1 April 2002 | villani
Beauty is socialized to choose the right man
Prominent sociologist Bruno Bettleheim believes that the fairy tale has a very important role in the socialization process of children. Each fairy tale addresses a fear they must overcome; Hansel and Gretel addresses the fear of abandonment, Little Red Riding Hood the fear of the `wolf' in the bed sheets, and Beauty and the Beast the similar fear of the `beast' in men that virgin women face on their wedding night. These tales illustrating the effective resolution of possible threats are very important to natural development.
Cocteau's attempt to socialize his female viewers and alleviate their fear of sex is clear through textual analysis. The mirror that Beauty peers into her first night at the castle shows a reflection of her father where her own self-reflection should have been, indicating that she is still very much defined by the dominant male role in her life. Almost immediately after, the bed sheets slide off the bed in a provocative manner, portending future threat, and she runs away repulsed. She confronts the Beast, and promptly faints. This scene establishes her fear and immaturity; however, Beauty and the Beast become progressively closer through the film, holding hands and talking. During her visit to her family, he caresses and wraps himself in her blanket, another reference to his association with her bed. When she decides she has remained at home too long, she lies on her bed and looks at the beast in the mirror's reflection. This is the point of transition, where she links this new dominant male figure to her bed. Instead of being repulsed by his reflection, she lovingly caresses the mirror and returns to him. In order to do this she slips on his glove, perhaps a reference to condoms. His glove is a perfect fit, displaying their perfect compatibility.
The Cocteau version of Beauty and the Beast also addresses the dual nature of masculinity where good and evil coexisted, and the lines of differentiation are increasingly blurred. He emphasizes his statement that man and beast are indistinguishable by casting Jean Marais in both roles. Beauty comments upon this, when she tells the prince that he reminds her of a friend of her brother's. The fine distinction between the two characters is the prince's inner beauty as well as outer. When the brother's friend becomes greedy, he transforms into a beast so his inner ugliness and outer appearance coincide.
Socialization of Beauty remains central despite two forms of masculinity because the two never meet, so Beauty's choice between the two is central. The film is about the distinctions between men, and the importance of picking the right one. Since both the friend and the prince have the same attractive male face, the lesson is to hold out for the true prince who is good and noble on the inside as well as attractive.
As the Beast-turned-prince reclaims himself at the end of Cocteau's film, the message the audience should take away is that love can cure any ugliness and make any beast a man. The interchangeability is evident and the choice important. Beauty loves the Beast, overcoming her fear of the beastly in marriage and claiming she will get used to him, the reality of a man. Beauty makes a gradual transition from love of her father to a husband, as portrayed in her mirrors depicting her core identity.