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Symbolism in Beauty and the Beast: Analytical Essay

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Critically examine any two versions of a myth/ fairy tale/ folktale of your choice. Consider their intended audience, theses and motifs they have in common as well as distinguishing features of each version.

According to Bruno Bettelheim (1989) Fairy Tales are essential in the development of children’s evolution from immaturity to maturity/ He also suggests how many fairy tales can support children and “help them cope with their dreams and inner turmoil” (Bettelheim, 1989) Bettelheim argues that fairy tales provide a richness and provides an enchanted quality in children’s lives (Bettelheim, 1989). A Fairy Tale is a folklore genre that takes the form of a short story, and according to Crago (2003) they analyse the deep truths about life also. For the purpose of this study, ‘Beauty and The Beast’ will be compared and contrasted using both the Disney version and the Brothers Grimm version of the Tale. The study will encompass similar themes, motifs, features and also their intended audience.

To begin, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is on of the most romantic fairy tales. It incorporates the themes of love in many different areas throughout the tale. In the Disney version (1992), Love is seen from the onset of the fairy tale. It is noticeable that ‘Belle’ is loved by all not only because of her appearance but because of her kind and gentle personality. This love also conveys that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has the correct idea of love, and that love is much more than appearances. Familial love is majorly evident in the Disney version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Familial love is apparent between Belle and her Father, Maurice. They are both devoted to each other. This is evident when Belle swaps places with her father in the dungeon of the Beast’s castle. The theme of love is also very evident in the Brothers Grimm version also. Love can be seen from the very beginning of the Fairy Tale, where the father asks his daughters what they would like him to bring back from his travels. Two daughters request expensive and extravagant goods such as a pearl necklace and a brocade dress. However, Beauty requests a rose, an inexpensive and priceless (as so it seems) item. One could argue, this choice may represent consideration in relation to finance, but more distinct, the rose as a symbol of love, which will be discusses at a later stage. Similarly, to the Disney version, familial love is conspicuous when Beauty willingly takes her fathers place in the dungeon. It is also visible when Beauty’s father falls ill from a broken heart as his daughter is no longer with him. Romantic love is also noticeable in both versions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Romantic love is palpable between Belle and the Beast in the Disney version and between Beauty and the Beast in the Brothers Grimm version. The most obvious representation of romantic love is displayed in both versions when Belle/Beauty is set free by the Beast to see her father, by the Beast. Romantic love is also evident in the ending of both versions, where they both declare their love for each other.

Love is not the only theme explored in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Appearances is also apparent too. “There is frequent mention of characters’ physical appearances” (Baker-Sperry, Grauerholz, 2003). In relation to this, the theme of appearances is mainly explored through the character Gaston and the Beast, in the Disney version and the Beast in the Brothers Grimm version. In the Disney version, Gaston is a very handsome man on the outside but on the inside, he is an arrogant, selfish and nasty individual. Otherwise speaking, Gaston is ugly on the inside. On the other hand, however, in both versions, the Beast is unsightly and visually unappealing, but he has a heart of gold. This theme reinforces the fact one should look beyond the surface of an individual and as the saying goes “Never judge a book by it’s cover”.

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There are many motifs and symbols used throughout the fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Some of these motifs and symbols can be observed in both versions of the fairy tale. The Rose is possibly the most prevalent motif in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. A rose generally denotes love. The rose is visible in both versions of the fairy tale. In the Disney version the Beast is presented with a rose as a consequence for not helping an old beggar woman. This rose however does symbolise love but in a different way than expected. It symbolises the Beast’s chances at love rather than the love that is shared between a couple. This rose also acts as a representation of time for the Beast as it will bloom until his twenty-first year and during this time, he must find love otherwise he will remain a Beast forever. The rose is also evident in the Brothers Grimm version; however, it is introduced in a very different way. The father of Beauty is seen to pick a rose and his intention is to bring it back to his daughter, Beauty. According to Bettelheim the rose “symbolises love and losing her virginity” (Bettelheim, 2010, p.306). Other opinions believe the bringing of this rose implied an incestuous relationship or desire between father and daughter. This theory could be supported by Bengston who stated, “The folktales that the Grimm Brothers recorded included incest and abuse of children” (Bengston,2009, p.16) Although there is reference to sexual elements in the Grimm Brothers version, one could argue this is not noticeable in the Disney version.

The magic mirror is another symbol displayed in both versions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The magic mirror has the same effect in both versions of the fairy tale. In both texts Beauty/ Belle is presented with a magic mirror which enables her to see her family and the outside world. Once could say, the mirror acts as a window to the outside world, and in fact the only window. It may also act as a window to commodities the Beast can’t have and a reminder of the items and objects he has lost. The mirror is also a symbol of imprisonment in both texts as both Beauty/Belle and the Beast are imprisoned in a different world. It also conveys the beast as an outsider. In the Disney version the mirror becomes a weakness for the Beast as it reveals him to the outside world and endangers both himself and the caste, with the possibility of becoming attacked. An important aspect to note is that once the curse is lifted, we don’t see or hear of the mirror. This may be due to the fact the Beast is no longer imprisoned. There are some distinguishable motifs and symbols in each text. In the Disney version, there are multiple transformations which are not evident in the Brothers Grimm version. The transformations deal with our inner words a how our real selves sometimes disappear beneath the surface. In the Disney version, Gaston is loved for his looks but is truly a nasty human. Gaston may be viewed as a manifestation of the Beast prior to the curse. This is not as evident in the Brothers Grimm version. The transformation in relation to the servants of the castle, represent the personalities of the individuals behind the transformations. These changes may also imply to learn to recognise the souls of those you meet and look past the superficial. Another distinguishable feature of the tale conveyed in the Brothers Grimm version is the religious motif. “Fairy Tales are abound in religious motifs” (Bettelheim, 1989, p.17) This religious perspective is expressed by the use of the number three. In the Christian faith the number three is used to symbolise the Trinity. In the Brothers Grimm versions, there is reference to three daughters with Beauty being the youngest, the third child.

However, this is not seen in the Disney version.

With regard to the intended audience of both versions of the tale, once could say the intended audience for the Disney version predominantly young children but it also resonates well with adolescents and adults. One may argue this as Disney uses many different characters throughout the tale such. They also make great use of magic and moving objects such as Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs Potts, Chip and Candelabra. The use of magic keeps children entertained throughout. The intended audience of the Brothers Grimm version could also be for children also. The use of enchantment in this tale also keeps the reader entertained.

Taking everything into account, it is evident that fairy tales are essential in children’s lives and the communicate deep truths and morals in life. From research and findings, it is noticeable that that lesson in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is that a thing must be loved before it’s loveable. It also teaches the audience to look past thee superficial as all things aren’t as they seem.

Reference List:

  1. Baker-Sperry. L, Grauerholz.L, (2003). The pervasiveness and persistence of the feminine beauty ideal in children’s fairy tales: Gender and Society, 17 (5) p.711-726
  2. Bengtsson. N (2009) Sex and Violence in Fairy Tales for Children: Bookbird 47 (3).
  3. Bettelheim B. (1989) The struggle for meaning: The uses of Enchantment.
  4. Bettelheim B. (2010) The uses for enchantment: The meaning and importance of fairy tales. United States of America: Vintage Books.
  5. Crago.H (2003) What is a Fairy Tale? Signal 34 p.8-25.
  6. Disney (1992), Beauty and the Beast, London, United Kingdom: Ladybird Books.

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