Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parents Know Best?

To be frank I feel that parents being present in fairy tales jump start the plot. I believe that if it were up to the children they wouldn't know where to go or what to get into if parents were not a part of their decision making. I would go as far as even putting the children as innocent until the parents are actually noted for saying something. This could even stem from the ideal that children were not children but ignorant adults until taught further. I believe that the parents are in fact essential to any story because they seem to be a driving force in the children's lives of helping the reader to identify the child's character whether it be virtuous, selfish etc. Nonetheless it does not go without saying that the reason why these stories came into fruition was due to the parents always seeming to fall into fault of some kind.

Yo Mama So Dumb, She Made You Marry a Pig

Parents in the Beauty and the Beast-type tales vary as do the morals. In "Beauty and the Beast", one of the morals is clearly to take care of parents, even when they cannot take care of you. Her father is much like the Beast; he is never witty nor handsome. But he is kind and for that he is eventually rewarded. The father is a push-over. Beauty must take care of him and fix the problem he creates.

"The Pig King" has a similar parental figure in the mother of the Pig King's three wives. She is poor and has no real say in the matter. She needs the money. Even after her first two daughters are killed, the third still goes, all to protect her mother. Once again the child looks after her parent who has passed the prime of her life. There are no retirement homes. Your old, aging parents need active care and that's what this story seems to preach.

On the other side, in "The Frog King", the father is wise and still in his prime. The moral in this story is to listen to your father. The daughter does not want to take the frog in but father knows best. He insists she keeps her promise, trying to raise her right. It pays off in the end.

So in summary, take care of your parents when they get old and listen to them before they do. Any questions?

Belle as mother and daughter

I want to focus on the lack of a mother figure in most Beauty and the Beast stories. What I've noticed about the lack of a mother is that Belle, whether or not she has siblings, steps into that role. She assumes the roles as daughter, spouse and mother - the role of being a single woman is left aside. In fear of being alone and vulnerable as a young woman, instead of flocking to a suitor, she clings to the one she has: her father.

This is why I think she clings to her chastity and that idea is promoted throughout a lot of the stories. But I think this provides a dichotomy that is somewhat irreconcilable. On the one hand, she's supposed to plan for her future by preserving her chastity, the one thing she has left of her own. But on the other, she's supposed to cling to the past rather than look for a future; current family comes before possible family. I think this is why so many Beauties or Belles are torn, such as Beauty in the movie. She has Avenant and her father. For her, papa wins, but she is not without her own desires. The bigger message is recognizing there are two options, choosing to take care of your elders who have provided for you, and then doing so without being bitter.

For me, B&B stories show the horrible things that happen in the absence of the mother. Belle goes to this extreme and sacrifices her future (the possibility of a suitor) to take care of her father. This almost ends in disaster ... although that it ends up so well maybe throws off my theory?

The (oedipal) purpose of “Papa” in the “Beauty and the Beast” tales

At the risk of a collective groan, I think psychoanalytic theory provides a useful starting place for understanding the purpose of parents in the “Beauty and the Beast” tale. Specifically, I want to frame the narrative in Freudian terms – as the oedipal tale of a young girl who must remove all attachments to her father in order to reroute her attachments toward a “beastly” male suitor, resulting in a heterosexual union in the end.

In a way, it is difficult to think of the “Beauty and the Beast” tale strictly in terms of Freud’s Electra complex because of the lack of a maternal figure. (By the way, the Electra complex is the notion that the young girl identifies with her primary love object – her mother – and then, without ever dropping her first identification, with her father. This means that the young girl – like the young boy – is inherently bisexual (although the young boy must repudiate his mother and youthful bisexuality to become an obligatory heterosexual). However, the young girl eventually discovers that her mother is a “rival” for the affections of the father, and so she must take the mother’s place in order to complete her oedipal trajectory toward (heterosexual) union with her father.)

Though the maternal element of the Electra complex is inaccessible in the “Beauty and the Beast” tales, the paternal factor continues to exist. The power of “Papa” in all (Western) versions of the tale holds tremendous sway over the young girl’s decisions. For example, she refuses to ever leave her father because she loves him and believes he cannot live without her. However, the “Beauty and the Beast” tale forces her to make the decision to take the place of her father as the Beast’s eternal prisoner (a curious notion since the young girl never usually assumes the father’s place in the oedipal trajectory). As a result, the tale requires that she displace her father in order to forge a heterosexual union at the end of the story. This heterosexual union is the goal to which the Beast persistently aspires, and eventually it must come to fruition for the young girl’s trajectory to be a success (as it does).

Therefore, the purpose of “Papa” in the “Beauty and the Beast” tales is as “part one” of the two-step process (young girl relinquishes Papa; young girl bonds to beastly male suitor) that underlines each “Beauty and the Beast” narrative. The renunciation of Papa is required in order to permit the “arranged marriage” tale (Tatar) to be effective.

Parents: The Bridge to Eternal...Pleasantness

The role of the parents in the Beauty and the Beast-type fairy tales is to provide the plot enough logic for the story to make sense (I get the feeling that we can accept the fact that a handsome prince can be cursed into a dreaded, ugly beast, but we would have a hard time following the story if the "beauty" randomly encountered the beast and stayed with him longer than that split-second of fear without some kind of obligation to him). Some versions, like Beaumont's, accredit the Beauty's devotion to her father and willingness to sacrifice her own life/free will in order to save him. It is only over time that she gets to know the Beast and ends up falling in love with him, or whatever the 18th century equivalent of "true love" was. In "Hans My Hedgehog," the marriage only occurs because the King has already promised his daughter to Hans My Hedgehog in exchange for saving his life.

While this notion doesn't exactly make a lot of sense in today's terms of true love and happily ever afters, the payment of daughters to satisfy a debt isn't necessarily meant to be demeaning. Rather, it is meant to instill the values of self-sacrifice and virtue among the female audience in a time when marriage in the name of love was an unknown concept. If you can't be in love, you might as well narrow your search to those that you "treat you nice" and that you "respect." That's where parents come in, to bridge the gap into these forced interactions.

Beauty and her Unfortunate Progenitors

It seems to me that so many of the Beauty and the Beast stories include the parents of the latter because they play a crucial role in the development of the story and the relationship between Beauty and the Beast. For instance, in Beaumont's version, due to the misfortune of the father Beauty is forced into a position where she must suffer the death of her father or see her own mortal fire extinguished at the hands of the Beast. Had it not been for the old man getting lost in the woods Beauty would never have faced such a predicament.

In another version, Straparola's The Pig King, again the parent of the Beauty character is at least ;artially responsible for her involvement with the Beast character. Granted, the pig boy becomes enamored with her and demands her marital hand from his mother as a result, the only reason the marriage occurs is because Beuaty's mother was so poor and the Queen offered her many riches.

So, a pattern seems to arise in which the misfortune of a parent, whether it be getting lost in the woods, seeking shelter in a castle and then just happening to take his most prized possession, or simply beng down on one's monetary luck, the end result is a sort of contract that results in Beauty forming a relationship with the Beast in some way. If the parents were not in the picture the stories would have to change entirely to get to the desired end. This also makes me think that the parent characters are meant as scapegoats that can be blamed for the suffering of their daughter. If Beauty brought her unfortunate situations upon herself readers would pity the character much less. However, since somebody else is to blame the Beauty character can retain all of her virtue. The parents are just a means to an end.

How Important is the Parent's Role anyway?

I think an interesting parent relationship in these types of tales can be seen in the Straparola version, "The Pig King." In this case the parents in which the parents truly love their child. They wanted a child so much, that they were so happy when the wife finally conceived thanks to the mischievous fairies. They love the child or at least the mother does unconditionally, even though it is born a pig and willingly put up with his antics. ("defiling them with all manner of dirt, but because he was indeed their own son they bore it all" pg. 43) The mother ends up finding him three wives to please him and they all eventually live happily ever after. This is in sharp contrast with the parents from Hans My Hedgehog. Here the parents do not show the beast the same type of love and affection. Their lack of care even pushes him to leave home. Interestingly, both these beasts go through similar trials (multiple wives) and are eventually turned into princes thanks to the virtuous women. So my question is this, if both of these stories have similar obstacles with two very different types of parents, but still reach the SAME outcome, then does it really matter what role the parents play in their lives?

Beauty and the Beast- the role of parents

In Tartar's essay before the series of stories, she discusses the repeating motif of arranged marriage. She states that these Beauty and the Beast stories would console the wives of an arranged or forced marriage. In these stories, as in arranged marriages, the parents play the influential role in determining who their daughter is to marry. However, in the well-known Beauty and the Beast stories the parent does not intentionally mean to surrender their daughter to an unfit suitor. Nevertheless, in Beauty and the Beast stories, the parents play a significant role in determining their daughter's fate.
In Beaumont's version of the story the close relationship between father and Beauty results in her imprisonment. The father, after stealing the rose, has no intention of surrendering his daughter to the beast. However, Beauty loves her father so much that she volunteers to take his place. The relationship, therefore, was the cause of Beauty meeting her "suitor." Interestingly enough, the close relationship with her father is reemphasized to serve another purpose toward the end of the story. When Beauty realizes that her father is sick, the Beast, in an act of unselfish love, allows her to go to her father's bedside. This might be a stretch, but I think Beauty's father was the catalyst for Beauty's realization of her love for the Beast.
In contrast, in the "Pig King," the father is never present and the relationship between the protagonist and the parent is not stressed. In the "Pig King" the women play a key role in the arranged marriage between the Beast and Beauty. The mother of the Pig King is on a quest to find someone for his son to marry, even though she realizes that no well- off woman will agree to marry him. Therefore, she takes advantage of a poor woman's desperation and exploits her desire for money. The poor woman agrees to give up her daughters, even after two of them get killed. Why does she do this? Because she wants money? I dont get it. But anyway, the Pig King is ultimately satisfied with the 3rd and most beautiful daughter and reveals his true self.
In both of these stories, the parents play a crucial role in coercing their daughters into marrying a beast of a man. The parents exploit their daughter's good bigheartedness and force them into a potentiall dangerous situation with a beast of a man. Side note: while all of these stories are supposed to be about inner beauty and accepting people regardless of their looks, the beast always seems to want the prettiest daughter. Any thoughts? Is Beauty beautiful because of her beautiful inside that is translated outward?

Parents in "Beauty and the Beast" tales

In all of the “Beauty and Beast” tales and their related counterparts, a beautiful young girl finds herself coerced into an undesirable marriage at the urging of a parent figure. Most often, a desire for money motivates the parent to deliver their beautiful daughter into the hands of a grotesque, frightful beast. For example, Beauty’s father is on a money-driven quest to retrieve his merchandise when he stumbles unwittingly into Beast’s palace, and similarly, in “The Pig King,” a destitute peasant mother, lured by the prospect of money, freely sells off all three of her daughters to the vile swine-like Prince.

By today’s standards, this practice seems hard to believe. What decent and rational parent would willingly consign their child to an unfavorable marriage with a horrific, foul beast? Given the historical context in which these tales were fashioned, however, the arrangement would have been perfectly sound. Up until the mid-20th century, after all, marriage was a purely economical phenomenon, devoid of sentiment or feeling. The idea of marrying “for love” served no practical purpose; it was simply a blessed bonus if the partnership actually ended up generating feelings of love. For this reason, the practice of subjecting reluctant daughters to unwanted marriages was widespread. In almost all instances, the parent of the “Beauty” figure is impoverished and desperate, while the beastly character possesses vast wealth and power. To turn the arrangement down would be unthinkable. In this way, the Beauty and Beast tales are a reflection of the social environment in which they originated, an environment in which money trumped all other considerations, and love emerged as a trivial consideration.

That the “Beauty” figure initially begrudgingly enters the marriage proves crucial to the tale’s overarching theme. The “Beauty and Beast” tales, above all, speak to the idea of “inner beauty”—that what matters is not so much appearance or courtly manners, but virtue, kindness, and gentleness. The longer Beauty resides in the palace, the more Beast’s quiet, unassuming kindness begins to emerge, and she discovers a surprising gentleness lurking beneath his frightening fa├žade. Of the Beast’s inherent goodness, Beauty remarks:

“You are very kind. I swear to you that I am completely pleased with your good heart. When I think of it, you no longer seem ugly to me.”

And later, more tellingly:

“There are certainly men more monstrous than you. I like you better, even with your looks, than men who hide false, corrupt, and ungrateful hearts behind charming manners.”

Here, Du Beaumont’s message rings clear: rather than being dazzled by such superficial qualities as charm and attractiveness, women should choose suitors on the basis of their inner qualities, seeking someone with virtue and morals. Had Beauty entered the marriage willingly, without the external prodding of a parent, swayed herself by the prospect of wealth, this crucial message would be utterly lost. What is important for the story’s trajectory is that Beauty initially finds no inherent positive good in her situation. The only thing keeping her at the castle is her selfless devotion to her father. Although Beauty initially is repulsed by the Beast’s external appearance, his bumbling animalism, soon her new suitor’s genuine goodness begins to manifest itself in small, gentle gestures, such that the Beast no longer seems so beastly. At the end of the day, Beauty recognizes how fortunate she is to have a suitor who treats her so kindly, and this idea—that all a woman needs in a partner is friendship and companionship—forms the moral core of the tale. Had she not been pushed unwillingly into her situation, this crucial burst of insight could have never taken root.

The Role of Parents

It seems that the parent tends to serve as a catalyst through which the beauty is forced to meet the beast. Tatar writes, “Yet what many of these tales seem to endorse in one cultural inflection after another is a reinscription of patriarchal norms, the subordination of female desire to male desire, and a glorification of filial duty and self-sacrifice” (Tatar 27). This quote is particularly applicable to de Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” and Straparola’s “The Pig King”.

In “Beauty and the Beast”, the father is the bridge that connects Beauty to the Beast in the first place. Beauty and her father have a close relationship, which is the basis of her strong filial obligation. Beauty is unable to marry her many suitors because of this responsibility- at least until the Beast enters the picture. It is Beauty’s father who makes the fateful decision to pluck the rose that was his favorite daughter’s only request. This action binds him under the Beast’s power, and thus he is forced to comply with the Beast’s wishes or suffer the consequences. Beauty originally believes that the beast intends to kill her father, so she takes his place and saves his life by sacrificing her own. After she arrives at the castle, she soon realizes that the Beast has a kind heart and actually intends to marry her.

In “The Pig King”, the parent also connects the beauty to the beast. “The Pig King” shows the female figure, the pig’s mother, succumbing to the wishes and demands of her son. Once he is old enough to be married, the pig demands that his mother find him a bride. However, he kills his first two wives because they were apparently plotting to kill him. The pig becomes more domineering as “…he persisted in his purpose, and threatened to ruin everything in the place if he could not have her as wife” (Tatar 45). A few lines later, the pig “became more insistent than ever, and in the end began to threaten the queen’s life in violent and bloodthirsty words, unless he should have given to him the young girl [Meldina] for his wife” (Tatar 45). Even after consulting her husband (the king, who is mentioned in the story but does not hold any power over his son), the mother, who dearly loves her son despite his cruelty, continually gives in to the pig’s desires. Without the mother’s cooperation in granting all of her cruel son’s demands, this beast would never have met his beauty.