The Assertion of Obedience

I have to disagree with Tatar’s suggestion that Beauty and the Beast contrasts Bluebeard. Both fairy tales are generally constructed with a beautiful young lady giving herself to a disfigured man that has a deep secret and lives in a castle. And aside from their analogous construction, both have profound assertions promoting spousal obedience, fortified by positive reinforcements or adverse punishments.

In De Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast, Beauty not only saves her father’s life, but also her own life for her obedience to Beast, and inherits wealth, a palace, and a comely husband. Straparola’s The Pig King has Meldina, Straparola’s Beauty, who is also spared from death and given riches by being docile and reverent to the pig prince, despite his horrendous exterior and foul idiosyncrasies. The extravagant rewards for these subservient Beautys implore the importance of spousal obedience.

The Bluebeard tales may not carry as much positive reinforcement as Beauty and the Beast does (aside from the wives being deluged with riches simply for their hands in marriage), primarily  because each version of Bluebeard centers an infidelity. However, the emphasis of spousal obedience is still present. In Perrault’s Bluebeard, Bluebeard’s wife breaks her promise to her husband by opening the very room he instructed her not to, and for this she can only throw “herself at her husband’s feet, weeping and begging his pardon”,  but to no avail, Bluebeard has every intention to kill her (Tatar 146). Bluebeard’s wife does escape death only very miserly, however, the sisters of Grimms’ Fitcher’s Bird are not as fortunate, for their infidelity to their husband beckons their mutilations. Punishment for disobedience is not exclusive to Bluebeard; there are several versions of Beauty and the Beast that carries punishment for infidelity, which bolsters their similarity. Urashima, the anomalous Beauty for Urashima the Fisherman, is given a box from his Beast, Turtle, who specifically instructs him not to open it, and yet he oafishly does. Urashima is negatively punished for his disobedience by being forever separated from his love Turtle; all “he could do was gaze after her then pace weeping along the shore” (Tatar 68). Meldina’s sisters in The Pig King suffer even far worse for their infidelity: the pig prince strikes them with his sharp hoofs and drives them into their breasts so that he kills them (Tatar 44). Not only do these instances of punishment fortify the importance of spousal obedience, but their presence in both frameworks exemplifies the congruence between Beauty and the Beast with Bluebeard.

Beauty and the Beast and Bluebeard present different methods for conditioning the reader, however, both stories have the same judgment to reinforce. Bluebeard resorts to more adverse punishment, while Beauty and the Beast dons more positive reinforcement, however, is also know to involve punishment. Either way, both stories are vindicating the importance of spousal obedience, which therein lies the similarity that Tatar seems to disregard.




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5 responses to “The Assertion of Obedience

  1. I have to disagree with your idea that both stories require spousal obedience. In the Beauty and the Beast stories, the Beast merely wants a spouse just as most people today do. After they are married the wife is free to do as she pleases and is actually spoiled with dresses and jewels. I am not sure what you mean when you say, “each version of Bluebeard centers an infidelity”. Are you trying to suggest that the wife’s seeing of the blood has a sexual connotation? You also state that, “both stories have the same judgment to reinforce”, but you do not state what these stories are reinforcing. This part was a bit confusing to me. However, I do agree with assertion about the construct as, “both fairy tales are generally constructed with a beautiful young lady giving herself to a disfigured man that has a deep secret and lives in a castle.”

  2. Sophi

    That is really interesting! Both “Bluebeard” and “Beauty and the Beast” are different in their likeness, as you indirectly pointed out at the end of your explanation.
    For example, you say that both tales project an idea of perfect obedience from the spouse. These are, indeed, similarities, but they achieve this idea in two completely different ways. Bluebeard successfully illustrates this moral by bringing punishment to his spouse, whereas Beauty is gifted with the Beast’s human form for her compassion and love.
    Isn’t it strange, though, how these consequences are delivered to the wives of each story? Bluebeard directly inflicts punishment upon his wife, while Beauty unknowingly stumbles over the Beast’s curse and breaks it. It’s possible that this is an additional moral of both stories – being conscious of your disobedience requires that you know your punishment, yet being obedient without seeking gratitude gifts you with the greatest treasures of all.

  3. aeernst

    I have to disagree on the fact that these two tales are very similar. While both do try to give advice on marriage, I feel like Beauty and the Beast served the purpose of giving a woman hope when marrying a man who seemed like a beast, while Bluebeard served to frighten women about how awful marriage can be. Also, Beauty got to know and fell in love with the beast throughout the versions of the tale, and this element is not present in Bluebeard. Instead, the female is just threatened and then worries about her husband trying to kill her.

  4. Both Bluebeard and Beauty and the Beast are alike in that the stories start in much the same way- a beautiful woman is to marry a less-than charming man. Both stories as well teach lessons on how women are supposed to act towards their husbands. Beauty and the Beast teaches that a woman can learn to find qualities that she loves in almost any man while Bluebeard teaches that women must obey their husbands. However, I believe that this is where the similarities end. Each story has an almost opposite view on the sanctity of marriage. Bluebeard is much more pessimistic, showing us that marriages do fail and that men sometimes can be monsters, unlike in Beauty and the Beast where the Beast turns out to be much more of a man. Beauty and the Beast also differs by giving us the happily ever after ending and feeds into our fantasy that marriage is holy and sacred after all.

  5. You make a good point with the underlying similarities between the book, but I feel that when Tatar compares the two as opposites she is referring to the more classic tales of Beauty and the Beast that we know. However, a lot of the Beauty and the Beast tales presented are not as happy as De Beaumont’s, and in Urashima the Fisherman has a very sad ending since he is forced to live without his love. In many of the Beauty and the Beast tales, the Beauty is not so willing to be with the beast and this is very similar to the tales of Bluebeard. Yet most of the Beauty and the Beast tales differ from Bluebeard in the sense that their marriage ends up working out and being a happy marriage, while in the Bluebeard tales he is usually killed.

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