Monday, June 4, 2012

Freudian interpretations of Beauty and the Beast

The traditional Freudian meanings associated with Beauty and the Beast, as espoused by Bruno Bettelheim, is that Beauty shows a successful transition of her oedipal attachment from her father, to her suitor-the Beast.  Jerry Griswold points out that this interpretation, while valid, is incomplete.

Implied in this interpretation of Bettelheim's, according to Griswold, "as long as Beauty has a special bond of affection with her father, she sees sex as animal-like and loathsome because of the incest taboo...she sees other men as beastly." Therefore, the Beast's transformation isn't a physical one in the Freudian view, but only in Beauty's way of thinking.

I would be incredibly disappointed if it would be impossible to live in a world where one can be happily married, and continue a special relationship with either or both of your parents. I personally don't fully embrace all of Freud's teachings, I think very few people do nowdays, but the Beaumont version of Beauty and the Beast shows an almost disturbingly stong relationship between Beauty and her father. She turns down marriage proposals so she can stay at home with him, and he nearly dies when forced to be absent from his favorite daughter.

But even in this relationship we see part of what is lacking in the traditional Freudian view of the fairy tale-for them, all the responsibility and growing is put on Beauty herself, not the men who are incredibly needy and each pretty much die when she's not around, forcing her, in Griswold's words, to "shuttle around between needy males" who only stay alive at the end when they all live together. So one wonders if anyone ever actually successfully separates their needy attachment to Beauty.

Griswold points out that one could also interpret the story as a warning to men not to force himself on a woman, but to be a gentlemen and wait patiently for her to say "yes". I'm all for that interpretation too!

Illustrations by Walter Crane
And it's not just Freudians who see Beauty as the only character in need of growth-the back cover of the latest Disney DVD release of Beauty and the Beast reads, "With the help of the castle's enchanted staff, Belle soon learns the most important lesson of all-that true beauty comes from within." Excuse me? At least in the Beaumont version, the Beast is perfectly civil to Beauty (except for threatening her father with death for picking a flower, which is all explained in the Villeneuve version no one's familiar with), but how can the promoters of the Disney version ignore the fact that the Beast needs to learn far more about love and inner beauty than Belle?


  1. Agreed, the Beast learns just as much if not more about what true inner beauty is about than Belle.

  2. Geeze, the Beast's eyes on that DVD cover. What on earth is he thinking about?

  3. I remember being enchanted and scared by those Walter Krane illustrations as a child - they were in a collection long lost to time- which edition of the story did you find these Crane reproductions in?

  4. I usually go straight to Surlalune for classic fairy tale illustrations-this is where I actually got the pictures from:
    But here is a link to the book with Crane illustrations on Amazon: