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Perrault's Fairy Tales | Study Guide

Charles Perrault

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Perrault's Fairy Tales | Blue Beard | Summary



A rich man scares women away because of his blue beard. He asks a neighbor woman if he might have the hand of one of her two daughters, but neither wants to marry him because of his appearance and the fact that "no one knew what had become of" his previous wives. The younger daughter finally decides to marry him after spending time at his luxurious estate.

After they are married, Blue Beard travels on business and gives his bride keys to all the various locks in their home. However, he forbids her to use the smallest key. This little key opens the door to a "small room at the end of the long passage on the lower floor" of the house. The bride's friends come over and inspect all the treasures of the house, but she is impatient to use the little key. Leaving her guests, she goes to the room, turns the key, and enters. In the room, she finds "all the wives of Blue Beard, whose throats he had cut, one after another." Terrified, she drops the key in the blood on the floor. Despite much washing, she cannot remove the blood from the key.

Blue Beard returns that night, and the next morning he demands the key. Seeing it covered in blood, he tells his bride he knows what she did, and she must die. She begs to have some time to say her prayers, to which he grants her one-half hour. She asks her sister Anne to go up the tower and let her know when their brothers arrive, for they promised they would come to visit that day. The bride is able to stall her death until the brothers intervene on her behalf, killing Blue Beard. The bride inherits his wealth and later marries a "very worthy man." The moral is that "curiosity ... often brings with it serious regrets."


In the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification, "Blue Beard" is type 312, in which a woman must be rescued by her brothers from a ruthless husband. Blue Beard earns his nickname from a dark beard that is a symbol of his hypermasculinity and brutality. The color blue is cold and an unnatural hue for a beard, signaling that Blue Beard is both a sociopath and supernatural. Women are afraid of him for a good reason: Blue Beard is the epitome of an abusive husband. He taunts his wives, knowing full well they cannot resist trying out his little key, and then kills them for their natural curiosity. Despite all this, after she spends time at his rich estate, his neighbor's younger daughter decides that Blue Beard is "an exceedingly agreeable man" and marries him.

After a month of marriage, Blue Beard tests his new wife, presumably for her fidelity. He tells her he will be gone for "at least 6 weeks" and she should invite her friends over and "enjoy herself thoroughly." This last phrase, particularly, signals that he is a jealous husband setting a trap. He seems open and generous, giving her keys to all that he owns, in effect transferring his power to her. He even gives her the little key to his most private room but forbids her to use it, telling her that if she does open the door, he "should be so angry that [he] might do anything." By forbidding her access to this one room, he shows that he does not trust her completely. This key unlocks the secret of Blue Beard's true, murderous nature, and can also be understood as a phallic symbol that represents forbidden sexual knowledge—for instance, deviant acts or infidelity. By accepting the key, Blue Beard's bride is acknowledging her sexual curiosity.

When Blue Beard's bride gives into temptation and recklessly descends the narrow stairs, nearly breaking her neck, it is a foreshadowing of the slit throats of Blue Beard's former wives that she is about to see. She unlocks his private chamber and is horrified to see his utter disregard for life, as symbolized by the floor "entirely covered with clotted blood." Terrified for her own life, she drops the key in the blood, irreversibly staining it with her sin. When Blue Beard returns and demands the key, he relishes the misogynist opportunity to punish his bride. Blue Beard's bride repents of her sin, as symbolized by her prayers, and waits for divine deliverance in the form of her brothers. Although Blue Beard allows her no mercy, it appears that God does since her brothers successfully save her life and put an end to Blue Beard. Although the story has a happy ending for the bride, Charles Perrault's moral nevertheless condemns female curiosity, calling it a "fruitless pleasure" and stressing its high price.

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