Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Beauty and the Beast: parental roles

In Beauty and the Beast, the parental role is very significant. The father of the beauty wanders in to unknown grounds of the beast's castle. He picks one of the beast's flowers for the beauty as a gift and is subsequently attacked by the beast. The beast says that the father must return to be claimed by the beast after he is let loose or a wife must return. Beauty chooses to return in her fathers spot because she feels guilty about the deal that her father had to make. Even though the father doesn't want this to happen, Beauty still returns to the Beast . The cause and effect relation of the father leads beauty to the beast so the father acts as a bridge or the limiting factor in this story. No father picking the flower would possibly mean no beauty meeting the beast.

In the Frog and the Princess, the Princess looses her ball in a well. A frog comes along and she requests that the frog helps her. She agrees to the promise of taking the frogs home with her if the frog returns the ball. She gets the ball and returns home. The princess tries to go back on her promise but the frog followed her home. Her dad finds out about the promise that she made to the frog and makes sure that she honors her promise.

In both stories, the father serves somewhat as symbols of morality. They experience different situations that are unusual and uncomfortable but remain steadfast to the notion that a promise is a promise.

Parents and Beauty and the Beast Stories

I seem to share the same thoughts as most other people in our group - Fathers always seem to be the ones to blame for the encounters between the daughter and the Beast. The mother is either not present in the story or plays no significant role in what happens to the daughter. This makes sense because back when these stories were being told daughter's were like property that the father was in charge of marrying off.

The only reason I can think of for a parent to need to be present in these stories is so they can stand as a symbol for the childhood the daughter would be leaving behind once she was married. It also gives us someone we expect to fear for her life or her innocence when she goes to be with the beast - it increases the sense of danger surrounding a humans involvement with an uncontrollable creature.

Parents' Gentle Guidance

In each of the tales in the "Beauty and the Beast" genre, parents play a fairly large role in the progression of events. However, unlike other groupings of tales, the parents' behavior is not always the cause of problems. In the Twelve Brothers stories, it was always the parents who were wishing their sons to be turned to birds or plotting to kill them. They were almost always responsible for the negative outcomes. However, with the Beauty and the Beast stories, this doesn't always seem to be the case.

In Madame de Beaumont's story, the father is responsible for Beauty being sent away only in the sense that he unfortunately wandered into an enchanted castle when he was on the brink of death. The father loves Beauty dearly though, and would never do anything to endanger her. Beauty is only allowed to go to the castle because her father recognizes that she is so devoted to him and so concerned about his well being that she could never be convinced otherwise. In this version, the father seems to be neutral in his role. We encounter what we would now define as a positive parent role in The Frog King. The king has no fault in bringing the beast/king into his daughter's life. Even though he probably doesn't desire for his daughter to marry a frog, he encourages her to keep her promises and to remain true to her word. In my opinion, this is the best example of a parent acting how they should. The traditional irresponsible parent in the style of the Twelve Brothers can be found in The Tiger's Bride. This tale does not even make an effort to gracefully explain the father's mistakes. The first sentence of the story reads: "My father lost me to The Beast at cards." It is obvious that the father does not hold the same reverence for his daughter as Beauty's father does.

The role of parents is interesting in these stories. There isn't an identifiable theme, as parents can be positive, neutral, or negative. This truly proves how dynamic fairy tales can be.

Why fairy tales need parents.

Although it is true that the main focus of many fairy tales, and in particular in the Beauty and the Beast tales, the focus of the tale is on the young lovers, the figure of "the parent" also plays an important role. The parent(s) always plays some role in the tale, and in many it is the parent's "fault" that the Beauty is imprisoned, etc. by the Beast. However, the parent is integral to one of the main fairy tale themes, that of progression from childhood with the parent to adulthood with one's spouse. In these tales, the parent is not only an integral link to the childhood and therefore necessary to establish the progression, but furthermore in many cases the parent is the direct cause of the meeting between beauty and the beast.

The Beauty and the Beast tales are a unique twist on the generic "Prince Charming" story, but ultimately the tale ends with the prince and the princess living happily ever after. Because it is a tale of marriage, it is important that there be a distinction between the "childhood" and the eventual marital life. By including a parent prominently in the story, there is a very concrete sense of progression, of the parent handing the daughter off to her new husband. The father is the more common parent in the stories, and it is usually his "fault" that Beauty and Beast meet. It is directly because of the father's actions that Beauty and the Beast meet, and therefore he is indirectly responsible for their marriage, a proper "handing off" of the bride to the groom.

Beauty and the Parents

In all of the stories following the Beauty and the Beast pattern the parents of Beauty play an extremely important role. Many of these stories, especially Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont's salon style version, serve as allegories for a young girl's learning to deal with arranged marriages. In these stories, it is always the Father figure's fault because in 17th and 18th century French society the male head of the family always had control over each and every daughter. In these arranged marriages, when the Father meets a suitable match in social position, wealth, or family he makes arrangements without input of the particular daughter. In de Beaumont's story, as well as the Cocteau film, this is represented by the Father's meeting with the Beast. The Beast specifically asks for daughters, and when the Father agrees he is agreeing to a symbolic arranged marriage. Naturally, he is sad to see his young Beauty go, but he must send her nonetheless.

The figure (or lack thereof) of the Mother in these stories seems far more interesting than that of the Father. Only one of the stories has a mother figure: the Pig King; however, that particular incarnation of Beauty and the Beast has far more of a focus on the development of the Beast character than of the child characters. It seems as though the lack of a mother figure in stories like Disney, de Beaumont, and Cocteau only serves to show the utter unimportance of the child's mother in determining arranged marriages. Although the mother would have had a large impact on delivering virtues espoused in the tale, she does not have any power in the marriages that these tales symbolize.

The Father's Fault

I cannot think of a single version of Beauty and the Beast in which the reason for Belle's initial encounter with the beast is not the father's fault. However, it is the means by which the father is guilty that marks the major differences in the story. In Angela Carter's "The Tiger's Bride," the responsibility of the father is clearly stated in the story's opening line: "My father lost me to The Beast at cards" (50). This dad's carelessness and the narrator's statement that "You must not think my father valued me at less than a king's ransom; but, at no more than a king's ransom" display the absence of the great familial love of the more traditional versions (53). In this story, the girl has the option of returning to her father, but she choses to remain with the beast.
In "The Singing Rose," the father tells his daughters to "go out into the wide world, and the one of you who brings back a singing rose shall inherit my throne, and she shall be queen over the entire land." The daughter that does receive the rose must return to the beast's castle in 7 years. Again, it is ultimately the father's fault for her stay with the beast. Although he hands her over "with a bleeding heart," he does still hand her over. However, unlike the narrator of Carter's story, "Day after day she sorrowfully thought about her father and her sisters" and takes every possible opportunity to return home.
In Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," Belle makes the conscious choice to take her father's place and live with the beast forever. Their familial love is so strong that she is completely willing to make this sacrifice. It is still the father's fault, although it is the daughter's decision. The main reason for her initial sorrow with the beast is the fact that he does not allow her to say good-bye to her beloved father. In the climax of the beast's love for Belle, he allows her to return home to her father, this being the greatest gift he could offer.
The father is always the catalyst for Belle's meeting with the beast. However, his role after this encounter depends entirely on the reason behind his catalyst and, consequently, on the familial bond between father and daughter.

Parents… Who Needs 'Em!

In earlier times, the parents played a much larger role in the selection of spouses than they do in the current age. This was related to a number of factors but is primarily an artifact of the level of technology and content of morality at the time which affected the culture and the norms by which spouses were selected. Just as in the Frog King and in Hans My Hedgehog the father practically orders the daughter as to whom she should marry, the role of selecting a mate was out of the girls' hands. Instead of being given a choice, they were used as a form of bartering chip (for wealth or prestige or safety) because that was seen as their primary purpose and their role as daughter.

From a historical perspective, the concept of familial duty, long since forgotten in Western culture, was of utmost importance. Back then, the fourth commandment actually meant something to the culture as a whole.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, the parental figure(s) is necessary to the tale type because in order to successfully mate, the child must emancipate him/herself from the parents. This allows them to break the parental chains that bind them in order to enter into the bond of marriage.

From a religious perspective, God teaches that children must love honor and obey in their marriages, skills which are taught to them through the appropriate upbringing by their parents and a pious relation to the creator. Otherwise, the daughter is a slut… or something like that.

From a symbolic perspective, the daughter must be passed from one familial world into the next, a sort of handing off of the girl from the father to the husband. This is also why the father must walk down the aisle with his daughter in order to "give her away" at her wedding.

From a contextual perspective, the use of a family background as presented in the deportment and social standing of the parent(s) gives context to the action of the plot and, in at least one sense, justifies the actions of the character(s).

From the nihilist perspective, nothing matters, so why do we even care…

Parents Are Necessay in a Child's Development

I had never really thought about it, but the presence and or absence of parents does seem to serve an important role for the overall tale. Specifically I'd like to talk about Disney's film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. At the start we see the Prince and hear that he is a spoiled young prince, but we never actually see his parents. In reality we assume the Prince to have parents because, well everyone does, and also the castle is beautiful so surely the young Prince's parents must be responsible for this. At the same time though, the visual absence of said parents seems to suggest that without parents to teach children vital lessons on life, children become cruel and uncaring.

Then we see Belle who lives in a "little town full of little people." We actually see her dad and it makes sense that she is so virtuous (she had someone to teach her). It is rather interesting, however, that the other people in the "little down" call Belle strange. While all the other girls are falling over backwards to please Gaston, she could care less. This also adds to why she ends up with a prince in the end, she was not overtaken by outward appearances. Though she was afraid of Beast at first, her main disdain with him came from his temper, not the fact that he was a beast.

So it seems that the visual presence of Dad once again helps us to understand Belle. Because of Dad, Belle is a passionate and kind-hearted person. When Belle found out that Dad was imprisoned in the Beast's castle she could have thought of plots and schemes for them both to escape, but instead she eagerly tires to get down out. The Beast finds out about the intruder and without even thinking about the consequences, Belle says that she will take Dad's place. It seems to me that she does this because she feels Dad deserves it; he has taught her so much and has helped her to be the young lady that she is.