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Analysis of Beauty and the Beast
Fairy Tales, “Beauty and the Beast”
Girls are practically fed stories of princesses and princes from the day they are born. Through these stories certain values are given, and it all seems like a good idea to the parents, but what ideas are they really giving the girls? The princesses always need to be saved by these said princes, and only the girls that portray a certain attitudes get the guy in the end. The “princess” usually find themselves to be in an uncomfortable situation, forced into poverty or abused by a parental figure, but if they continue to act according to their social rules (and seem happy about it) then success is inevitable. The story of “Beauty and the Beast” written by Marie Le Prince De Beaumont is a classic fairy tale that has been adapted a multitude of times, and it’s common knowledge in America. It is a short story about a merchant who has six children (three daughters and three sons) who starts off as a wealthy man but in the beginning of the story looses everything. The sons are just support characters who are mentioned but not seen often, the daughters are one of the main focuses of the story. Two of these daughters are selfish and cruel, and so they are punished by the end of the story; the third daughter is the pure and sweet one. Beauty (the youngest and “better” daughter) is described as “charming, sweet-tempered creature,” (Beaumont) she refused to abandon her father even though he became impoverished. The message that if a female acts pure and submissive that in the end she will find her prince charming, and if they would just be happy with their situation (no matter how unpleasant it is) then they will eventually be able to rise to a high status, with the help and support of a man of course.
The narrator says that Beauty was at first unhappy about the loss of their wealth but eventually she came to the conclusion that it was not the correct path stating "were I to cry ever so much, that would not make things better, I must try to make myself happy without a fortune." (Beaumont) showing that in order to succeed in life she must make the best of the situation. This illustrates the idea that upper class wants the lower class to be happy about their misfortune, and if they do so then there is a chance that one day they will succeed. The story goes on to further stress the ideologies of social class with the two older sisters, they are incredibly unhappy about their change in class standing, and refuse to leave the city at first. They eventually comply because they have no other choice; their personalities are unsavory so, they are unwanted by the suitors. The older sisters are described as having “a great deal of pride, because they were rich” (Beaumont) and thinking that they are better than other people. They also had jealous tendencies, giving them one more layer of what a girl should not be as stated by society. The two showed unhappiness about their new situation and refused to accept it, they still acted as though they were rich and refused to marry unless it was “with a duke, or an earl at least” (Beaumont) desperately trying to regain the social standing. Their unwillingness to accept the situation is what leads to the punishment they receive at the end of the story. This gives the readership the clear idea that if they wanted to have a chance to be more then contentment was the only option, rebelling would only lead to further unhappiness and a situation that is much worse.
What is ideal?
The personality of Beauty, the youngest and better daughter, is the ideal woman in this story. She is the embodiment of what women are expected to do in their traditional roles, she “rose at four in the morning, and made haste to have the house clean, and dinner ready for the family” (Beaumont) taking on a completely domestic role. She was giving and didn’t seem to have any original thoughts. Throughout the story she is shown in an incredibly positive light as the woman that all women should strive to be, only solidifying the role in which women were placed. The idea that this is how a girl should behave is shown even more when the narrator states that at first Beauty was at first she found the tasks to be difficult (she was not used to labor) “but in less than two months she grew stronger and healthier than ever” (Beaumont) giving the impression that being subservient to men (or ones family) is good for one’s health. Even the activities that Beauty entertained herself with were purely feminine, it was said that she would “read, played on the harpsichord, or else sung whilst she spun” (Beaumont). This gives her a pure and completely domestic feel, telling the readership that this is the role of good girls, for bad girls act like the older sisters. It is said in the story that Beauty’s father “knew very well that Beauty outshone her sisters, in her person as well as her mind, and admired her humility and industry, but above all her humility and patience; for her sisters not only left her all the work of the house to do, but insulted her every moment” (Beaumont) showing again that she had very classically feministic qualities, but it also adds the fact that she lets her older sisters put her down on a regular bases. Showing that being submissive is a good quality for a female, and it should be praised. The older sister’s reaction to their new home was not in any way the same as Beauty, the narrator states that they “did not know how to spend their time; they got up at ten, and did nothing but saunter about the whole day, lamenting the loss of their fine clothes and acquaintance” (Beaumont) showing that if a women was not working in the house (on this social level) then they have nothing else to do, brining to light the question “what else are they good for?”. They are shown to be selfish and jealous, saying that Beauty was “a poor, stupid, mean-spirited creature… to be contented with such an unhappy dismal situation” (Beaumont) not only telling the readers once again that happiness comes from accepting your social situation but portraying the women in this story in two set sections. There is no middle ground with the sisters, the older sisters are considered to be what a girl should avoid, the impure version of women, and Beauty is the good and pure object that girls need to strive to be.
Ahh and the plot thickens...
The story eventually leads to the father coming into some items (that he hopes will restore his wealth, an ever important thing) that require him going into town. The older sisters ask for “new gowns, headdresses, ribbons, and all manner of trifles” (Beaumont) showing once again their preoccupation with material things. They could only think about themselves and their wants, portraying them as shallow and unpleasant. Beauty on the other hand was said to want nothing, she was concerned with whether or not the father would be able to get the sisters all they wanted, loving them regardless of their constant abuse. This is yet another quality that is considered to be feminine, women should always put others first and be kind and sweet while doing so. This is taken a step beyond this when her father asks her what she desires, she doesn’t actually want anything but in order to please those around her she answered “Since you have the goodness to think of me… be so kind to bring me a rose, for as none grows hereabouts, they are a kind of rarity” (Beaumont) as to not offend her father or sisters, showing that even in asking for something she was still serving others. The fact that a rose is what she asked for is a good example of symbolism in this story, she asks for a rose which is a symbol for purity, love and beauty; two of which she is (pure and beautiful) and love is what she will find at the end of the story. The trip to town amounted to nothing, the items could not be retrieved due to some sort of laws, but the father expressed no sadness at this fact; he was comforted by the idea of seeing his children again, being content with his low social standing (and only a little disappointed). On the way home there was a terrible storm and he ended up in a mysterious castle. While in this castle he is treated well, he is fed, given shelter, and parting gifts (all with no one appearing). It all seems to be going well, but on the way out he notices an amazing garden, and he could not help but pick a flower for his beloved daughter Beauty, the only daughter he secretly felt to be deserving of a gift. This was ironically a fatal mistake, for the roses were prized by the master of the house, the Beast.
The beauty of the rose
The Beast automatically attacked the father for taking roses from his garden stating that the roses are what he “value[s] beyond anything in the universe” (Beaumont) putting an emphasis on the idea that men value purity and beauty (what is it roses symbolize). They eventually come to an agreement that the father can go home and say good-bye to his children, but he must return to fate the beast has in store for him within three months or one of his daughters must go instead of him (willingly). Before he leaves, he is told to take all he would like from the room where he stayed, and so obtaining the gifts that his older daughters wanted, and in a way rewarding him for accepting and knowing his place (in lower society). This eventually leads into another one of Beauty’s self sacrificing moments. While the father was away two men came and courted the older sisters, and with his new and secret wealth he could provide a dowry, Beauty being the pure and kind person she is loved them in spite of their abuse and begged the father to use the new wealth to their benefit. It is soon revealed that the father made a deal with the beast and one daughter must go in order to save him; Beauty offers automatically to go and take the place of her father, feeling responsible for this tragedy. The father expresses that he had no intention to sacrifice any of his children, but through pleading from all of his daughters he is eventually convinced. The older daughters once again become the example of what not to do (showing that women again only have two versions in this story) by being secretly happy about Beauty’s misfortune. Beauty is once again happy not unhappy about this situation, showing that she gains some pleasure from serving others (as society believes they should) and goes off to take her father’s place. The older sisters on the other hand seem to be unhappy by even their “happy ending” they still want Beauty to suffer, even though she is the reason they are getting what they wanted.
A telling of a story
Dead or alive
Beauty is not killed as she was thought to be, instead she is held in captive in comfort. When she arrives the beast tells her that “Welcome Beauty, banish fear, you are queen and mistress here. Speak your wishes, speak your will, Swift obedience meets them still” showing that he is willing to take care of her, in all likelihood it is because she posses the qualities he values in his roses, purity and beauty. This only shows even more that the man in this story is searching for the classical qualities such as attractiveness, kindness, meek, mild personality, and a self sacrificing attitude, showing the young girls that are hearing these stories that if they want to be rescued from their ordinary life, this is what they must strive for. The father eventually falls ill due to the loss of his kind hearted daughter, and though Beauty and Beast have become close she begs him to let her see the dying father. He gives her a magical ring in order to get back to him, with a time limit. Once she got home the sisters who seemingly got everything they ever wanted, were miserable. Both of their husbands turned out to be less than they hoped for, showing that even though the social movement upwards occurred, it was still not a happy transition, and how could it be, they were never content with the situation they found themselves in. they then began to design a plan to hinder Beauty, who was happy as usual, from returning to the Beast. This again shows the fact that they are evil in a way, the impure and unsavory version of a woman. They ended up delaying her past her deadline set by the Beast, and he had given up hope for her return.
Eventually Beauty once again falling into her role as the ultimate woman remembered that she must return to her home with the Beast, lest she disappoint him. When she returns, she realizes that she is in love with him, because she is a woman she sees past his physical appearance yet she must be attractive herself in order to obtain a husband, and so she dresses up and waits for the Beast. When the appointed time for their dinner past, and he did not show Beauty began to worry. She ran to the garden, only showing emotion on behalf of the Beast (showing that she feels more for him than herself) and finds him collapsed almost dead. She then weeps and her love saves him, a fairy appears and breaks the curse that the kind Beauty wasn’t aware of and Beast turns into her prince charming. This helps show the double standards involved in society, and makes them appear to be warranted. Beauty’s looks are considered important throughout the story, they are one of the reasons she is so loved by others. They are important to the point where it becomes he name “Beauty” where as Beast is expected to be able to find love regardless of his unpleasant looks. If the roles were reversed, this story would likely have had a very different ending. The idea that a woman is either shown as a virgin or a whore is show especially well when the Beast explains why is it the curse is broken, he states that a “wicked fairy had condemned me to remain under that shape until a beautiful virgin should consent to marry me” (Beaumont) fully showing the qualities in a girl that are of value. The older sisters are obviously upset by Beauty’s happy ending, and so are punished for being genuinely bad people. The fairy turns them into statues, and makes them watch over Beauty and see all of her happiness. The fairy stated that this would be the punishment “until you own your faults, but I am very much afraid that you will always remain statues. Pride, anger, gluttony, and idleness are sometimes conquered, but the conversion of a malicious and envious mind is a kind of miracle” (Beaumont) showing the importance of being the type of person that Beauty is instead of the older sisters.
What is in a flower?
What is your favorite flower?
In this story only one woman is given any sort of a name, Beauty. This is said to be a nickname, but the older sisters are not even given that. The name she is given not only illustrates the qualities that society seems to value in women but it shows that if girls do not act according to the social rules, they won’t even warrant a name. This gives the impression that if women do not act pure, sweet, giving and mild they will become irrelevant and either rejected by society or ignored. This does not inspire them to have their own thoughts but to conform to the thoughts of others, and the others are the men. This also shows girls that they need a man to either save them, or take care of them. Beauty is constantly trying to please someone, either the Beast or her father, and in so doing she is pleasing herself. In reality it is just what society wants to believe, that women would rather please others than themselves. The fact that during this story the villains are her two older sisters, who are selfish and unhappy with their social situation, are punished in the end re-illustrates that if a person accepts where there are in society then they have a chance to become more. This is just another social construct that the people at the top would like to make the people at the bottom believe. If the ones at the bottom of the food chain are content with it, and patiently waiting for their “chance,” then they are easier to control. This leads to the idea that people should question the message that these fairy tales send the youth, it tells girls they must be saved and boys that they need to rule the girls, and that everyone should just accept what they get as, as good as it gets.
Read the book?
Beaumont, Marie Le Prince De. Beauty and the Beast. France: Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, 1756.
Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray. Critical Approches: Marxism. 1998. 2011 <http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/virtualit/poetry/critical_define/crit_marx.html>.