LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Bluebeard and Violence: This Folktale is Not Yet Rated

on January 17, 2013 9:07am

Bluebeard, a French literary folktale, the most famous version written down by Charles Perrault, tells the haunting story of a violent aristocrat whose new wife discovers actual skeletons in his closet – the murdered bodies of his previous wives.


Girl, I think the least of your problems is that his beard is blue.

Its classification of being a folktale shows that it was a story passed down by generations so it might not have been originally “marketed” towards children like other texts. The inclusion of a moral, and that it is classified alongside other fairytales, obviously leads to children reading or being exposed to the story. The discussion arose in class if a story where the protagonist finds a forbidden room where her new husband literally hangs the bloodied bodies of his previous wives is appropriate for children.  (It’s not!) One classmate cited that he had only heard of Bluebeard because he read’s “5 Grimm Fairytales You Should Only Read to Kids You Hate.”

Here’s the link:

So, if childhood is so sacred, why are we doing this to our kids? While parents probably would never read Bluebeard to their children as a bedtime story, they would read or allow their children to read equally violent stories. Children’s stories and fairytales are riddled with swordfights, bewitched hot iron shoes, and evil witches being thrown into ovens. A most recent young adult bestseller The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, has children as young as 12 fighting to their deaths in a televised contest.


If you didn’t cry during this scene you’re a monster.

The hypocrisy that arises to me, however, is how other adult themes are extremely off limits to children. In class, we discussed how sexually advanced storylines like incest are banned because they can get too real. Isn’t the prospect of a serial killer rounding up bodies in his house a little too real? It is intriguing to think of the lengths parents go to suppress sexuality and other adult themes but are open to exposing children to violence based solely on the hierarchy of what society deems important.


2 responses to “Bluebeard and Violence: This Folktale is Not Yet Rated

  1. Aaron Pirkkala says:

    Although grotesque in imagery, “Bluebeard” teaches, fundamentally, morals and underlying messages that are arguably essential to a child’s realization of the world we live in and the realities associated with such–one reality of which depicts that a marriage may not always end in perfect bliss and harmony. As Tatar puts it, “But while ‘Bluebeard’ may not necessarily be an appropriate story for children, it remains a powerful text challenging the myth of romantic love encapsulated in the ‘happily ever after’ of fairy tales and presenting a message with a social logic compelling for Paurrault’s day and age.” It is in part healthy to include in a child’s mind an exaggerated scenario of a marriage gone wrong, which helps to balance the consistent and repetitive–and also exaggerated–image of marital bliss conveyed in fairy tales (For example, in the Brothers Grimm’s “Cinderella” or in De Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast”), which definitely doesn’t explain the some 40-60% of all marriages in the United States ending in a divorce.

    Though it is important for children to not be so caught up in the idea of a “perfect marriage,” another critical and omnipresent moral in “Bluebeard” is, as Perrault puts it, “Curiosity, in spite of its many charms, Can bring with it serious regrets…” According to Tatar, the tale of “Bluebeard” from Perrault’s time onwards shows what possible consequences could arrive from mere curiosity and disobedience, as characterized by Bluebeard’s most recent wife. Although the consequences of such curiosity are much more intensified within “Bluebeard”, such curiosity in real life situations can also come with a costly price. On a daily basis there are countless examples of curiosity and disobedience stretching across communities, and can be viewed across all societies of the world. For example, the coming across of somebody’s personal possession, perhaps a diary or an email address left logged in on someone’s computer, can very possibly attract unwanted attention and/or hostility from the possession’s true owner–considering of course that the truth is discovered. In a marital example, invading the privacy of one’s significant other without his or her permission can obliterate all bliss and trust between persons.

    Thus, in thought of what I have written concerning the importance of the underlying lessons and morals to be learned in the fairy tale of “Bluebeard,” I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of which you wrote that, “It is intriguing to think of the lengths parents go to suppress sexuality and other adult themes but are open to exposing children to violence based solely on the hierarchy of what society deems important.” As you noted earlier in the post, this story as a fairy tale assumes that it has been exposed to children–though, I agree that few parents of the modern day would want to read this story to their child. I would think it to be true that you yourself–if a parent–would refuse to read this–or the equivalent–to your child, as demonstrated by your writing upon the grotesque details of the story and whether or not it is appropriate for children, followed by your response, “(It’s not!)” Although I do respect your opinion and your reasoning behind so, I still can’t stress enough the importance of a child’s realizing that this world’s realities (and particular to this story: the truth that marriage doesn’t always end in a happily ever after) are sometimes cruel and unfair. To get a child’s hopes up for a perfect marriage–as many fairy tales demonstrate–only gives him or her false pretenses, thus “Bluebeard” helps to even out the playing field–giving marriage that little bit of needed negative attention to do just that.

    (Personally, I wouldn’t mind reading this story to a child of mine at bedtime, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt: conveying life’s truths and hardships (and even imperfect marriages and curiosity’s possible consequences) can all be channeled–no story needed–just through parent-to-child conversation. It surely doesn’t take the gruesome image of a room full of dead women and blood to inform your child simply, “Oh yeah, marriage doesn’t always end up like that of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Marriage can in fact be horrid, hostile, or even terrifying.”)

  2. laurenleshansky says:

    Today’s class discussion is even more relevant to this post than Tuesday’s. The stories that were intended for children to learn from were brutal, and many of the devices used by these fairy tales end up being macabre. As long as it’s not a child character, or a character that will inevitably be punished or brought to justice some way, that lurid and often vicious acts can be carried out and it be acceptable for children to hear. In The Red Shoes, Hans Christian Andersen uses many gruesome details, in order to emphasize the fear factor and coax children into behaving. Karen—exhausted from constant (and inappropriate) dancing—pleads to have her feet cut off by an executioner to be expelled of her sins, and to finally have some relief.
    Even though this scenario may not be as close to home as the possibility your new husband is a serial killer (the number of Lifetime movies are countless), but the use of morbid images and themes in these fairy tales all seem to have the potential to traumatize a young, impressionable kid. Perhaps during these times, graphic images such as amputated limbs and newly deceased family members weren’t as uncommon as we associate with more contemporary times. It’s definitely a more recent societal boundary for parents to shield their children from graphic images for as long as they can. However, back in the time these tales were being written, it seems plausible that children would be susceptible to the occasional “R-rated” scene. This, then, wouldn’t be too preposterous to imagine that these depictions in children’s fairy tales were given the green light by adults.
    Whether or not this is the case, these tales are explicit enough to inspire a South Korean horror filmmaker to transform The Red Shoes into an even gorier reimagining.
    By the way, the title to this post is fantastic. Two thumbs up.

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