Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

the parents of beauty and the beast

There are two main instances in which I was shocked by the behaviors of the parents (specifically, fathers) in the versions of the Beauty and the Beast tale.
First, I was very surprised by the way Disney portrayed Belle's father. In de Beaumont's version of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty's father is a simple merchant who had an unfortunate loss of his wealth. The main theme drawn upon this father figure is that he cares for his family above all else. This father is I think represented very well in Cocteau's version. The father cares for each of his children, even the terrible sisters, and hates to ever see them upset or bickering. In contrast, however, Disney completely changes this. Yes, Belle's father obviously still cares for her above all else, but there are no other siblings, the father is not at all rich, and he is in fact portrayed as being slightly looney (even Belle is considered to be "odd" by the village). This seems like a very bizarre thing for two reasons: 1) why would you include the threat of an asylum into a children's film? For the adult watchers? and 2) what was the real purpose of this? I don't see how it functioned to improve the film. 
Second, I was completely appalled by the behavior of the father in Tiger's Bride. The fact that any father would care more about his gambling than about his daughter shocks me greatly. I don't care how comfortable you are with your poker hand; that is a seriously risky bet. It also surprises me how well the daughter takes it. Obviously she's not too pleased, but she seems to give her father a lot more credit than he deserves, and the tiger not enough credit. After all, although the tiger's request was perhaps a little strange, he did not try to touch her, and once they revealed their naked selves to each other, he let her go. The daughter must have recognized some kindness in the tiger as she now willingly goes to him naked, but she still holds on to this belief that her father truly loved her more than gambling. In this case, I can't tell which character appears to be more weak/stupid: the gambling, poor father or the naive/ignorant daughter. 

The Purpose of Parents in Beauty & The Beast

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.

The father figure in the varied beauty and the beast tales is the parent that always sets the story in motion. The father typically has multiple daughters, with one naturally being the favorite. This love for the favorite daughter is what brings the story to a conflict. The father must gather items for his daughters and it never fails that his favorite daughter's is the hardest to get. Whether it is a rose in the middle of winter or a singing springing lark. When the father finally locates these treasured goods, he always gets caught by some form of beast. This beast stakes claim to whatever object is in question. In exchange for his life, the father promises whatever greets him first when he gets home. This inevitably ends up being the daughter he loves so much. This selfish sacrifice the father makes is always overshadowed by his daughter's good will and devotion to the father. Even if the father wishes to break the deal, the daughter is so pure of heart that she insists the promise must be kept. If the father shows up later in the story, it is generally due to an illness or a sister being married. Regardless the circumstances the daughter who is with the beast wishes to return home and see her father whom she still loves.

What do the Parents Want?

The father in Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast and the mother in Straparola's The Pig King have very different roles when it comes to the finding of mates for their offspring. Beauty's father in the Beaumont is an unwilling match maker. When he returns home, it is simply for the opportunity to see his children one last time before he is too be killed, but Beauty reverses his fate by demanding to go in his stead. Beauty does not go seeking a mate. In fact, it is her own death which she is led to predict. The mother in the Pig King brings princesses to her son to try and satiate his sexual desire. She seems beleaguered, frustrated, with their gruesome deaths at her son's hands, though not viewing the incidents as terrible tragic, for she immediately finds another princess as soon as one has expired. The parents of the princesses are not shown, even though their fathers would presumably have to give over their hands in marriage in order for anything official to go through. The Queen loses agency in deciding her child's mate as well, so in that regard, she shares a feature with Beauty's father. The both have lost control of the fate of their children to a large extent, something a suppose is a common anxiety among those with children. Neither Beauty nor the Pig seem to have any ability to view life from the parent's perspective. The father would have willingly died for her daughters, but Beauty sees the moment as an opportunity to show her sincere love of him, It would seem, however, that the truly loving thing would have been to allow the father the opportunity to sacrifice himself for his daughters. Even if he could not provide financially after the collapse of his merchant business, he could give them the gift of life.

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.

a beast in sheep's clothing

One of the most fascinating components of Angela Carter’s already interesting “Tiger’s Bride” was the story’s revisionist take on the father figure of the traditional Beauty and Beast story. Sure, some of the other “in-laws” have their time in the spotlight in this tale type (I particularly like the long-suffering and emotionally complex mother in The Pig King), but Beauty’s father has always been the important one. His character in early versions shows a confusing blend of sympathetic and condemning traits—he seems loving and lovable, but Beauty’s capture is ultimately his fault. Different adaptations try to obscure that fact a bit by focusing on Beauty’s virtuous insistence on replacing him (she escapes in Cocteau’s and is apparently quite persuasive in Beaumont’s), but the fact remains that a loving father probably shouldn’t have told his daughters about the “substitution” option in the first place (“ah yes, I will die—although, just so you know, one of you could save me *wink*”). The only acceptable way I see of dealing with this character flaw is to do what Disney did: have Beauty find out about her father’s state herself, and have the Beast make the offer to her.

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.

Beauty and The Beast Parents

The father figure in many of the Beauty and the Beast stories is the character with whom the story starts to unfold. It is because of his actions that he is led to the beast in the first place. I found the way that the father figure was depicted in Beaumont's version to be particularly interesting. The author makes a conscious effort to portray Beauty's father as a good and virtuous man and in no way responsible for the sequence of events that happen to Beauty. From the beginning the father is considered a "good man" and not only this but " a man of intelligence and good sense." It is because of him that his daughters are educated, and thus Beauty possesses the same wit of her father, characteristics that were well respected in that day. What I also found interesting, was although he is portrayed as intelligent and virtuous he is also portrayed as weak in comparison with his daughter. First, he looses his fortune and has very little as they live in seclusion. Secondly, although he says that he doesn't want Beauty to risk her life to save him, he still makes little effort to keep her from going. Beaumont writes, " There was no use arguing with Beauty. She was determined to go to the palace." In many of the Beauty and the Beast stories the father is described as old or may become sick of heart-brokenness. In the case of this story, Beauty is the one who steps up and makes the sacrifice, while her old and weak father makes very little effort to stop her or take her place instead. Though her father is portrayed throughout as a virtuous and good man, it doesn't really seem like he has the qualities that one would associate with a gentleman such as bravery and self sacrifice to family. I think that this is true of many of the Beauty and the Beast stories that we have read. I have found myself automatically liking the father and thinking of him as good, but at the same time thinking how could he have possibly let her go. In Cocteau's version as well as others, she escapes on the horse and I think that this allows the issue of her father's virtuousness to fade away.

Beauty and the Beast - Parents

The principal parental figure present in Beauty and the Beast stories is the father. In some versions of the story it is the father’s love (and other times possibly guilt?) that moves him to reward Beauty’s piousness and undying love for him by honoring a simple request for a rose. The father’s determination to obtain the rose sets the story in motion and instigates the union between Beauty and the Beast. In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the father doesn’t let the sisters mistreat Beauty, as there are no sisters, but he takes a wrong turn in the woods and enter the Beast’s house for shelter. The father’s lack of direction causes him to make the acquaintance of the Beast and his daughter seeks to find him after his extended absence. Additionally, it is the father’s fear of the Beast in most versions that is juxtaposed with Beauty’s fortitude in getting to know the Beast beyond superficial layers. Beauty’s unconditional love for her father prompts her to take her father’s position as the Beast’s slave as she would rather die because of the Beast instead of the grief she would suffer from the loss of her father. It is also the father’s sickness that helps the Beast to realize the magnitude of his love for Beauty. Beast cannot handle Beauty’s sickness (which manifests because of her dads sickness) and agrees to let her visit her dad for a three days (or a week). When she doesn’t make good on her promise, Beast suffers. Beauty’s return and care ultimately sets the breaks the magic spell and begins the magical transformation. The father principally plays the role of uniting the Beauty and the Beast. Sometimes it is his promise, not thinking that beauty would be the first thing to greet him, or his dismay toward his fate after obtaining the flower or his directionally challenged nature. Either way, Beauty seeks to do all that she can for her father even if that means the possibility of dying.