for the Bluebeard fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical
references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations
which appear on the Bluebeard Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated
Bluebeard to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.
deepest color, "blue is the most insubstantial color and seldom occurs
in the natural world except as a translucency. It is considered empty,
or austere, pure, and frosty. It is also the coldest color. Indifferent
and unafraid, centered solely upon itself, blue is not of this world:
it evokes the idea of eternity, calm, lofty, superhuman, inhuman even"
(Chevalier 1982). Many of these symbolic qualities of blue
apply well to Bluebeard who is cold with his murderous nature. His blue
beard causes people to fear him as an unnatural color for a beard or most
things in the natural world. Return to place in story.
beard or hair has many symbolic meanings. First of all, it is often connected
with magical powers. It is also considered a sign of invulnerability,
like the Bible figure of Samson. In connection with Bluebeard, hair is
"the sign of the animal in the human, and all that means in terms of our
tradition of associating the beast with the bestial" (Warner 1994). With
all of these meanings in mind, Bluebeard's beard shows that he has great
power and is bestial in nature. The fact that the beard is also blue emphasizes
his unnatural and magical qualities. Return to place in story.
name of this tale and character varies between both "Bluebeard" or "Blue
Beard." I am allowing the majority to rule on which version I use and
thus using "Bluebeard." This version is a better translation of the French
version "La Barbe-bleu" which connects the two words with a hyphen. Personally,
I prefer "Bluebeard" since it implies a given name better than the separated
"Blue Beard." Return to place in story.
to Webster's Dictionary, a "seat" is a "country mansion" (Webster's 1990).
In his translation, Jack Zipes chooses "country estates" instead (Zipes
1989). Return to place in story.
5.Six weeks: In
the time before cars and airplanes, trips to other towns were often expected
to last for months between time for traveling and visiting or performing
business at the destination. Return to place in story.
keys in this story have many symbolic meanings. First, a key is a symbol
of power and/or wealth. Keys are used to lock away what is valuable. A
key provide access to goods which are locked away to anyone who possesses
it. Often in folktales, a key symbolizes a mystery to be solved "on the
road to enlightenment and revelation" (Chevalier 1982). In this context
the key represents a mystery to the bride which must be solved. Bluebeard
gives her the key to give her access and power in her new home. The privilege
is double-edged for he forbids her access to one room conveying his lack
of trust in her. Essentially, the key is a trap in this tale, for use
of the forbidden key will bring a death sentence. We must also remember
that the wife will use the key to open the forbidden chamber and thus
she will receive a revelation about the true nature of her husband. Finally,
the key is also a phallic symbol which is often emphasized in illustrations
as overly sized. The wife is flirting with sexual knowledge and perhaps
promiscuity by accepting the key from her husband (Warner 1994). Return to place in story.
closet is a "recess built into a room and shut off with a door, or a small
room for storing things." As an adjective, the word also means "secret
or undisclosed" (Webster's 1990). The irony of Bluebeard's great secret
being hid in the "closet" is more apparent to us in modern times with
the usage of "closet homosexual." However, this usage was not implied
in the original writing or interpretation although such a meaning would
add to the possible interpretations of the story. Return to place in story.
anger and resentment: Bettelheim addresses this aspect
of the story in his interpretation of the tale. He considers Bluebeard's
anger to be just since his wife betrays him, but the extreme nature of
his anger is where Bluebeard's fault is found. He states: "The story tells
that although a jealous husband may believe a wife deserves to be severely
punished--even killed--for this, he is absolutely wrong in such thoughts"
(Bettelheim 1975). This translation from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy
Book reflects the Victorian attitude towards infidelity and the resulting
anger. Zipes' modern translation uses: "My anger will exceed anything
you have ever experienced" (Zipes 1989). Return to place in story.
looking-glass or mirror has many symbolic meanings of truth and representation
of a person's heart, but in this case the mirror is most significant as
a symbol of wealth. In the past, mirrors were expensive and a luxury reserved
for the wealthy. The fact that Bluebeard owns many with intricate and
costly frames that are large enough to give a full reflection of a person
from head to toe shows that he is extremely wealthy and thus powerful
(Chevalier 1982). Return to place in story.
is a common theme in fairy tales and literature. Some critics consider
the central theme of this story to be a caution against female curiosity.
According to Bettelheim, this story "presents in the most extreme form
the motif that as a test of trustworthiness, the female must not inquire
into the secrets of the male" (Bettelheim 1975). Although Perrault did
not add the subtitle, many later versions of the story have added subtitles
such as "The Effects of Female Curiosity" or "The Fatal Effects of Female
Curiosity" (Warner 1994). The theme of curiosity's danger is best known
in the story of Pandora's box in which all of the evils of the world were
released when a box was opened by Pandora or her husband, depending on
the version of the story (Murphy 1996). Finally, the classic story of Cupid and Psyche, with which many fairy tales share story elements
and themes, contains a cautionary theme against curiosity, too. Your can
read more about Cupid and Psyche on the Other
Fairy Tales Similar to Bluebeard page. Return to place in story.
her neck: In The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
describes the different ways in which each wife was killed by torture.
The wife is sentenced to be beheaded in her story as will the wife in
the traditional tale (Carter 1979). This phrase provides a nice piece
of foreshadowing of what may come to the wife for her disobedience. She
almost has her neck "broken" immediately before her indiscretion and once
again soon after she commits her transgression. You can read more about The Bloody Chamber, on the Bluebeard
Themes in Art page. Return to place in story.
to the curiosity themes, this story warns readers or listeners of the
effects of disobedience. The wife will be threatened with death by her
husband for her disobedience. She will later repent of her transgression.
The positive results of her repentance will be discussed in future notes. Return to place in story.
is related to the curiosity and disobedience themes in the story. For
some critics, the tale is a cautionary one against woman's innate wickedness
that leads to the betrayal and ultimate destruction of her husband. This
theme is once again present in the story of Pandora's box. It also alludes
to the temptation story in the Garden of Eden in which Eve partakes of
the forbidden fruit and thus gains knowledge forbidden by God the Father
(Warner 1994). Christine Daae contends that the tale does not warn "against
the moral consequences of sex, but of the practical consequences." In
the days when childbearing was a principle cause of death, a husband essentially
killed his wife by making her pregnant. In this way, Bluebeard is a story
of everyday life (Daae 1998). Return to place in story.
is rich with symbolic meanings. Blood is passion and the medium of life.
That is has been so carelessly allowed to collect on the floor shows Bluebeard's
total disrespect for life. Even in ritual sacrifice great care is taken
to keep blood from spilling on the ground (Leach 1949). Bluebeard has
no such concerns and the murders he has committed have no resemblance
to blood sacrifices or any other ritual. The abundance of blood verifies
that the bodies within the chamber are of real women who died as their
blood was loosed from their bodies. The image is quite horrific. Return to place in story.
with blood: Bettelheim believes that the stained key
confirms the wife's sexual infidelity since it is an ancient motif for
a terrible sin, usually murder, but of which sexual defloration is another
possible meaning. The key represents the male sexual organ which will
be stained with blood when the hymen is broken. The blood is permanent
since defloration is an irreversible event (Bettelheim 1975). Beyond Bettelheim,
the key has undoubtedly become stained from the sin of the wife however
extreme a sin it might appear to the reader. Return to place in story.
was a common abrasive cleaner in past centuries. The fact that not even
soap or sand will remove the stain confirms that it is permanent. Some
cultures use sand for ritual ablution since it "flows like water and burns
like fire" (Chevalier 1982). Return to place in story.
magical key is the only fantastical element of the story, excepting the
blue hue of Bluebeard's hair. Some critics state that the story is not
a true fairy tale due to its lack of magical or supernatural elements
with the sole exception of the key (Bettelheim 1975). Return to place in story.
return: The speedy return of Bluebeard confirms that
his trip was a ruse to give him the opportunity to test his wife's faithfulness.
Bettelheim thinks that a sexual indiscretion has taken place in Bluebeard's
absence (Bettelheim 1975). Undoubtedly the wife has disobeyed her husband,
but the extent of her disobedience or betrayal is not apparent beyond
the fact that she opened the door to the forbidden room. It is sure that
Bluebeard counted on his wife's betrayal and set up the trap to quickly
confirm it. Return to place in story.
first religious allusion in the story, this fairy tale also imparts the
message that repentance and forgiveness are dynamic terms. The wife is
disobedient, but she repents of her sin (out of fear, perhaps, but the
emotion is called repentance all the same). Next she receives mercy, although
not from her husband who dies for his inability to forgive her for her
transgressions. Return to place in story.
metaphor comparing Blue Beard's heart to a rock is a simple allusion to
his impenetrable and unforgiving nature. Ironical comparison also exists
with the reference to repentance in the previous lines. Jehovah is called
the "Rock of Israel" but he is also capable of forgiveness while Bluebeard
is not (Chevalier 1982). The metaphor ultimately shows that Bluebeard
is worthy of destruction in his pride and immaleable nature while the
wife is capable of repentance and mercy. Return to place in story.
religious themes in the story cannot be overlooked. The wife has transgressed
her husband's orders and repented. Her husband has refused to accept her
repentance, but apparently her God does for she is spared the death sentence
her unmerciful husband has placed upon her. The prayers are also a common
way of making peace before death such as in the Last Rites. The wife does
not know if she will be spared, so she prays. We cannot be sure how much
she depends on her prayers since she uses the alloted time to seek help
from her brothers. Return to place in story.
has a name as does Bluebeard, but the wife does not. Anne is the only
character to have a name which is not descriptive of her role (wife) or
physical appearance (Bluebeard). The greatest significance of the name
is the possible allusion to Saint Anne and/or Anne of Austria, Queen of
France, mother of Louis XIV. Queen Anne's devotion to Saint Anne, the
legendary mother of the Virgin Mary, gave rise to the cult of Saint Anne
in the 1600s. Saint Anne was popular and known as a miracle worker among
the French. She was declared a patron saint to Brittany as a result and
was thus a well-known figure to its inhabitants (Warner 1994). Return to place in story.
sister Anne, do you see anyone coming?": This refrain
is alluded to in literature on occasion. The line and its variations is
the most often quoted line from the fairy tale. Also note the gender bias
in the story since the wife does not expect her sister to save her from
Bluebeard and may not have informed her sister of the danger she is in.
The wife relies on her brothers to arrive and bring about her rescue in
time to spare her life. Return to place in story.
sabre is an interesting element in this translation. (Zipes uses "cutlass"
in his translation.) Either weapon leads to the frequent portrayal of
Bluebeard as a Turk or other stereotypical "infidel" to explain his terrible
behavior. Bluebeard often wears turbans in illustrations, although not
in the Dore illustrations seen here, to enhance the image (Warner 1994). Return to place in story.
29.Alas! no: The
pattern of three often appears in fairy tales. This is Anne's third answer
which should be different to fulfill the pattern. The answer is different,
but it does not bring relief with a positive reply. More suspense is built
instead by having only sheep appear which have no potential capability
of rescuing the wife from her fearsome husband. Return to place in story.
dragoon is a "mounted infantryman armed with a carbine which is a short,
light rifle" (Webster's 1990). However, this soldier also wields a sword
to kill Bluebeard. Return to place in story.
musketeer is a soldier armed with a musket which was a portable firearm
used by infantrymen during the 16th through 19th centuries (Webster's
1990). This soldier, like his brother, wields a sword to kill Bluebeard. Return to place in story.
fact that Bluebeard has no heirs except his surviving wife suggests that
he was incapable of allowing those near him to live long. It also makes
it possible for his wife to inherit the estate, since ownership of property
was rare and discouraged through primogeniture (estate to the firstborn
son) and entailment. These practices were meant to keep wealth, especially
lands, within in the family and to keep property from leaving the family
through marriage (Pool 1993). In the end, the wife inherits the entire
property and is thus able to live happily ever after. Return to place in story.
a long while: Perrault and many of his female contemporaries
who wrote fairy tales championed women's issues, such as arranged and/or
loveless marriages. The fact that Anne is able to marry a man who has
loved her a long time implies they were unable to marry due to poor fortune.
Now that her sister has money, Anne and her lover are able to marry for
love, a rare and appealing idea at the time this story was first recorded.
The situation of Anne's marriage emphasizes the happy ending as well as
the ideology of Perrault (Zipes 1989). The fact that Anne had a previous
lover also suggests why she was not attracted to Bluebeard as her sister
was. Return to place in story.
commissions: Buying military commissions was a common
practice in past centuries. The price of commissions tended to be high
and insured that the wealthy and powerful remained in control of the military.
"The purchase system meant that an officer literally had an investment
in his regiment. When he left the service the only way he could make some
money, especially in prepension days, was to sell the commission to someone
else" (Pool 1993). Return to place in story.