Sunday, March 25, 2012

Possible color symbolism in Angela Barrett's Beauty and the Beast?

For new readers, my all time favorite picture book version of Beauty and the Beast is the one written by Max Eilenberg and illustrated by Angela Barrett. The writing hits the perfect mixture of being true to the classic French Villeneuve/Beaumont version, while elaborating to make the characters come to life in a relatable way. The illustrations are just breathtaking and wonderfully imaginative.
I noticed as I was perusing this book that, in the beginning, Beauty is set apart from the wonderfully colored world around her by wearing white. The narration also contrasts her to her sisters, for while they are overdressed and gaudy, Beauty's goodness shines through with a pure beauty that needs no extra ornaments.
(That's Beauty in the upper right corner)
I was curious as to whether Beauty's wardrobe in the rest of the book was symbolic. For several pages we don't see a clear picture of Beauty. When she arrives at the Beast's palace, ready to sacrifice herself, she is wearing dark and drab colors, for reasons easily imaginable. She believes she is getting ready for her own funeral.

As Beauty becomes more comfortable in the Beast's palace, she is seen wearing colors for the first time. Now she fits in with her surroundings rather than standing out-maybe because for the first time she feels like she has found somewhere she belongs? Or maybe, after her youthful innocence and naivety (white), she was disillusioned by loss of wealth, hard work, loneliness, and the threat of her father's existence, and this is represented by the dark colors. Only after she overcame that was she able to really experience the various colors of life-explore her personality and interests, not being confined by either her inexperience or grief.
I love this panel-each night at dinner the scene is exactly the same, except for the color of her dress.
I don't know how well my color theory holds up, though, because at the end of the book Beauty is in white again-as a nightgown and then in this beautiful picture (look familiar? From my header?) where she blends in with the snow. But I think the stark black and white of this picture, with a blue tinge, serves to capture the poignancy of the moment in a way color would ruin.
I may just be reading into things, but it's fun to think about the possible reasons behind the artist's choices!
Scans of the book available here

No comments:

Post a Comment