The theme that is mainly emphasized in the short story, “Beauty and the Beast” by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont is, the role of gender in relationships. The story is about a girl named beauty who is blessed with all the good traits and the way she sacrificed her life for her family for which she is rewarded at the end. Beauty, the main protagonist of the story is the only person who is sacrificed every time for all the hardships suffered by her family. She is an educated, charming and a sweet-tempered creature who is always admired by the people around due to her simplicity and obliging behavior (LePrince de Beaumont). Beauty is blessed with a caring and loving father who is always worried about his children and condemned with two selfish and wicked sisters who are always in search of disrespecting Beauty. However, Beauty ignores her sisters and shows a sense of respect and kindness towards the members of her family.
From the early civilizations there has been a significant discrimination in the societies based on gender. According to Justyna Deszcz, “fairytales have become cultural machines that generate and fuel certain desires, feminist critics have set their sights on the sociocultural investigation of the means by which some of these texts inculcate in female readers the conviction that only through marriage can they attain social status and wealth and garner morel plaudits” (Deszcz). She claims that fairytales bring forward female helplessness, beauty and resignation, whereas, conscious and evil women are showed unkindly (Deszcz). There are many examples of male superiority over the females in the English literature like “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Vandread”. The main theme put in the stories is influenced by the author’s gender which alters the story in a biased way showing the superiority of the author’s gender. In the story Beauty and the Beast, though the daughters of the merchant are rich but still their desire is to marry a duke or an earl at least, which shows that male dominance overtakes fame and wealth. Beauty’s sisters are depicted as very egoistic personalities in the story which is a common attitude seen in the middle-class families of this real world who, after acquiring fame and wealth head toward this sort of attitude. Moreover, men are depicted as much more hardworking than women in the story as during financial cries, the merchant and his sons apply themselves to husbandry and tillage while the girls stay at home. The merchant is called good man in the story which shows how the society categorizes the traits of a person through vocabulary and word diction.
The beast is persistently trying to mold beauty to marry him despite of him being extremely ugly. Beast’s attempts to achieve his goals yielded fruitful results as he was successful in manipulating beauty’s heart to marry him. Female “inquisitiveness” is also one of the main themes of this story. Collins dictionary defines inquisitiveness as a trait of being “excessively curious, especially about the affairs of others”. At one point of time in the story, on seeing a large library in her room in the beast’s castle, Beauty says, “Well, I see they will not let my time hang heavy upon my hands for want of amusement.” This statement shows how curious is beauty’s nature regarding books. There are some more credible examples in the history of mankind where women’s curiosity to materialistic things lead to many unwanted scenarios. Adam and Eve’s story is one such piece of text from the history where Eve’s curiosity in the garden of Eden for a fruit has the entire mankind to suffer for her sin. Beauty’s father who is a merchant in the story is a man of his own words because he tends to satisfy the demands of his children even after being poor. In addition, fulfils his promise made with the beast to return to his castle even after knowing that it would be a danger for his life. A very critical analyzation of the story Beauty and the Beast reveals the existence of male chauvinism as the merchant, though unwillingly takes his daughter Beauty to the Beast to sacrifice her life instead of one of his sons. Cambridge Dictionary defines “Male Chauvinism” as an idea where “a man believes that woman is naturally less important, intelligent, or able than men, and so does not treat men and women equally.”
Fairytale characters have become important cultural factors that mediate between culture, social groups and individuals in the process of constructing our perception of reality (Deszcz). The Beast is a symbol of courage but still, lacks the strength of removing black magic spell on him in the story. He needs the help of a beautiful virgin girl to get back to his original form, which is an example of feminism in the modern fairy tales. “Contemporary women writers incorporate traditional elements into fantasy fiction, as a way of reconstructing myths of the feminine divine and of female coming of age, they face a challenge male writer can avoid. That challenge is to find a way to make use of authority conferred by the traditional storyteller’s voice without accepting the accompanying cultural assumptions about hierarchies and gender roles” (Attebery). The title of the story itself suggests “a perceptive and entertaining introduction to the subject of fairy tales” (Griswold). Also, the story suggests the significance of making careful and judicious choice in one’s life. Beauty’s sisters marry men of their choice, one of them is extremely handsome but showed a carelessness to his wife whereas, the other one is a man of wit. In contrast Beauty made a wise decision to marry a beast instead who is kind and good.
The stories verdict suggests that Beast is a man full of patience and kind heartedness as he waits for a long time waiting for someone to marry him and free him from the magic spell put by the wicked fairy. He shows his kind heartedness when he saves the merchant’s life from the terrible weather outside by providing him with food and shelter and allowing the merchant to escape from his palace with a bag full of broad pieces of gold. The beast carries a down to earth attitude as he says the merchant that, “My name is not My Lord, but Beast; I don’t love compliments, not I” (LePrince de Beaumont). Beast is a good-natured person who is full of wealth and powers but still lacks the tendency to use his strengths due to his ugliness.