Blue Beard by Charles Perrault: Summary, Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

A new wife lets her curiosity get the best of her and almost pays dearly for it. Learn more about her near-fatal marriage in this lesson, which will offer a summary and some analysis of Charles Perrault's 'Bluebeard'.

Opening Information

Many fairy tales involve a hero or heroine who has to go through some kind of trial or test to prove they are worthy of their potential spouse. Charles Perrault takes that kind of test in a new direction in his tale ''Bluebeard.'' In this story, the test happens after the marriage has already taken place. The results may not be what's expected, but they sure do result in an important lesson being learned. Let's go through a summary of the story and highlight some quotes before we dive into a bit of analysis.

Eligible Bachelor

We begin our tale with a bachelor who sounds like quite a catch: he's got beautiful houses in both the city and country, plates and utensils made of precious metal, and plenty of fancy furniture. Despite his riches, nobody wants him. You see, he may be rich, but he also has a blue beard. While having multi-colored facial hair might not seem like a big deal in today's world, in the period of the story it made him so ugly no woman even wanted to look at him. It probably doesn't help that Bluebeard has been married a few times before, only to have his wives disappear without a trace.

''… there was not a woman or girl who did not run away from him.''

Regardless of his failed marriages, he is ready to get married again. There are a couple of sisters in town who are beautiful, and he tells their mother he will marry either one of them. Of course, neither is excited at the thought of marrying the ugly man, so he decides to sweeten the deal. He throws a weeklong party for the girls and their friends. They enjoy themselves so much that the younger sister finally decides she can look past his hideous facial hair for the sake of his riches.

A Gruesome Discovery

They've only been married a month when Bluebeard has to go out of town on business. Bluebeard gives his wife his keyring so she can have the run of the place while he's away - all except one small room on the bottom floor. He forbids her to even open the door, let alone step a single toe over the threshold.

''… I forbid you and forbid it in such a manner that, if you happen to open it, there's nothing but what you may expect from my just anger and resentment.''

After he leaves, her friends waste no time coming over to explore the house and have a party. Even though there is a lot she still wants to explore, she can't enjoy herself because she is so wracked with curiosity about that one forbidden room.

Bluebeard gives his wife his keys but forbids her to go into one small room

Like an itch that just won't go away, she can't stop thinking about the small room until she can't stand it anymore. Maybe she should have left this itch alone, though, because behind the door is a scene like something out of a horror movie. The bloody bodies of Bluebeard's murdered former wives hang on the walls. Understandably frightened, his new wife fumbles while trying to lock the door again and drops the key in the blood.. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot get the bloodstains off the key.

Caught Red-Handed

To her surprise, Bluebeard shows back up that night instead of weeks later. She puts on a great show of being excited to see him, but that doesn't distract him enough to keep him from noticing the little key is missing from his keyring the next day. When she finally gives it to him, it's pretty hard to miss the bloodstains. Despite her genuine distress and repentance, he tells her now she has to share his other former wives' fate.

''Anne! sister Anne! dost thou not see anyone coming?''

He has the grace to grant her request for time to say her prayers. Once he leaves, she asks her sister Anne to go up to the tower and see whether her brothers are coming - they'd promised to visit that day, and if they get there surely they can save her from this terrible fate.

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