The Trickery Of Woman In Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard”
As women, we have all been in instances where we have been told we are not able to do something due to the sole fact that we are female. This subjective way of life has been shown for thousands of years, from unequal voting rights to unequal pay. Women go through distressing cruelty and oppression mostly because society is male-dominated in which older men are in positions of power. Many unfortunate evils run loose and free in this society because either society does little to stop it, or at times, even encourages this destructive behavior. However, Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard” (France 1697) highlights how women can have more intelligence than society leads us to believe. Meanwhile, Bluebeard of the Brothers Grimm’s “Fitcher’s Bird” (Germany 1812) illustrates how women come together to triumph their male superior. In these stories, the dominant male character believes he is superior to these women, positioning himself to control their every move. But in the end, one female’s clever actions cause his downfall and death. Bluebeard’s stories portray how women can use trickery to better their situations, which illustrates the tools that women have to challenge the patriarchy.
In these versions of “Bluebeard”, the wives are obligated to fulfill their husband’s wishes and ignore their own desires and personal needs. This can be seen in the modern world, where women have constantly been seen as lesser, and in extreme cases inhuman. Stereotypically, women in marriages are made to be seen as an insignificant individual. Their basic job, as seen by the male eye, is to be more or less a maid: cook, clean, and take care of the children. Once the women step out of these boundaries, they suffer severe consequences. They are met often met with physical as well as emotional violence when these rules are broken, further suppressing their freedom of speech and their right to do what they want. Author and storyteller, Perrault emphasizes “she stopped to think for a moment about how her husband had forbidden her to enter, and she reflected on the harm that might come her way for being disobedient” (190). Women had to be quiet and sweet and had no room for their own desires. Perrault shows how even the slightest misstep causes a great consequence. There is absolutely no room for error and this is common among many marriages, not only in the 1600s when this story was written but even in modern day. Due to this, women have had to evolve and find ways to deceive their male counterparts. As author Maria Tatar suggests, the “Bluebeard” tales point out the obvious flaws in marriages and reveals horrors to the wives that they could have never imagined. These terrors follow these wives everywhere they go, and women from these “Bluebeard” tales as well as in real life “will find themselves unable to erase the graphic impressions left by the “miserable time” of the first marriage” (182). Although the cleverness and trickery of women aid them in escaping their deaths, they are still haunted by the thoughts and memories of Bluebeard. This is one of the consequences women must deal with for being insubordinate. Living with the past memories of their captors and masters, so to speak, will stick with them for the rest of their lives and although they have escaped, they will never be able to escape the memories Bluebeard has left in them.
The woman of these stories triumph due to their use of trickery, but that power is limited when it is the only defense mechanism. These women are lying to their husbands, creating an unfaithful and unstable marriage. Trust is a fragile thing, and deceits and lies can threaten a relationship, sometimes beyond repair, and in this case unrecoverable. Perrault examines this when Bluebeard finds out his wife betrayed him, stating “but Bluebeard had a heart harder than any rock. “You must die, madam,” he declared, “and it will be right away” (191). When you try to constantly utilize trickery, although it can get you out of deadly situations, it is also what gets you into them. If the door had never been opened, trickery would never have had to been used to try and hide the bloody key or unlocked door. The same thing you use to better a situation and get you out of trouble is the same thing that undeniably gets you into it. Having trickery as your only tool can be costly since, in the end, you are not achieving your maximum potential or power in your relationship. As Tatar explains using the example of the tale “Thousand and One Nights”, “Scheherazade has only one resource at her disposal to deter the king from carrying out his murderous daily assaults on the “treacherous” women of Baghdad” (461). The resource Tatar is referring to is trickery. Trickery is often the source of many problems, that can be easily avoided if a more upfront approach was taken.
However, even if the leading ladies of “Bluebeard” had never betrayed their superior, had never opened that door, they still would have been wedded to a husband who will kill a wife for the sole fact that she didn’t adhere to one of his subjective rules. Females may be able to trick their male counterparts into getting their own way, but if they are in a relationship in the first place, who is the one really being tricked? These “Bluebeard” stories all begin with the women being skewed into a trap, being promised money and treasures, inevitably tricking them into marriage. Although all these stories end in the triumph of the wives, they still were tricked themselves into believing the lies of the mysterious man “Bluebeard”. As Perrault states, “Everything went so well that the younger of the two sisters began to think that the beard of the master of the house was not so blue after all and that he was in fact a fine fellow” (189). The wives are initially deceived and made to believe they are going to have it all when in reality they are being married into a “tyrant” like a partnership. This brings us to the point of what is the benefit of being in a marriage if you are not allowed to do whatever you want, even if it is the smallest thing such as not being allowed to unlock a door? These restrictions no matter how big or small reveal how woman’s freedom is hindered by the dominance of a male presence. Grimms’ “Fitcher’s Bird” clearly reveals the restraints Bluebeards’ wives have in their marriage when he emphasizes “don’t go into the room that this little key opens. I forbid it under penalty of death” (193). Men believe just because they demand or request things out of a woman, they will follow blindly without any complaints or restrictions. Women are starting to find ways to move past these chains holding them, and take control of their relationships and their own wants and needs. Meanwhile, what would be the reaction if a woman was to say such a restrictive demand to a male? There is almost a guarantee the reaction would not be the same, and they would already assume that their masculinity is being questioned. How come a woman’s respect and authority is able to be challenged, meanwhile males cannot be touched by even the slightest?
In the end, the patriarchy ends up hurting men when everyone is trying to out trick one another. Although patriarchy means the immense majority of people in power are men, that does not necessarily mean that the immense majority of men are in positions of power. This is apparent in “Fitcher’s Bird”, wherein this story marriage is averted, hierarchy is overthrown, and, in the end, the conspiring woman prevails. The sorcerer believes he has won when he examines the egg of the third sister upon his return and sees it is clean. At this moment he concludes he has deceived her, but he is not aware he has actually been mislead. This is evident from the first moment we meet the third daughter when we are told “she was clever and cunning. After handing over the keys and egg, he went away, and she put the egg in a safe place” (194). The sorcerer is lead to believe he has outsmarted yet another young woman, but in truth, he is the one being tricked. He is ingrained with the belief that men will always prevail while women will remain naturally passive. This stereotype encourages men to be convinced woman will always be under them and that the patriarchy will always triumph, however, the woman in the “Bluebeard” tales prove this to be false.
Nowadays women are taking a step in the right direction. Instead of holding back their opinions, they are now vocalizing their own thoughts and beliefs. This can be seen when taking a look at women’s fight for equality. Ever since the first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls, decades of activism followed. Women began to break out of their molded shell, uniting together to accomplish a new standard. After years and years of fighting and acquiring support, women finally earned the right to vote. From there, other major triumphs for women took place, including the signing of the Equal Pay Act to having the first female nominee for president. Needless to say, none of this would have been able to happen if women did not stand up for themselves. Obviously, women’s rights still have a long way to go. That is why it is essential for women to stand together in order to obtain a greater social change. Patriarchy is a lived system. It is a structure that people use to condone male superiority over women and it is one that survived through various social, cultural and political developments over the last multiple centuries. Interpreting it as an arrangement for organizing gender and social relations illustrates women’s endured submission over time, even with historical transitions in many other ranges of life. Instead of conforming to the ideas that society places out, people must use their intelligence and instincts to create an improving society in which nobody is inferior to anyone else.