Michael DelaTorre

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Charles Perrault’s “Barbe bleue” is unique to him as it is his version of the story. After researching the story I’ve learned that many critics’ ideas revolve around a religious theme. I had taken note of religious themes when I read the tale and wanted to do my own investigation of them. Onething this analysis can reveal is how we understand the “moral” of a story: whether it is religious or social in nature, for example.

An important early religious reference is not immediately obvious, but appears if we compare the family structure in this tale to families in the Bible. The Lady neighbor of Barbe bleue has two daughters who are both perfectly beautiful. The fact that she has two children, and that it’s the younger one who becomes the heroine is something that happens often in the Bible. Examples of this phenomenon are Esau and Jacob, and Ishmael and Isaac; it is the younger brother who becomes the hero. Another subtle reference is the word “parfait,” perfect. In Furetière’s 1690 dictionary one of the definitions refers to perfect being a term of devotion where one renounces all the things of the world and becomes devoted to God. So at first glance neither daughter is really perfect in that sense, but at a closer look the younger daughter actually does renounce her home giving up everything to go live with La Barbe Bleue. La Barbe Bleue does not at first glance resemble God by any means, but ultimately acts in a way that suggest religious reference as well, which I will discuss later on.

The story also treats themes associated with Christianity. The younger daughter, for example, sees things very innocently and an example of this is that when she stays at la Barbe bleue’s estate she begins to see that his beard isn’t as blue as before. In other words, she is inclined to see the good in people and as soon as he demonstrates kindness, she forgets the strange and mysterious reputation he has in the world. She comes to see him as a strong and “honnête,” or genteel man. The fact that she is innocent gives her the humility of a child, which is a quality encouraged in the Gospels as a route to salvation. For example Mathew 18:4 promotes humbling oneself before God: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” It is interesting to note, too, that in Furetière’s dictionary the word innocence is filled with allusions to the Bible: “Adam was created in an innocent state, or it means the good state of a man, which conforms to religion.”

The younger daughter’s sudden change in opinion suggests that she is capable of weighing how Barbe Bleue looks against what he is on the inside. A certain irony creeps into the story already here in that the fact that Barbe bleue has been married before worries her. Then once she visits him that she thinks she has seen his real character—but what she learns about him is mostly that he is incredibly rich and she can in fact profit from this marriage. So is it because Barbe bleue is rich or is it that she genuinely saw good “honnête” traits in him that she decides to marry him? Either way, she is attracted to him because he has a lot to offer her.

Perrault may have had a sense of humor as La Barbe bleue in many instances takes the role of the God of Genesis in the story. To begin Barbe Bleue shows the young princess around the house just as God describes the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2. In the biblical text, God then warns them about the tree which is similar to what Barbe bleue does with the young girl when he tells her not to open the door. [Quote the text here to show this.] At the beginning of both of these stories the young girl and Eve are both innocent in that they lack specific knowledge. Both female characters gain their knowledge once they disobey. Once the young girl opens the door she learns what is inside, which are many dead women. The knowledge of what is inside Barbe bleue’s secret chamber and the knowledge about life and death imparted to Eve makes for a very close comparison. Similarly, both women are punished for their actions and have to explain it to the authority over them when he returns.

Blood in La Barbe Bleue appears when the young girl drops her key on the blood of the many ex-wives Barbe Bleue killed. The key afterwards is stained with the blood and although the young girl tries to remove it, she cannot. Blood in the Bible can often functions as a symbol of sacrifice. Luke 11:50-51 mentions the bloodshed of many good men, which symbolizes the sacrifices that they made. Later on in Mark 14:24 Jesus uses the same metaphor to when he says that the wine is his blood which will be shed for many. Reading this idea back into “La Barbe bleue,” we can see the blood that these dead women shed as a sacrifice for the women of the future. Literally in the story, Barbe beue hopes the blood they shed will act as a reminder of what curiosity and disobedience can do to you in his home. At first glance, blood can appear to symbolize a bad thing since the consequences are death, but if we rely on the ideas in Luke and Mark, we remember that in the New Testament, it also symbolizes sacrifice. In that case, we might except to see the young woman in the story saved because of what they teach her through their sacrifice: and that is just what happens.

Although the first moral suggests that curiosity is problematic, a closer look at the story through the idea of sacrifice reveals that curiosity allowed the young girl to inherit Barbe bleue’s fortune at the end. A larger lesson that the story seems to teach (and here’s where it becomes a social more than a religious theme) is that if it wasn’t for the first women who lived out their curiosity and made the ultimate sacrifice, women of the future might still need to be submissive to their male counterparts. Instead, the sacrifice allowed one young woman (the one whose story we follow) to survive into a new life. Her story, in turn, charts a path of possibility for future women. Sounds suddenly like some kind of message of hope for women in French seventeenth-century society, rather than the story of doom it can at first appear to be.