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Is Beauty and Beast really ‘okay’ ?

In this article, Yael is examining a famous fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, in relation to psychonalysis criticism, Freud’s defense mechanism, etc.

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Beauty and The Beast
Beauty and The Beast

The beauty and the beast is fairy-tale that is known by most western and eastern readers alike. It is a story about a beautiful girl named Beauty and a Beast. The Beast is an arrogant young prince cast under a spell by a wicked enchantress, whom he has treated badly until he learns to love and be loved in return. Beauty enters his castle in exchange for his father, willing to be imprisoned for his father’s fault. With the help of Beast’s enchanted servants, Beauty begins to win Beast’s heart and starts to fall in love with him.

In Grimm’s Beauty and the Beast, there are multiple psychological disorders outlined throughout the piece, which in this paper are going to be analyzed with psychoanalysis approach. Psychoanalysis criticism is a form of literary criticism, which uses some of the technique of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of literary works. Some influential theories are proposed and developed by Sigmund Freud. Freud’s major ideas depend on the notion of unconscious, which beyond conscious mind and has a strong influence upon our action. He then divides the psyche of human into three models: the ego, super- ego and Id where each stands for the conscious realm, conscience, and unconscious realm.

In order to deal with conflict and problems in life, Freud stated that the ego employs a range of defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings (i.e. anxiety) or make good things feel better for the individual. Several psychological disorders have been developed as the result of constant and repeated defense mechanisms.

Several disorders that can be found in this story are Stockholm and Oedipus complex syndrome in Beauty and severe depression in Beast.

Beauty’s personality is dynamic and changes throughout the story. In the beginning, the story points out that Beauty is a sweet girl and her father likes her, as much as she likes him.

“All I’d like is a rose you’ve picked specially for me!”

“Dear father, I’d do anything for you! Don’t worry, you’ll be able to keep your promise and save your life! Take me to the castle. I’ll stay there in your place!” The merchant hugged his daughter. “I never did doubt your love for me. For the moment I can only thank you for saving my life.”

The Freudian theory found in Beauty and the Beast is that Beauty shows a successful transition of her Oedipal attachment from her father to her suitor –  the Beast. Beauty feels that she has a ‘special’ bond with her father that makes her father also considered her different; lovelier than the sisters. She shows this bond of affection by willing to do anything, taking any risks to save her father, and pleased him. Beauty is willing to take her father’s place: being captivated in a castle with the Beast. Why does she willing to do so? The reason is, according to Freudian theory, that as long as Beauty has a special bond of affection with her father, she sees sex as animal-like and loathsome because of the incest taboo. Thus, she sees other men as beastly. Therefore, the Beast’s in Beauty’s point of view isn’t a physical one but only in Beauty’s way of thinking. Thus, this explains why she doesn’t seem to be really afraid of the Beast, which her father told her as fearsome and fierce.

Another version of Beauty and the Beast shows as the similar trait of Oedipus complex as what is shown in the Grimm’s version. The Beaumont version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ shows a strong relationship between Beauty and her father. She turns down marriage proposals so she can stay at home with him, and he nearly dies when forced to be absent from his favorite daughter.

Another psychological disorder found in Beauty is the Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome, or capture- bonding is a psychological phenomenon which the hostages express empathy sand sympathy towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and having an affectionate relationship with the captors. This disorder exists because of a constant defense mechanism the hostages were shown. To manipulate the fear and hatred, the hostages usually develop Identification with the Aggressor as the defense mechanism. A focus on negative or feared traits. I.e. a fear of someone, you can practically conquer that fear by becoming more like them or started to love and accept them. An extreme example of this is the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages identify with the captors and fall sympathy to them.

In the beginning, Beauty was frightened of the Beast and shuddered at the sight of it. Then she found that in spite of the monster’s awful head, her horror of it was gradually fading as time went by. She had one of the finest rooms in the Castle, and sat for hours, embroidering in front of the fire. And the Beast would sit, for hours on end, only a short distance away, silently gazing at her. Then it started to say a few kind words, till, in the end, Beauty was amazed to discover that she was actually enjoying its conversation. The days passed, and Beauty and the Beast became good friends.

Beauty starts to enjoy the company of Beast. As the story continues, the Beast began to treat her even sweeter. Knowing that Beauty misses her family, Beast give her magic mirror, in which she could see her family. At this moment Beauty becomes extremely emotionally attached and Stockholm syndrome has taken full effect on her. This is proved when Beauty finally willing to return back to her captor, the Beast, after being allowed to go.

Beauty’s action also can be seen a sort of Freudian slips of what she is craving for: love, attention, and self- actualization. The community that she lives in because she is so odd, ostracizes her. She is so ready and open to love that she could fall for anyone. Unconsciously, she dreams to be loved and to be treated with tender affection, at first hand by his father and then sees the actualization of her father in the Beast. The desire to be loved, as well as the desire for self-actualization, motivates her to fall in love with the Beast.

Then one night she woke from a terrible nightmare. She had dreamt that the Beast was dying and calling for her, twisting in agony. “Come back! Come back to me!” it was pleading. The solemn promise she had made drove her to leave home immediately.

Another Freudian interpretation can be found in this story is the dream works, the process by which real events or desires are transformed into dream images. Beauty’s deep feeling and loves for the Beast, which most of the time she is afraid and reluctant to admit, is translated into her dream. The dream shows the longing of Beast for Beauty which in fact the longing and desire of Beauty herself. This desire moves her to travel in the horseback in the middle of the night to go back to Beast’s castle. Leaving her father behind. This shows a successful transition of her unconscious Oedipal attachment from her father to her suitor-the Beast.

Another character in this story that also face psychological disorder is Beast. He suffers Severe Depression. Similar with Beauty, Beast
craves for love and attention, so that Beast faces depression when he lets Beauty leaves. Without Beauty, he doesn’t see a point of continuing in life. The story says that he is dying and calling for her; twisting in agony He has lost his love and his chance at being human again. When Beauty returns, however, this depression goes away as quickly as it onset. This shows that not only was he extremely depressed but also he has conditioned himself to only feel happiness from Beauty. She is like a drug to the beast and when he faces withdrawals, the pain is excruciating. Another proves that the desire of the unconscious realm can be so powerful that it controls our perception of the reality.

There are several Freudian interpretation and psychological disorder that can be found in Beauty and the Beast story. They are: Stockholm and Oedipus complex syndrome in Beauty and severe depression in Beast.

The syndrome exists whenever both Beauty and the Beast try to repress and manipulate their unconscious realm. The syndrome exist due to series of defense mechanism they both show. The unconscious may slip, famously known as Freudian slips, through their utterance, dreams and action. This is possible as proved by Sigmund Freud in his major ideas on the notion of unconscious, that unconscious realm has a strong influence upon our action beyond our conscious. He then divides the psyche of human into three models: the ego, super- ego and Id where each stands for conscious realm, conscience and unconscious realm. The Id however sometimes become too strong and influential that it manipulate the super-ego and peep out as our ego, the reality we believe; this is when psychological disorders are found.


Published at :
Written By
Yael Engineta & Abdul Aziz Turhan
Student & Lecturer | BINUS University English Department
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