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A Feminist Interpretation of the classic fairy tale, 'Bluebeard'

The story of Bluebeard is one of horror, death, and power; traits not often associated with the ‘fairy-tale’ genre. As well as this, most fairy-tales have a moral to their story, like the life lessons taught through Aesop’s fables thousands of years ago, however Bluebeard does not seem to have an obvious end goal for the reader. As you look deeper into the origins and the time in which this story was written, it is apparent that the tale is a depiction of the views of French society in the late 17th century. Men were beginning to feel threatened by women’s growing curiosity and Charles Perrault, the author of the book originally named ‘Barbebleu’, was one of these men. He played his part in ensuring that women were discouraged from seeking out information, because information is power; something the men needed to keep to themselves.

He wrote the folktale with the lesson being: curiosity can only lead to loss of innocence, or disappointment. In Perrault’s words, it “proves very costly”, insinuating that nothing good can come out of curiosity, or at least nothing new in the case of Bluebeard. The end of the story sees the protagonist married to “a worthy man”, living in the castle where she was essentially imprisoned for a portion of her young life. Is this really a happy ending? Back in the 1600s, definitely, but nowadays it feels like the story is left without a realistic ending. It used to be that the greatest prize for a woman was the ability to produce a large family with a good husband and many children.

This notion has not carried into modern-day society, though it may still be the case for some. I believe that our generation is driven by money and passion, we do things for instant gratification and pleasure. As we live in a more feminism-friendly world, compared to that of the 17th century, these goals of a happy, stable life with a husband and children. Perhaps this has become an outdated idea as a result of the changing definitions of ‘femininity’ over the last 400 years. In our times, this meaning is unique to everyone, but in the 17th century all women were expected to be quiet and subservient; a trait not expressed by the female protagonist of ‘Bluebeard’. She directly goes against the orders of her husband for her own pursuit of knowledge, her curiosity being the thing that almost costs her life.

The woman in the story is a representation of the repressed rights of women in the period it was written. Women were openly denied the right to knowledge and expression, by men of wealth and prosperity, men like Charles Perrault. This story may seem to have a happy ending for the wife of Bluebeard, but all that she embodies, women’s free exploration and curiosity, the same cannot be said. British women did not get the right to vote until 1917, the first female prime minister did not come about until 1979, and still today there is a sufficient difference between the salary of men and women. This folktale was one of the tools used to silence women, but now it can be looked at as something to learn from. Women do not have to marry a man to succeed in life, they will not obey orders without question, they know now that they are just as human and capable as the men who oppressed them for hundreds of years.

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