugee. It was my Caperucita Roja doll that I clung to at the Jose Marti Aeropuerto in Habana on that frightful day. Sadly, my doll did not make it through the required military inspection, during which she was dismembered to ensure I was not smuggling valuables in her body cavity. It has taken me many years to acknowledge that, I, too, was experiencing a kind of psychological dismemberment from the rupture of family and cultural belonging and from all that I knew my world to be. Years later when I heard Carl Jung speak on exile in the documentary, Matter of Heart, my intuition was confirmed:
Man is not born every day; he is once born, in a specific historical setting with specific historical qualities and therefore he is only complete when he has a relation to these things.... Having no connection with the past is a mutilation of the human being.
I understood Jung’s words to mean that to be exiled is to be psychologically dismembered, that the severance from emotional belonging, secure identity, and ancestral rootedness is a psychic wounding that perniciously persists in those who are forcibly expelled from their homelands. The words of philosopher Theodor Adorno corroborate this saying, “Every intellectual in emigration is, without exception, mutilated . . . always astray . . . in an irreconcilable breach.” As with my decapitated Caperucita doll, parts of myself felt left behind in my native Cuba as I boarded the plane to America. And parts of myself felt lost in transit.
Origins of Caperucita Roja
Although most interpretations of “Little Red Riding Hood” (LRRH) reference the Grimm Brothers’ 1812 version, scholars attribute the original narrative to Charles Perrault, noting that he wrote it to entertain the French court of King Louis XIV. It is believed the Grimm Brothers “cleaned up” Perrault’s 1697 version to make it more palatable to the general public by removing cannibalistic and sexual allusions and adding a happy ending. There are a variety of verbal and written forms of LRRH found worldwide, ranging from the Middle East, China, Japan, Korea, France, Germany, Spain, and Africa to Latin America.
Ultimately, since all fairy tales originated in oral form, any written version claiming originality is somewhat suspect. It all seems in keeping with the mystifying quality of the fairy tale genre: original authorship is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. Fairy tales are wonderfully pliable to interpretation; they resonate with diverse cultures throughout multiple centuries. This is reflected by its time-dismissing, enduring opening words, “Once upon a time,” which suggest anytime, anywhere, applicable to any people. As Marie-Louise von Franz argued in The Interpretation of Fairy Tales (1996, p.1), fairy tales “represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest, and most concise form.” They depict symbols and motifs of universal or collective human experiences, such as suggested in this blog, the individuation of the exile.
In many myths and fairytales, the hero or heroine in the story is typically thrust into a forest or an unknown, foreign land. There, the protagonist is threatened to be swallowed up by hardships - sometimes arriving inside the belly of a whale, like Jonah in the Bible, or dismembered like Osiris of Egyptian mythology, and must find a way of escape. Allegorically, these myths and stories illustrate the development of consciousness as a heroic adventure. The ego (as the protagonist) must struggle with unconscious forces (the big, bad wolf, a monster, or a whale) and differentiate from the maternal fusion (grandmother, Mother[land], Great Mother) in order to proceed to individuation (wholeness, synthesis of the self).
In the Cuban version of the fairytale, Caperucita leaves her mother and sets out on a journey alone to take provisions to her feeble Abuelita (grandmother) in a distant village. Covered in a red-hooded capa that her grandmother had made her, Caperucita enters el bosque oscuro (the dark forest) and encounters el lobo malo (the big, bad wolf) who deceives her into giving up the location of her grandmother’s cottage. When she gets to Abuelita’s house, Caperucitafinds the wolf disguised as her Grandmother and must grapple with the discrepancies: “Abuelita, ¡qué ojos más grandes tienes!” (What big eyes . . . what long nose . . . what big ears you have). She eventually recognizes that it is not her true Grandmother, her trueancestral heritage and the legacy to which she belongs. The Wolf swallows both Abuelita and Caperucita, but unlike other versions of the tale, which introduce a huntsman rescuer, my Cuban version credits the young heroine as the one who outsmarts the cunning wolf: the child fights her way out of Wolf’s belly, redeems Grandmother, and refills his belly with rocks, disabling his control over her.
Archetypal Symbols in the Fairy Tale
The Dark Forest
Many folk tales originated and were set in the dark forests of Europe. These were areas thick with woodlands that obscured the infiltration of sunlight. Hence, they represented the edge of civilization because they were impenetrable, wild, uncultivated, and out of the control of human or conscious effort. Travelers easily lost their way traversing through these liminal spaces and were confronted with dangerous predators, like hungry wolves or bears, that laid in wait in pursuit of their next meal. In addition, magical beings like dwarves, fairies, or witches were said to have made their homes in the forests, provoking the transformations of those lost or exiled from the human world. Therefore, the dark forest has long been considered a symbol of the unknown and the unconscious, a space where the conscious human world is separated from the world of archetypal figures.
In this fairy tale, Caperucita is thrust into a solitary journey through a dark forest to confront devouring adversaries, traversing a place of testing and initiation where something must die for something new to be born. It is there that Caperucita emerges older and wiser to face her wolves, within and without. Similarly, the exile must relinquish that which has been familiar and familial in order to acculturate into a new country and find new life.
The Divine Child
The figure of the child in fairy tales and other mythopoetic narratives usually represents the archetypal image of the Divine Child, symbolizing potentiality and futurity (CW 9/1 par.278). This archetypal force makes way for future transformation and life possibilities, often in the face of apparent impossibilities. The initiation of the lone child into the forbidding forest, with the clear threat of extinction, portrays the invincible quality of the archetypal Child who manages to push onto self-realization against all odds. We see that, through the deadlocked struggle between what has been and what is yet unknown (the future that wants to manifest), individuation advances, ultimately producing an irrational third. Caperucita, as the nascent Child, must leave Mother, step into the forest of unknown, and outsmart the wolf in order to step into new life and wholeness. It stands to reason that Jung linked the Divine Child archetype to the Self, as both exemplify the impulse towards potential development, invincibility, and individuation.
At the beginning of the fairy tale, Caperucita, her mother, and her grandmother are in the foreground of the story with no masculine figures present. We see that the tale is set in the context of the maternal or feminine archetype. The setting and opening characters purport much Eros (the feminine principle) and little Logos. When the masculine appears in the form of a male wolf, it suggests an animal-like instinctual unconscious nature, perhaps cloaked underneath Caperucita’s very own red hood! As the tale unfolds, we see the display of traditional feminine virtues, such as trusting innocence and unselfish connectedness, displaced and eventually integrated by masculine values like power, discernment, logic, and independence. Fate thrusts the innocent girl into exile, and it becomes her arena of transformation as the feminine-masculine energies are assimilated in her individuating psyche.
It is the mother-grandmother figures that induct this young initiate into her destiny and full potential. The description of Caperucita’s grandmother as sick and weak, needing cake and wine to strengthen her, suggests a vulnerability or weakening of the family heritage, the birthright that ancestral grandmother imparts onto her lineage. Like Caperucita, the exile’s challenge is to redeem the wounded sense of ancestral roots that have been swallowed up and annulled by the devouring forces of the exile complex.
The Big Bad Wolf
The politically displaced person who flees to a foreign country for asylum will confront dark forces in the unknown forest. The threats are not just external. More pervasively are the internal complexes that take residence in the psyche: despair, outsiderness, loneliness, and the feeling of being utterly unprotected are just a few of the painful disturbances that often plague the exile long after the displacement occurred. As with our heroine in the story, an exile’s violent rupture from Mother(land) and assault by devouring forces (complexes) can be felt as a rape of one’s true identity.
Along with the mythological image of Kronos (the king of the Titans who devoured his children for fear of being overthrown), I associate the Wolf with Fidel Castro whose failed communist experiment separated thousands of Cuban children (14,000-plus Pedro Pans) from family and home, devouring their sense of familial and cultural belonging. I find it ironic that Castro’s death has been attributed to diverticulitis, as I imagine that swallowing up a whole generation of Cuban children would do that to one’s gut.
Summary: Seeing Through the Fairy Tales
My personal reading of the fairy tale, Caperucita Roja, corresponds to the initiation of an exile into a new country. Like the protagonist, the exile leaves the security of mother and home and struggles toward newfound awareness or what Jung called individuation. According to Bruno Bettelheim (The Uses of Enchantment), “Myths and fairy stories both answer the eternal questions: What is the world really like? How am I to live my life in it?... By recalling how the hero of many a fairy tale succeeded in life,...the child believes he may work the same magic” (p. 50). As in the fairy tale, the exile is tasked with leaving the safe containment of the Mother(land) to face the regressive forces of the dark unknown forest (the unconscious). It is by wrestling within the belly of the Wolf (the exile trauma and complex that threatens to swallow up the exile) that Caperucita is reborn into new life. Following the mythic pattern of the hero’s journey, Caperucita (as well as the exile) is pressed into individuation, where she must integrate conflicting forces that threaten to split and devour her wholeness. Similarly, the exile must rescue the vulnerable self from the grasp of the devouring complex and bring the disparate cultural states into synthesis, redeeming her enfeebled and supplanted ancestral heritage (personified by Grandmother).
The archetypal motifs of death/re-birth and endings/new beginnings are prevalent in this fairy tale. Caperucita Roja reminds us that separation from the “containing Mother” (e.g., the archetypal Great Mother, or Mother-land) and being thrust into unknown forests of frightening containment can serve to initiate our growth, rebirth, and individuation. By identifying with Caperucita and her triumph over the Wolf, I believed I could also work the same victory in my turbulent young years. It was through the power of this symbolic story, imbued with archetypal energies, that my traumatized young self was able to imagine a way through. Jung stated it this way: “Without the cooperation of the unconscious, the conscious personality would be too weak to wrench itself free of its infantile past and venture into a strange world with all its unforeseen possibilities” (CW 5, par. 463). In this manner, the fairy tale of Caperucita Roja became a living symbol, forever conflated with my early development and exile experience fleeing Cuba.
In this writing, I have talked about the dynamics of exile through the fairy tale of Caperucita Roja as mirrored by my own political displacement. However, this psychological distress, which I am calling the exile complex, is not limited to political banishment. In my consulting room, I observe this emotional distress in many who have never been expelled from their country and yet suffer a deep-seated sense of outsiderness and estrangement from others and from place. Existential alienation and estrangement can ensue from a general mismatch with family, the death of a loved one, the loss of a home, or the dissolution of a marriage or business. There is also the debilitating childhood wound of early insecure parental attachment or birth trauma that often leaves the individual with implicit feelings of not belonging or even deserving of life. In addition, running throughout Jung’s theories and ideas is the individuation proposition of assimilating disenfranchised or shadowed aspects of the personality, those parts of the self which have been exiled from consciousness. I submit that exile is an archetypal aspect of the human experience and that perhaps we’re not really meant to fully belong in this world but are called to suffer the tension of both home and exile simultaneously.
Lourdes Hernandez was marked by the traumas of war and political asylum when her family fled Cuba to take refuge in the United States. She holds post-graduate degrees from Pacifica Graduate Institute and Regis University in hermeneutics, counseling, and Jungian and Archetypal Studies. After a period of study in Zurich, Lourdes returned stateside to complete her analytic training with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and has a bilingual private practice in Boulder, Colorado. Lourdes is a lifelong musician and visual artist who values the curative power of the symbolic psyche and its restorative interventions. You can learn more about her at https://www.lourdestherapy.com