Fairy Tales 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fathers and Daughters

Why is the parent so crucial in Beauty and the Beast stories, and more specifically, the father? It is in trying to gather Beauty's present that most of the time he encounters the beast, who is angered that his property is being taken. The father has to make a promise to the beast that he will give his daughter to die in his place. Beauty's willingness to sacrifice herself for her father is what shows her virtue and kindness that eventually lead her to loving the beast. However, I found one Beauty and the Beast rendition particularly interesting from the Ashliman site, the story of the Singing Rose from Austria. The father is a king, so the family is not in dire financial trouble, nor does Beauty want for nothing. The father sets a task for his three daughters, that whoever finds the singing rose will become queen. Of course "the youngest and most beautiful of all" ventures into the dark forest, where she gets the rose from an ugly old man. He makes her promise to return to the forest after 7 years. Much like in the Frog King, this girl disregards the promise and doesn't really believe in keeping it. Seven years later, the old man shows up, and the king (although he doesn't want to send his daughter away), makes his daughter keep her promise. In a sense, the father's role in this story and in the Frog King are teaching their daughters lessons of loyalty.
The old man tells the young maiden that if she cuts off his head in three blows, she will be free from his lonely castle. Since this story was in the Beauty and the Beast category, I thought that maybe under the skin of the old man there would be a young prince.
Big, big, disillusionment on my part.
When the queen cuts off his head "The old man's head rolled away on the floor. But behold! Instead of blood, a key fell from the head. It opened all the chests and doors in the entire castle. There the princess found many, many precious things, and she was rich and free forever."
There is no learning to love a Beast; Beauty's kindness and virtue and fidelity do not shine through. In fact, this character of the youngest daughter is not the heroine who gives herself up willingly to save her father and family.

So why is Beauty's father important? He not only "introduces" her to the Beast, albeit accidently, he is the reason she returns home to care for him when he is sick. The Beast can see Beauty's loyalty to her father, and her sadness at not taking care of her father causes him grief, therefore he allows her to visit home on the condition that she return to his care. In seeing her love for her father, the Beast comes to love Beauty, who in turn learns to love him. In most fairy tales the father figure is absent, and it is refreshing to have a tale where he plays a vital role.

Parents in Beauty and the Beast Stories

The parental figures in many of the Beauty and Beast type stories are portrayed as honest and loving. They love their children, especially the beautiful daughter, and show it by bringing her an impossible present-a rose in winter or a singing, springing lark. The loving father obtains whatever his child desires with the unfortunate result that he must die at a beast's hands. The fact that the father promises to come back to the beast in order to be killed for his transgression is intriguing. These fathers are so honest that when the beast tells them to leave and come back in a week, they never consider not going. The option to send a daughter in their stead isn't really an option to them either. They usually say they have lived a long life and have few years left anyway. Again this shows their great love for their children. When the most beloved daughter takes her father's place with the beast-out of love and a sense of guilt-the father grieves so much for the daughter that he almost dies. The role of these honest, loving, loyal fathers is to provide an anchor for the beauty's love. Living with the beast and marrying him would not be such a huge sacrifice if the girl's home life was not so wonderful and loving. She must move from the position of cherished daughter of a good man to beloved wife of a monster, which highlights the fear young girls have of leaving home and getting married. If the parents or father were horrible abusive men, the move to marriage with a kind but ugly monster would be no challenge at all. In that case the marriage-anxiety would not be present, but rather happiness at escaping a bad situation would be the predominant emotion.

Parental Roles in Beauty & the Beast

Tatar points out the theme of filial duty in the Beauty and the Beast stories. This theme reflects the cultural filial ideals of its time being transmitted to its audience (children). These stories also reflect the society’s views on parenthood. Each story emphasizes the importance and value of children. The father in “Hans My Hedgehog” is said to “not be complete”, because he doesn’t have children and is mocked by the townspeople because of it.

The fathers in each story are devoted to their daughters, buying them expensive, hard-to-find gifts. In “The Winter Rose”, the father dies from the grief of losing his daughter. The fathers are also supposed to be honest and willing to give their daughters up if this is agreed upon in a deal. This may have been a culturally relevant issue at the time this story was originally told. The fathers who are dishonest and do not honor the deals, end up being punished.

We also see parental acceptance of deformed or unusual children. In “The Pig King” the parents decide to accept and love their mutant pig-child and treat him as if he were a normal boy. All of the stories transmit lessons on what virtuous parenting is.

Role of Beauty's Father

It seems to me that the role of the parents is mainly, in the case of Beauty's family, a reminder of a child's duty to care for his or her parents-- an obligation certainly expected of young daughters, especially those who no longer have mothers caring for the family. It is very clear in both Madame de Beaumont's version of La Belle et la Bete and The Pig King that a daughter's priority should always be her family, and it is notably her parents to whom she essentially owes her life. Despite the center of the story being one of transformation and acceptance of those with horrifying outer appearances, the situation in which this lesson is framed does not even come about until after Beauty has done what every dutiful daughter in her position would do: sacrifice herself for her father. Not only out of expectation, Beauty is so moral a character that she genuinely insists out of love. She claims that, should she not give her own life so that her father may continue living his, she would die anyways, and it would certainly be a more painstaking death of despair and grief. This idea that the daughter cannot go on without her father also reinforces the idea of virginity and naivete in the sexual realm of the adult world. Beauty has never before loved another in the way that she does her father, and thus cannot imagine anything worse than living without him, nor anything that could plausibly replace him (or his role in her life). Therefore, the presence of the father in the story allows for the element of self discovery and sexual maturation later on, when Beauty falls in love with Beast and even remarks that she would be much happier living with him than with her own family. The story is thus not only one in transformation of the beast from hideous to pleasant, but that of Beauty from her young, dependent self (although moral and virtuous) to a woman and, accordingly, a wife.

Parents Just Don't Understand

Parents must play a role in the beauty and the beast stories just as much as any tale about courtship. In the Pig King, the mothers play a larger role in getting their children together than do the fathers or even the children themselves. This speaks a lot for how women were seen as matchmakers when these fairytales were written/ told.
In The Tiger Bride, the woman's gambling father, for all intensive purposes, sells her to the beast. This seems like an unconventional form of the arranged marriage, but weren't most arranged marriages made for some kind of personal or financial gain?
It's interesting to consider how all of these parents had some sort of material gain by allowing their children to be paired with the monstrous beings. Do they truly love their children as much as they claim to or is the siren call of material gain more appealing than guarding their daughters and sons? And would modern parents do the same thing?

Parents' Roles in Beauty and the Beast

The parents in Beauty and the Beast stories have different roles in affecting the plot. Usually, it is only the father that is present, but his role is either in getting the couple together or in revealing the human nature of the beast.

In de Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast, the Grimms' Frog King and the Frog Princess, the father is responsible for uniting the girl and the Beast. In Beauty and the Beast, the maiden's return home to visit her father results in her realization of her love for Beast. The parents play a similar part in Urashima the Fisherman who goes back to try to find his parents. However, this ends badly for him as he loses both his family and his wife.

In the Pig King, it is actually the mother who does more to find her son a suitable wife by negotiating with the daughters of a poor woman. It is also the mother who advises her son on getting his bride in the swan maiden.

In all of these stories, it appears that the parents play a significant role in bringing the couple together, and sometimes introduce conflict or help them see that they do love each other. When the lover's return to each other, it is then that the beast is transformed to a human.

Parents in the Beauty and Beast week stories

In the stories we have read for this week, two or several characters who assume roles as beautiful princesses and scary beasts play the key active roles in stories about marriage. By active roles, I mean that these characters are the only to have roles as true agents of action, as the story focuses on them as the purveyors of conflict and resolution, and the other characters in the stories play side roles. In these stories, the parent's always play the part of the main side roles, and although characters with side roles can be of a variety of types, (those who give advice, those who attempt to foil a particular resolution etc.) the parents in the stories always play a particular type of side role.

In these stories, the parents are always involved as part of the setting. What I mean by this is that they are involved in creating the plot that the Beauty and the Beast must resolve, and they do not play an active role in its decision much at all. In Beauty and the Beast specifically, it is the father's mistakes (his failure to maintain his riches and his bad manners towards the beast) that cause the Beauty to have to come in contact with the Beast. From there, the two characters work out their own problems, and the Father has only been involved in the action that set up their coming together.

Similarly, in The Pig King, the pig plays the active role of searching for a bride, while his mother plays the part of setting up princesses to come in contact with the Pig. And in the Frog King, the father plays the role of mediator, as he bridges the ongoing conflict between the princess and frog and ensures their conflict continues and that the princess cannot simply shut him out. He is part of the setting as well. In the Tiger's Bride, the father of course loses his daughter in a bet, and he is of course merely playing the setting part of a character as well, as any other variety of circumstances could have trapped the princess into her conflict with the tiger. And in the Swan Maiden, the mother is a mediator as well, as her imparting to her son the path to resolving his conflict, his need to possess the maiden, is merely part of the setting as well.

These stories reveal how parents can shape the settings that their children have to unravel. The parents conveniently are there to explain why their children must fall in love with strange animals.

Fathers and Daughters

I think it's important to specify who we're talking about when we say parents/in-laws. In the majority of the stories of this type, the only parent featured is Beauty's father. The mother is hardly, if ever, mentioned. The Beast's parents, as well, presumably a king and queen are only occasionally spoken of and always only at the very end of the story.

There may be a couple reasons for the prominence of the patriarch: 1) it develops Beauty's character and virtue by giving her someone to be obedient and dutiful to, 2) it creates a narrative engine - the father either becomes sick and Beauty must leave the Beast to see him, or, as in Frog Prince stories, the father forces Beauty to do as the frog says (tying back to #1), 3) it infiltrates every aspect of the story with men.

Why might fairy tales want to have men strewn throughout the plot? It seems that the presence of the father and of the beast creates a weird parallel between father-daughter relations and boy-girl relations, as though Beauty is passed on from father to husband... which I presume was fairly common for the time period these stories were told. This parental element, then, provides a sort of didactic training in which young girls are taught, from these stories, how to behave around men, and not too surprisingly, Beauty is meant to behave around both father and romantic interest almost the same way.