Adventures in a Masters Degree: An essay on Beauty and the Beast

So here we are for my second piece which I got 50% on, My first critical work for ten years. I know I should be disappointed with my 50%, but I’m not. I worked hard on this, I wrote what I wanted to write. There was so much more that I could have written and it was mentioned that I treat “Belle” as if she was a real person. In the context of a Disney film…she is a real person! Also I removed the bibliography and filmography . And yes I wrote an essay on Beauty and the Beast…well, write what you know!   It’s also several thousands words, so it will be put out in stages over the next few days

Representations of Feminism in the “Tale as old as Time”: The Placement of Women in Beauty and the Beast

By Jodie Portugal

Within this critical essay, I intend to discuss the issue of is Belle, from the Disney film Beauty and the Beast, and explore is she is a feminist character. Or does her very identity only truly exist to bring the titular Beast of the story to regain his humanity, and is she less character than a prop?


More tellingly, as a character through the various texts, I will be discussing, is the most interesting aspects, by bringing the Beast character, to the foreground. Is Belle one of the most marginalised Disney Characters of all times?


Beauty and the Beast came to fruition with its release in, but from the first idea to the release, in 1991 it spent decades languishing in the Disney Vaults, as stated in On Being Human in Beauty and the Beast “Interestingly Walt Disney had explored the project in 1937…and again in the 1950’s.” “On both occasions he (Disney) struggled with the more daunting aspects of the project: the fact of being only two main characters and the challenge of creating a beast that was at once “beastly” enough and sympatric.”

However, as I will attempt to prove by making the Beast a sympatric character, meant the sacrifice of the Beauty for the Beast.

In 1991, Beauty and the Beast, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise and drawing inspiration several sources, but chiefly the original tale from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve published in 1740, the revised and more popular version by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756. And La Belle et La Bette, by Jean Cocteau in 1947, introduced us to this new “Tale as Old as Time.”

The first indicator, that Belle is not the focus of this fairy story, is attained through the prologue, narrated by David Ogden Stier’s, and visually revealed through the stained glass windows.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind. But then, one winter’s night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose in return for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away. But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. And when he dismissed her again, the old woman’s ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress. The prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart. And as punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast and placed a powerful spell on the castle and all who lived there. Ashamed of his monstrous form, the beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world. The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose, which would bloom until his 21st year. If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then the spell would be broken. If not, he would be doomed to remain a beast for all time. As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?

By ending this monologue with a question, we quickly get our answer in the form of Belle, going through her village in her own words, of a poor provincial town. What marks Belle out in her titular song, is through the lyrics she describes the typical lives of the village and its inhabitants. Though the lines “Every morning, just the same/Since the morning that we came/ To this poor provincial town.”

In Deconstructing Disney, Welcoming Disney, Chapter 2. P50. Is it stated that “Belle herself, has been an unwelcome immigrant to rural France”. This is further indicated by her manner of dress since she is the only inhabitant of the village who wears blue. A design as mentioned in the commentary of the film, as a trait she shares with the Beast, who deliberately possesses blue eye.

However, a more interesting aspect occurs, as Belle appears apparently enlightened, by her ability to read, due to the fact she is heading to the Village to return a book she borrowed. It is more telling within this song that all of the other villagers are going about their day, raising families and going about their employment. However they are a community, where Belle seeing to attempt to educate them on wonders of reading, is simply ignored. They view her as ‘Strange’ ‘Different’ ‘odd’. However, they are a community, where’s she appears to have deliberately segregated herself from the town, by never seeking employment, or attempted to integrate herself.

Belle may be a ‘foreigner; yet publically appears not to mind. Behind closed doors, however, she laments this to her father, Maurice, an eccentric in the tradition of Disney fathers from Geppetto onwards. He never seems to mind what the Villagers think of him, yet Belle situation appears to bother her.

However, her own lament to in her lines of dialogue are “There’s no one I can really talk too”. Indicates that Belle, by being an immigrant to his community, and feeling enlightened due to the mere fact that she knows how to read, seems above these individuals, since during “Belle”, she never once asks anyone how they are.

Even though the people are openly friendly to her (to her face at least) behind her back, they view her as suspicious, but I suggest that is a failing in Belle’s part then theirs, due to her unwillingness to integrate herself within the townsfolk.

This is not down though to a suggestion of the villain of the film Gaston, who desires Belle, for the reason, she is the most beautiful girl town, hence unobtainable to him.

Further on, after Maurice has left the Village with his invention, and is subsequently locked up in the Beast’s castle, Belle has to endure a failed engagement from Gaston, which leads her to as the commentary described as her “I want song which contains the necessary lines

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere/I want it more than I can tell

And for once it might be grand to have someone understand/I want so much more than they’ve got planned

At this point, Belle is the fifth in the Disney Princess line, however that these two lines do is separate her from the others, who had a clear idea as when they wanted.

Snow White: Desired for her Prince to come, and succeeded when Florian revived her

Cinderella: Desired to go to the Ball, subsequently meeting Prince Charming, which was never her intention, but gave her she freedom, she was unable to claim for herself

Aurora from Sleeping Beauty: Her primary goal was to see Prince Phillip again, something that succeeded when he rescued her, after defeating Maleficent, breaking both her curse and winning her heart

Arial, a Mermaid, who held an interest in the human world and meeting Prince Eric, was her catalyst for wanting something more. Ariel does research on the items she finds in the sunken ships, albeit she does receive the wrong information, due to her only available source.

These Princesses’ all, knew what they wanted, Belle however only “knows, is that she desires. “Adventure in the Great wide somewhere”, yet is never seen working toward her goal.

In truth, Belle is not an enlightened woman, born before her time, due to her education. But an entitled woman, who believes she is better than the “little” people around her, because she has had the benefit of an education, but does nothing with it.

Employment for women in Eighteenth-Century France, the time frame of the film is subjective. However, we must take the year the original book was released in1740, and by the dress styles of the inhabitants.

Instead, she appears happy to sit at home reading fairy tales, even though she is in her tale teenage years, yet never works or want to work for all her goals.

Further on in the story, after she along with Phillipe, (the horse) finds the Beast Castle, and she offers her life in return for Maurice and agrees to stay there on a more permanent basis.

The film now directs the focus onto the Beast, who we had seen in shadows and silhouette when Maurice entered his Castle. Belle is his redemption and according to Welcome Disney p51. The Beast’s hospitality towards Belle is a gesture of misappropriation (he holds her prisoner, with the aim of using her to break the spell).

However, it is only after Belle, after being entertained by the additionally cursed anthropomorphic servants of the Castle, who have their own invested interest in Belle succeeding, after she breaks away from the Servants to explore the West Wing

Belle will not willingly to integrate herself within the Village, and her transgression in the West Wing, where she openly defies the Beast’s only request. Indicates that she will not attempt to integrate herself into this household. But instead of facing up to her responsibilities, and waiting for the Beast to calm down, His subsequent rage, inappropriate, but his anger was due to Belle’s attempt to touch the Enchanted Rose, and obliterate the only thing that can break the curse, under the circumstances was understandable,

With the moment, due to said anger, Belle runs off into the night, which leads to the Beast rescue of her from the wolves. At this point, the Beast is revealing more of his humanity, but once again, he shows a vested interested in Belle’s safety because she is the one that can break his curse.

However, at this juncture, the pair come to an understanding, and begin respecting each other, with the Beast slowly rediscovering his humanity through her actions, but at no point are these two characters presented as equals. With the Beast being more social and humanised which is reflected by his manner of dress, and his more defined manners and speech.

Yet to compare with the original text, and Beauty and the Beast, Enduring Elements p134. “The Beast as a beast is still the dominating power of the story, and the Beauty (Belle) must come to terms with it”. It has to be noted that Belle at this point becomes more placid and her reward for this action is the gift of the library from the Beast. By doing what he has told her to do, she is rewarded for it, aside from giving the Beast the impetus to change.

However, in Deconstructing Disney welcoming Disneyp53, Belle returns after the Beast saves her for wolves, and potentially complicated sexuality of the Beast projected onto the wolves as beast’s”, Belle’s dresses change, she no longer resembles a peasant girl from a rural village. Symbolising her maturity, yet even though Belle, is assisting with the Beast’s personal transformation, it doesn’t change the fact that Belle is transforming someone who had been stuck in a world of arrested development since he was ten!

To be continued


Halfway through, I wonder what people think?  

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