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Charles Perrault's Blue Beard: Themes & Morals

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the themes of morals of Charles Perrault's short story 'Blue Beard.' This is the story of a new bride who discovers her husband's grim secret while he is away.

Consequences of Curiosity

If someone tells you that you can't have something, how do you react? The biblical story of Adam and Eve is a prime example of the innate curiosity in the human psyche that pushes us to want the things we can't have. Much the same, Charles Perrault's 'Blue Beard' illustrates that sometimes this inquisitiveness can have dire consequences. Let's examine some of the morals and themes of this short story.

Story Summary

'Blue Beard' is a wealthy man with a terrifying blue beard that repels the single women of his village. Surprisingly, his appearance causes more dating problems for him than the fact that he has 'already been married to several wives, and nobody ever knew what became of them.' He invites a woman and her two daughters to spend a week with him in hopes that he can take one of them as his bride.

At the end of the week, the youngest daughter is no longer disgusted by his beard and agrees to marry him. For the first month of marriage, all is well, but then the man announces that he must go away. He leaves the keys with his new bride and tells her to use whatever she wants to entertain her friends while he is gone, but not to enter 'that little closet which I forbid you, and forbid it in such a manner that, if you happen to open it, there will be no bounds to my just anger and resentment.'

Of course the wife is unable to stop herself. Once Blue Beard is gone, she opens the little closet and finds 'the bodies of several dead women ranged against the walls: these were all the wives whom Blue Beard had married and murdered one after another.' Although the bride tries to hide the evidence of her disobedience, the key, which was really a Fairy in disguise, bleeds and will not come clean. Blue Beard comes home early and sees that his wife has disobeyed him.

The wife begs her husband for time to say her prayers, during which she calls her sister and begs for her to send their brothers as quickly as possible. The wife stalls as long as she can. Just as Blue Beard is about to cut off her head with his scimitar, her brothers rush in to save her. Blue Beard is killed and his wife inherits his fortune.

Morals

At the end of the story, the author states the morals of the story in the form of a poem. A moral is the lesson the story is intended to teach the reader. He writes,

'O curiosity, thou mortal bane!

Spite of thy charms, thou causest often pain

And sore regret, of which we daily find

A thousand instances attend mankind:

For thou -- O may it not displease the fair --

A fleeting pleasure art, but lasting care.

And always proves, alas! too dear the prize,

Which, in the moment of possession, dies.'

Perrault's moral is that curiosity only causes problems because it either leads to discovering something we wish we didn't know, or at best, we lose our sense of wonder as soon as the reality is revealed to us. Although the wife in this story does not end up losing her life over her indiscretion, she is put through some moments of fear that undoubtedly cause her psychological distress. Many critics have noted the double-standard of blaming the wife for her curiosity rather than the husband for being a serial killer in this moral.

Another Moral

If that moral is not satisfying, Perrault proposes a second one, which is also in the form of rhyme. This moral hints at emerging feminist views. He writes:

'That this a story is of time long pass'd;

No husbands now such panic terrors cast...'

This moral suggests that the days of men controlling their wives and making demands of them out of erratic emotionalism are long gone. Modern wives, bearing in mind that this was published in 1697, have much more influence over their husbands now.

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