We haven’t had a movie night since the obligatory viewing of all six Star Wars episodes when we first moved to Tatooine. I’m not a huge Disney fan, but I love Beauty and the Beast, partially because it was my favorite fairytale before the Disney version ever existed. And partially because if you asked me the “Disney Princess” question, after making sure that I forcibly prevented you from then asking it of my six-year-old daughter (whom I have so far successfully shielded from the Disney Princess frenzy), I just might confess that I am Belle. Or at least I was Belle as a teenager. “Dreamy, far-off look?” Check. “Nose stuck in a book?” Double check. “Want much more than this provincial life?” You bet.
What’s a little more difficult to define is the exact makeup of that “provincial life,” and what I wanted instead. Some would argue that Belle’s dilemma is as easy as the choice between getting married (with the parental implications that marriage invariably carried, at least until recently) and not. By this reading, Belle can either choose marriage and a life as Gaston’s “little wife,” or reject marriage to follow her hazily-defined but passionate dreams of “adventure in the great wide somewhere.” A friend of mine suggested that Belle’s character undergoes a transformation during the movie, causing her in the end to accept the provincial role of wife after all.
But I’d argue differently, for Belle and for me. I don’t notice Belle ever rejecting the idea of marriage; only marriage to the village bully, whom she describes on various occasions as “boorish,” “brutish,” “rude,” “conceited,” and (my favorite) “positively primeval.” She knows that marriage to him means a life of indentured servitude to a man who neither respects nor understands her. Which is problem number one with the “provincial life” she sees around her. Problem number two is that she’s also not sure the “little town” she lives in is the right place for her. She’d like to see and experience more of the world. She wants adventure, new places, new things to learn. Although there are plenty of women in her little town for whom it is exactly what they want, settling down right then is just not the right choice for her. Her heart leads her elsewhere. She’s not sure where, but she’s willing to follow it, even when everyone else thinks she’s crazy.
What her heart leads her to is a great personal sacrifice that in the end will save not only her father, but also her future husband. She finds an adventure of a kind she could never have imagined in the Beast’s enchanted castle. Along the way, she learns some important truths about love and understanding. In the end, she and her Beast are a perfect match, both because of what they’ve been through together, and because their individual “oddities” complement each other so well. And the “happily ever after” ending, like always, is mostly a beginning. Will Belle find the adventure and excitement she’s always craved in her future life with the transformed Beast? I think so. They have both learned to love and respect each other for their individual, inner beauty. Her new library will provide her with abundant mind-stimulating research material for many years to come. And I think it’s safe to say that her prince will probably travel with her wherever in the great wide somewhere she wants to go.
Although it’s true he’s got “biceps to spare,” I’d say I married more of a Beast than a Gaston. I did have to contribute most of the library myself. But we’ve started businesses, had children, and traveled the world in tandem. For me, rejecting “that provincial life” means I married someone whose dreams become mine, and who makes my dreams his. And together, we’ve flung ourselves into the great wide somewhere, and lived our adventures together. It’s our own private version of happily ever after.