As Disney and society tends to make us believe, the men in any story should be brave, heroic, manly–knights in shining armor. But some of the men in the classic fairy tales, in the presence of a strong heroine, are suddenly helpless.
In Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast, there is a constant theme of the weaker male in order for the heroine to succeed. brothers and the father “cried real tears” (De Beaumont, 36) whereas Beauty’s sisters had to fake them with onions when Beauty had to depart to the Beast’s castle in luau of her father. Beauty, the decidedly not damsel in would-be distress, doesn’t even shed a tear.
The father seems to be entirely helpless when he lost in the storm and at the hands of the Beast: “he heard a loud noise and saw a beast coming toward him. It looked so dreadful that he almost fainted…the merchant fell to his knees and, hands clasped, pleaded with the beast” (De Beaumont, 34-35). Beauty on the other hand, shows more composure upon first meeting the beast: “she could not help but tremble at the sight of this horrible figure, but she tried as hard as she could to stay calm.” (De Beaumont, 37). Beauty shows more composure in the face of danger than her father. The father even allows her to die in place, as opposed to finding a loophole using any sort of cleverness. So why does the male have to be less masculine in order for the woman to fill in as heroine? The perceived gender roles should, in theory, not have to flip in order to have them both maintain a sense of courage in the face of danger. Such a trade-off in traditional roles is not even something feminists can complain about!
Even the beast, who maintains his sternness in the early part of the story basically commits suicide in the end because of loniless losses a bit of that masculine credibility. In order for the female character to be allowed as the heroine, the beast has to fail (as opposed the option of just finding her himself–he’s the one that owns the magic mirror!). It is understood that it just a fairy tale, but it shouldn’t necessarily mean that both characters can’t be strong.
Thus, this problem begs the question of why the female character is allowed to be more masculine and the male characters a little more feminine. It could be that in the father’s case, his obligations to his family cause him to be more aware of what the loss of his life would cost them, causing him to be more pleading with the Beast. One could argue that Beaut had already excepted her fate of death, made peace with that fact, and was rewarded for her kindness and virtue in order to accomplish the moral example that De Beaumont attempts to set for young girls. But the Beast has no apparent excuse other than any prior sins, which he actually could have improved on in his solitude.
De Beaument, Jeanne-Marie. “Beauty And The Beast.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 32-42. Print.