Wednesday, February 24, 2010
In each of the stories the father figure is doting and kind but also somewhat meek, he serves as yet another foil for the Beast’s brutality and vulgar appearance. The father figure, though poor in many cases, represents the bourgeois that is supposed to retain the manners the Beast usually presents with. As per our discussion in class today, in Madame de Beaumont’s version, when confronted by the Beast after picking a rose for Belle, the father tries to apologize and calls the Beast “my liege” and tries to flatter the Beast as was and still is occasionally customary when faced with a more powerful foe. The Beast however is the one who calls realistic expectations to the situation and becomes angry and tells the father not to give him “an honorific” because he recognizes that he is an animal though the father feels it is more prudent in the scenario to act as though he can relate to the beast on a human, proper level. He assumes that Beast would want to be treated as human. This interplay between the father and Beast and the permanent fixture of fathers in the Beauty and the Beast stories of course draws up the question of the Oedipus complex.
As described in the Oedipus complex in which a child wishes to find a mate similar to their parent and dismiss the parent of their same sex. Girls look for traits reflective of their fathers when seeking a spouse. Accordingly, in many of these stories a mother is absent or evil as many older women are in fairytales, but the father is supposed to represent what Belle wants. As she says in Cocteau’s film to Avenant, she cannot leave her father in order to marry. The Beast seems to be the complete opposite of her father but when Belle talks to those around her about the Beast she always says he is “kind and gentle” just like her father in the stories and the Beast gets deathly ill just as her father usually does in the stories so that Belle has to return to them both after journeys away. Perhaps the father figure is there to give the audience context for the type of male figure Belle is supposed to want to be with.
In this way, Beauty's martyrdom was disobedient, yet eventually benefited her. In a similar fashion, it is not until she disobeys Beast and stays at her house for more than seven days that he finally transforms back into a man. For such a conventionally self-sacrificing girl, it's interesting that the two things which must lead to her happiness are in fact, when fully dissected, selfish. Both the Pig King and Beauty are rewarded for acting against the desires of their parents.
Anyway, getting back to my first statement, I was pleasantly surprised to find the father’s negligence aggrandized and thoroughly villainized in “The Tiger’s Bride”—quite honestly, Carter’s overwritten style made me worry for her relationship with her own father! From the opening line, all trace of “lovable” has been taken out of Beaumont’s/Disney’s lovably pathetic dad, to an extent that fundamentally transforms the story. The girl’s interactions with the beast, generally the focus of and driving force behind these stories, are cast in a weirdly reactionary light. I say “weirdly” because all the elements are there for this to be a straightforward and powerful allegory of sexual awakening (or identity-finding, or what have you), but instead the reader can’t shake the sense that the girl’s actions are born out of resentment rather than any internal vitality of character. Thus, in a roundabout way, the very act of “correcting for” the original father’s overlooked flaws turns him into a far more important character than he ever was in the early stories, and one has to wonder if that’s really what Carter was shooting for.