gaston and the true nature of the beast
last night i was given a writing prompt. writing to me is catharsis. it’s how i get my feelings into some semblance of order. i feel deeply, keenly. my feelings are very seldom muddy. i feel heart-rending sorrow and boiling, burning rage. bubbles of effervescent joy and the quiet whispering calm of peace. i feel.
sometimes i feel pain. i feel the slice of a knife through my psyche, feel as it separates layers of my cushion, as it exposes me raw, bleeding, battered and bare. i don’t feel this kind of pain often. the last time i felt it was about a year ago.
the timing of this writing prompt was oddly appropriate. i won’t share what i wrote here, because frankly, it’s a bit too much. a bit too close to home. but i will share an insight that came to me during the process.
if you’ve read my blog, you know that i wrote a while back on beauty and the beast, and the cycle of abuse. you can find that here. i wrote that using beauty and the beast to describe abusive relationships is a flawed metaphor, and i explained why. i realized something today as i wrote, though. the disney classic does contain a perfect example of a real abuser — and he’s gotten away with it.
this abuser is a standup guy. the town worships him. he’s tall, dark, handsome–a strapping young man who everyone thinks is lovely. even maurice, belle’s father, mentions him to her as a possible suitor. she, of course, doesn’t like him. we get a few hints about his true character–when he accosts belle in town and snatches her book from her hands, he turns it upside down with a grimace. belle is an intelligent, well-read woman. she’s strong, fiery, and independent. she has opinions and a mind of her own. she values her books–they’re her window to the world, to expand her mind. to her, they’re priceless.
he drops it in the mud.
“he,” of course, is gaston. he thinks belle should be thinking of more important things — him. marrying him, and having a family. nevermind all that silly stuff like reading and intelligence. she just needs to cook and pop out a few kids. he’ll do all the thinking for her.
she goes home, wiping her book off. through the rest of the film, gaston’s character shows through more and more. he tries to alienate belle from her support system (which consists pretty much only of her father) by having maurice committed to an insane assylum. he attempts to strip her of her power by forcing her to bargain with him. her father’s freedom for hers.
belle does make such a bargain–but she does that of her own accord. she makes it with the beast so her father can go home. i think that the beast definitely has some character flaws — his blustering intimidation of belle is decidedly abusive, but unlike gaston, the beast shows that he can change. he shows that he wants to be a better man. gaston, on the other hand, is haughty, arrogant, and cowardly. he can’t feel like a man unless he makes others feel small. belle is the strongest woman in the village — he thinks that if he can conquer her, if he can tame her, then he wins.
but he can’t. he tries. he fails. she’s stronger than he is.
the odd thing to me is that the beast bears the brunt of the criticism of this movie. granted, there are some crappy things that he does, but by far, the most insidious character in this film is gaston. but he’s the “bad guy” anyway, so he just escapes the wrath?
children probably ought not to get their morality from disney movies, but it disturbs me a bit that gaston’s main flaw in the film is chalked up to his attempt to kill the beast — a flaw through which he falls to his untimely but appropriate death. his real flaw, to me, is his poisonous character. the way he tries to beat belle into submission by taking away her power. she willingly gave herself up to save her father by volunteering to stay with the beast — that is a mark of her courage, not the beast’s perfidy. but gaston attempted to take, take, take. to destroy. and that is unforgiveable. gaston is the true nature of a beast.