Brayden Schut

A Crime of Curiosity

Innocence and Curiosity

Innocence plays a major role in the tale of “Blue Beard” and although it can appear to be an obvious theme, it is worth further exploration based on details the text provides that make the idea of innocence specific to this text. We know from the details at the beginning of the story that the girl who marries Blue Beard is “la cadette (126)” or “the youngest” of the neighbor girls that Blue Beard tries to marry. We assume that she is quite young compared to Blue Beard even though their ages are not specified in the tale. Because of the emphasis on her youth, we can gather that Blue Beard is older, especially considering his fortune and riches and apparent social stature. We also know that he has had “plusieurs femmes (126)” or “many wives,” which suggests that he is of a certain age. Beyond these basic details, there is not much known about the girl, and her name is not even mentioned, which happens in several of Perrault’s other tales that feature women, although some fo them  are given names that label them, such as Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty. There is one female character who is named in the tale:the girl’s sister Anne. Since the girl goes unnamed, we are forced (and free) to understand her through her actions. Interestingly, her innocence manifests itself in something that may seem like its opposite: curiosity.

The girl’s curiosity is evident when she is told not to open the cabinet by Blue Beard (127). He warns her that he will be upset with her if she disobeys his command and she promises to observe his wishes. After a few days, her curiosity gets the better of her and she takes the key and opens the door. What she finds inside the cabinet are the bloody dead bodies of Blue Beards ex-wives. She is, of course, horrified and traumatized by this visions and flees. This experience may represent a loss of her innocence in the sense that she now has knowledge of her husband and his past and present life.  In fact, it serves as a wakeup call to the reality that even if a man presents himself well and has a fortune he may be hiding a dark and terrible secret.

One issue with this experience that takes her out of her innocence is that Blue Beard seems to have sparked the girls’ curiosity on purpose by giving her permission to have a party and to touch, use, and do everything except for opening the cabinet. He even gives her the key to open the cabinet. We can conclude from the fact that he’s clearly done this before that he probably wanted her to see what loomed behind the door and was testing her faithfulness to him. Blue Beard provided the initial interest and that temptation mixed with the innocence of the girl created an awful experience for both parties involved. Perhaps inevitably because she had never been through something like that, the girl tried to cover her tracks and wash the blood off of the key but it would not come clean (129). The fact that the stained key cannot be cleaned may be an image referring to the fact that the girl can’t erase the crime that she has committed by disobeying her husband’s rule. Because her innocence is gone, she is scared and lies to her husband about opening the cabinet when he discovers the blood-stained key. Blue Beard, of course, knows that she is lying and tells her that she will join the other women hanging in the cabinet (130). She resorts to other tactics, like stalling and begging, but he persists. As much as innocence and curiosity are part of her personality, he is characterized by persistence, as is shown by how many women have been through this (apparently unpassable) test.

The Blue Beard

On the subject of his character, while reading this story one might wonder if Blue Beard’s beard is actually blue or if this is some type of symbol of his character. The book describes it as “laid” and “terrible (125).” This attribute either given or inherited makes him “ugly” and “fearful.” This image makes everyone shudder and flee from his presence. The text doesn’t really elaborate on the beard, but it is present all the time because it is the only name used for him in the text. In that sense, the beard might be a literal mask that he wears  that reveals his true identity as a murderer, but it is not a symbol anyone (especially) women can understand.

In all we can see that the man called Blue Beard is quite mysterious and has some dark secrets. He also knows how to present himself in a way to find multiple wives, especially by dangling his fortune in front of them, ensuring that they are drawn to him because of his riches. Blue Beard seems then to have known that his young innocent wife—in fact all women he lures to his house–would succumb to the temptation to open the cabinet since he seems to have planned on this in order to feed his murderous appetite. A very generous read on him might suggest that he is only trying to find a loyal and trustworthy companion, but all of his previous wives disobeyed him and lied about it. And, indeed, they got what he promised for not being honest and respecting his house rules. If this is the case (and it’s still unclear why murder would be the punishment for this kind of transgression) then he sure has issues with meeting women.

A change of Heart

There is always been a point in Blue Beard’s relationships with his wives when he decides to kill them. Perhaps it happened the way we see it happen with all the other women—a bloody key as evidence. The difference with the present relationship described in the story is that the outcome shifted: it is not the woman but Blue beard who ended up dead. The story tells us that Blue Beard “avait le cœur plus dur qu’un rocher (130),” “had a heart harder than a rock.” Despite the hardness of his heart this woman affects him. He took pity on his wife, or at least gave in to her, and allowed her to pray to God (130) before he punished her for her disobedience. We can also see that because her eyes filled with tears, “les yeux baignés de larmes (130),” and she manipulated the situation with other displays of remorse that he felt a moment of weakness and his stony heart did get soft after all (in spite of what the narrator says).

Yet, Blue Beard hasn’t had a complete change of heart since he still yells up to his wife to “come down quick before or else he’ll come up to get her” or as stated in the text “descend vite, ou je monterai là-haut (131).” He was holding a “coutelas” or “knife” in his hand as he yelled with all his force (130). From these actions and words we see that he hasn’t let her off the hook completely—on the contrary, this is the climax of his anger and the story. After the fifteen minutes of grace that Blue Beard gave to his wife he yells even louder. So loud that “toute la maison en trembla” (the whole house shook). He shows his temper—perhaps his true colors–as his wife is trying to stall her execution. When she finally comes down, Blue Beard’s patience has run out and he shows her no more mercy: he grabs her by the hair with one hand and raises the knife  with the other (131). It is at this climactic point the woman’s brothers burst into the room and chase Blue Beard out of the house and kill him.

According to how the plot unfolds, his accordance of mercy and compassion are what ultimately lead to the death of Blue Beard. If he had remained hard hearted and just killed her, nobody would have been the wiser, and he could even possibly have repeated the cycle again with another woman. In other words, the way the plot is constructed, his plan goes wrong with this woman. Blue Beard succumbs to her pleads and cries, which works to her great advantage in the end. She does not really pray to God, which was never her plan as she ascended into the tower to “pray,” but to her sister Anne to help her find a way out. Was it planned that way? We’ll never know. But plan or not, she came out well in the end and later married “un fort honnête home, qui lui fait oublier le mauvais temps qu’elle avait passé avec la Barbe Bleue (132)” (an honest man that helped her to forget the unpleasant time that she spent with Blue Beard). So, was curiosity a crime or a gift? That’s a question the text asks us to consider.