The Intelligent Woman's Not-So-Happy Ending
Tale As Old As Time
Tale As Old As Time: Yes, the Disney Version
Beauty and the Beast is the classic girl-meets-boy, girl saves boy, girl and boy fall in love, story. Belle is exquisitely feminine; the Beast is as aggressive and masculine as they come.
Immediately after the opening song, Gaston--the "macho male" of this tale--runs into Belle, the leading lady. This brooding hulk of flesh meets and surpasses the basic rule for "manliness" put down by Paul Theroux (b. 1941) in his essay Being a Man, when he says,"It is very hard to imagine any concept of manliness that does not belittle women..." Gaston grabs the book right out of Belle's hands and says "How can you read this? There's no pictures!" then proceeds to toss the book (a symbol of Belle's intellectual acumen in a town of country provincials) in the mud, forcing her to go to her knees to retrieve and clean it. Gaston is her antithesis--large, arrogant, and stupid.
Belle is bookish. The townspeople are constantly chatting about her odd behavior and obsession with reading material. "Look there she goes, that girl is strange no question, dazed and distracted, can't you tell?" Like many intelligent women, Belle feels isolated: "It's just I'm not sure I fit in here. There's no one I can really talk to." She is normally gentle and, if not complacent, then contented with her life with her father. When she is provoked, however (like when Gaston demands that she marry him), she can become feisty: "Madame Gaston, can't you just see it? Madame Gaston, his little wife! Not me, no sir, I guarantee it--I want much more than this provincial life!"
After her outburst at the indignity of Gaston's proposal, she becomes more introspective about a deep and long-held discontent: "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere; I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand to have someone understand, I want so much more than they've got planned."
As a heroine, Belle is fascinating. She is frustrated at her own inability to fit in, perturbed by the realization that she wants to fit in, and afraid of being an intelligent woman in a society where intelligent women are not necessarily cherished.
The opening narration ends with the question, "For who could ever love a beast?" But perhaps the question should be, "For who could ever love an intellectual woman?"
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