In the text, “Bluebeard.” by Charles Perrault, the reader is introduced to a grotesque man by the name of Bluebeard who has, as implied by the name, a blue beard. The man isn’t fancied by any of the women in the town, yet he still wishes to be married to someone, although he has been married several times before. This is found inauspicious by the townspeople, but he is still married to a daughter of a noblewoman. In the end, he almost beheads her for her curiosity when she finds the dead bodies of his wife, but she is saved by her brother. This tale is like any other in which the female character is portrayed as a passive woman who can’t save herself, but rather has to depend on a man. The story portrays curiosity as something which is dangerous to women, and it should be punished, or at least sought out forgiveness for. So, by reading this to young girls at this time, it inadvertently shows them that if they step out of line they will get punished, instead of the man who has literally killed others.
The story is a bit out-dated of course, being it was written in the 17th century, but it does serve as some insight on how men viewed women in this time period. The view being that they needed saving, and a male figure would provide that, what do they need saving from? Well, in short, themselves; women needed protection from themselves and their own follies, as though they would be lost on the path of sin without the direction of men. This is seen in the text, “Found in Translation: Charles Perrault’s ‘Blue Beard’ in the English Eighteenth Century.” written by Casie Hermansson, when she talks about the women in the tale. She specifically writes, “… impatience and immediacy generalizes the trait to the female sex, rather than assigning it to Bluebeard’s wife alone…” (802) when talking about the bride’s friends coming over without being asked to, but rather when they see Bluebeard leaving. This exposes that not only is Bluebeard’s wife (she doesn’t receive an actual name in the story) curious to the point of no return, but other women are as well in this tale. So much so that they don’t have proper manners, this is emphasized when the female guests come with no invitation and when the wife breaks away from the guests as quickly as she could. By doing this they are revealing that curiosity has a hold over them and they can’t prevent themselves from being controlled by it.
Curiosity is something we all have and everyone knows the quote ‘curiosity killed the cat’ but did you know that the quote continues? ‘but satisfaction brought it back’ which is exactly what Perrault ignores in the text. By almost killing the wife, Perrault is in a way saying that there is no satisfaction in curiosity, rather we should know our boundaries and not explore when we’re told to do so. This is shown clearly in the text, “The Archetypal Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Bluebeard.” by Walter V. Odajnyk when he states, “Charles Perrault… consider[s] curiosity to be the reason for the dire consequences of entering the forbidden room. The focus is never on Bluebeard’s pathological murderous behavior…” (263) this brings out to the open that while curiosity is in a way bad, murder is way worse but it isn’t treated as such in the tale. Therefore, a man’s behavior isn’t in any way punished until he is caught in the act of doing so, and all the strings of disappearing wives doesn’t matter as long as he keeps it hidden. When a woman tries to do this and hide her sin of curiosity the proof of the bloodied key betrays her, even though she wasn’t caught in the act of opening the bloody chamber. This is in a way hypocritical of Perrault, and the fact that he punishes the wife for her curiosity and portrays all women like this, helplessly curious, is egregiously sexist. Alas, sexism wasn’t a prominent issue back in his days, and readers need to contextualize when reading this tale; the contextualization may help a bit, but it still may leave a rotten taste in your tongue.
When reading the tale, the opening of a door is the most vital thing this wife has done in her lifetime. It’s almost as though her whole upbringing was to discover a door and open it, but when she does she is taken aback by the dead bodies in the room. The moment she opens the door can best be described by an article, “Bluebeard’s Curiosity Cabinet: The Secret Heart of Textual Materialism.” by Catherine Randall, in which the author states, “When she does succeed in entering, the beautiful material world turns ugly.” (92) which reveals that Bluebeard’s beautiful home has become ugly to her. By being curious she has, in turn, ruined her image of the world, and she has become sullied which makes her a perfect candidate for being discarded by her husband. It’s like by exposing her husband’s antics she has seen the real him, and he doesn’t enjoy the idea of someone knowing him for some odd reason. So, instead of allowing her to see all of him, he instead tries to kill her in order to prevent her from doing so. Nonetheless, her curiosity puts her on his executioner’s list, but of course, she is salvaged by another man.
Another meaning of the bloodied key could be virginal, as in when a woman isn’t a virgin before marriage she isn’t wanted. This can be linked back to Christianity, and the bible since it states that you should not have sex before marriage, and by bloodying her key the wife is making herself unwanted by other men. Furthermore, in the text, “Fairy-Tale Endings: Death by Husband.” by Kristin Hohenadel, the author talks about the film adaptation of the story and states, “Freudian interpretation: the bloody key as a symbolic nod to the loss of the heroine’s virginity.” which shows that there is more than one interpretation of the tale, and its symbolism. None of these interpretations are wrong, but it does need to be backed up by some evidence to prove your case for the interpretation. Also, by making this tale a bit more sexual it reveals that the heroine isn’t as innocent as we think she is, and it dispels the idea that she is just a girl whose most important thing in life was opening a door.
In conclusion, “Bluebeard.” by Charles Perrault is a timeless classic even through its outdated morals. The generalization of women and the sexist moral of the tale only highlights European men’s attitude toward this specific group of people. So, while we shouldn’t erase history, and stop reading his tales we need to read it with a grain of salt and take a step back to realize how far we have come from then to now.
Hermansson, Casie. “Found in Translation: Charles Perrault’s ‘Blue Beard’ in the English
Eighteenth Century.” University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 76, no. 2, Spring 2007, pp.
796–807. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3138/utq.76.2.796.
Hohenadel, Kristin. “Fairy-Tale Endings: Death by Husband.” The New York Times, The New
York Times, 24 Mar. 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/movies/28bluebeard.html.
Odajnyk, V.Walter. “The Archetypal Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Bluebeard.” Psychological
Perspectives, vol. 47, no. 2, July 2004, pp. 247–275. EBSCOhost,
Perrault, Charles, and C. J. Betts. The Complete Fairy Tales. OUP Oxford, 2009. EBSCOhost,
Randall, Catharine. “Bluebeard’s Curiosity Cabinet: The Secret Heart of Textual Materialism.”
Romance Notes, vol. 45, no. 1, Fall 2004, pp. 89–97. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=19433485&site=ehost-live.