Beauty and the Beast Triptych: Re-imagining Stereotypes and Gender Roles

Melanie Magaña

[Ed. Note: At the end of this Introduction, readers are directed by links to the three pieces comprising the triptych.]

Introduction

I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the story of Beauty and the Beast ever since the Disney movie put it on my radar.   On the one hand:  dancing teacups! Catchy tunes! Bookworm as heroine!  On the other hand, the underlying message to girls seems to be this:  You can change him.  If you love him enough, and if you’re good enough, you can change him.   This message is a lie at best, dangerous at worst.  No matter how jolly those dancing dishes might be, or how good or loving the Beauty is, even together they’re no match for a Beast if it turns out that he’s not Prince Charming.

William Trowbridge, poet laureate of Missouri, once introduced his work about King Kong by saying that “[King Kong] just wanted a pretty girlfriend.” That line stopped me in my tracks!  My understanding of the story was that, after being kidnapped by humans and brought to New York City to be made a spectacle of, King Kong needed a friend.  Why did it have to be “a pretty girlfriend?”  Trowbridge went on to state that King Kong was “a classic story of Beauty and the Beast, just like The Phantom of the Opera, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame…”

His examples got me thinking: how many other examples of this story live in our collective consciousness?

  • Family Guy: Brian, the family’s dog, constantly dates svelte yet busty young blonde women who never seem to notice that they’re dating a dog.
  • Knocked Up: The female lead is also svelte and blonde, yet the best date she can get is an alcoholic, pothead slacker?
  • Male rock stars who date and marry female models.
  • Any movie (or real life) featuring Woody Allen as the romantic lead.

All of these examples led me to the conclusion that Beauty and the Beast needed a new flavor, one that women can appreciate.

The retelling and refashioning of stories is nothing new.  People have been recycling myths, legends, bible stories ever since their first telling.  The Disney movies are the most immediate examples to come to mind.  If you look at older versions of the folktales on which they’re based, you’ll see how vastly different they’ve become in order to suit the audience of the day.  Frozen is one of the more altered examples, as the moviemakers took the story of the Snow Queen who steals Kay away from his family until Gerda frees him, and they changed it to the story of two estranged sisters.

The folks at Disney are not the only ones who retell old stories though.  My favorite book ever is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, which retells the Cain and Abel story in at least two different ways; Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved retells the story of Jacob and Esau, which in its essence is just another Cain and Abel story.  Anais Mitchell’s folk opera Hadestown sets the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in 1930’s America.  Shakespeare’s stories (not exactly original when he wrote them) have been retold in countless ways: West Side Story, Warm Bodies, A Thousand Acres, and Scotland, Pennsylvania to name but a few.

Although some of the examples I’ve given seem to have taken their original tale and turned them upside down (Romeo and Juliet in the zombie apocalypse—what?), they each retain enough of the essence of the original story to make it recognizable as a universal truth, and change the details enough to be accessible to a broader audience. At the heart of Beauty and the Beast, I found the story of a person who feels fundamentally unlovable (and haven’t we all, at times?), but who is given a new mirror in which to see the self.  Have students write about their own favorite story, folktale or myth.  Here are a few ways to get them thinking about the way it speaks to them, and how to retell it to make it relevant to others in the same way:

  • Put the characters in a different setting. What would happen if the characters were part of a contemporary setting, or a futuristic one?  In Alice in Wonderland High, Rachel Stone brings Alice & company to a contemporary high school setting.  In Briar Rose, Jane Yolen takes the story of The Sleeping Beauty and sets it in Nazi-occupied Poland.  If David and Goliath lived in contemporary America, would the stoning be a literal one or metaphorical? If Icarus and his father lived in the twentieth century, would they contribute to aviation or space travel?  When they’re brought down by hubris, how could it come about?
  • Change one or more characters in some fundamental way. In Murder at Mansfield Park, Lynn Shepherd takes the loveable Fanny Price and turns her into a shrew with as many enemies as there are motives to kill her.  In The Lion King, Hamlet & cast are, well, you know!  How would the wizarding world change if Harry Potter, embittered from years of ill-treatment by the Dursleys, teamed up with Voldemort in book 1?  What if Bruce Wayne had a physical disability? What if the group in Lord of the Flies were girls?
  • Insert a character from another reality. In The Eyre Affair, someone has changed the ending of Jane Eyre to pair Jane up with St. John instead of Mr. Rochester.  Author Jasper Fforde sends Literary Detective Thursday Next into the pages to find the culprit. In Lost in Austen, 21st-century Amanda discovers a secret portal through which she can enter the world of Pride and Prejudice…and Elizabeth can enter 21st-century London!  What would happen if Katniss found herself in the forest with Hansel and Gretel?
  • Is there a minor character who might be rounded out? Jo Baker gives a compelling account of life as a servant in the Bennet household; Tom Stoppard brings Hamlet’s childhood friends to center stage in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (see also The Lion King 1-1/2). Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John Grey, a minor character in her Outlander series, became so popular that he now has a series of his own. Many of the fairy tales give little credence to the Prince, whose only role seems to be marrying the heroine.  What might his real motivation be?
  • What happened before Once Upon a Time? What happens after Happily Ever After?  Gregory MacGuire is probably the most well-known current author for writing the story behind the story for tales such as The Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Peter Pan and others; in these, he also tells these famous stories from points of view of than the main characters’. Jean Rhys does the same for Jane Eyre’s doomed Mrs. Rochester in Wide Sargasso Sea, and Budge Wilson fleshes out Anne Shirley’s back-story in Before Green Gables.  As to what happens after the final page, Sandra Lerner imagines what happened in the Bennet-Darcy marriage after ten years in Second Impressions. What sort of adult might Holden Caulfield be? Or Tom Sawyer?

The above ideas barely scratch the surface of possibilities due to the myriad facets of the human psyche; what speaks to one person about a story may leave the next person cold. With the slightest change to a story as I’ve suggested, the universal truth inside each tale can become magnified, giving the opportunity for re-examination.  With re-examination, another reader may find a truth that wasn’t readily apparent in the first reading, and could meet a new literary love.

[Ed. note: The three parts of the triptych are listed below. Click each title below to be magically transported to that story.]

  1. “BEAUTY AND THE BEASTESS”
  2. “BEAST’S BEAUTY”
  3. “BEAUTY’S BEGINNING”

Addressing Racial Injustice Through Allyship: Teaching to See by Using Poetry

Sharon Rudnicki

Introduction

    In 2016, America was treated to two excellent television series that focus on the life of O.J. Simpson, FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson and ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America. By delving into Simpson’s murder trial against the backdrop of Los Angeles’ unchecked police brutality in an honest and thoughtful manner, both shows succeed in explaining why the majority of white Americans were so shocked when Simpson was found innocent of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman and why the majority of black Americans were elated when the verdict was read. While it would seem that everyone was watching the same trial and considering the same evidence, this was clearly not the case. What most white Americans, including myself, did not see was how most blacks historically saw the LAPD – as a group of powerful, government employees who had no regard whatsoever for the civil rights of black people and who were never held accountable for using excessive force or even killing black people whom they encountered on the job. Even when cameras captured every moment of police brutality, as in the case of Rodney King, the justice system failed, thus perpetuating the message that black lives didn’t matter. These television treatments of Simpson’s trial hopefully allowed many white Americans to see – and, therefore, understand – the reaction of many black Americans to the verdict. Black Americans could see – because they had seen – police plant evidence, lie on the witness stand, and abuse their powers. The issue for the purpose of this article is not whether Simpson should have been found guilty or innocent or whether the prosecution should have prepared better or whether Simpson’s “dream team” of lawyers conducted themselves ethically. Instead, the purpose is to show how English teachers can take a lead role in educating students to see the lasting effects of slavery on the African American community; reading selected poetry can prompt greater understanding and bring students who have not been affected by racism to a place of action and allyship.

American Slavery

     In his book Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the difficulties black Americans have had protecting their bodies, both from acts committed by white people in power and by members of the poor black community who use violence to assert  a semblance of status and power. By using the form of a letter written from father to son, Coates writes,

You would be a man one day, and I could not save you from the unbridgeable distance between you and your future peers and colleagues, who might try to convince you that everything I know, all the things I’m sharing with you here, are an illusion, or a fact of a distant past that need not be discussed.  And I could not save you from the police, from their flashlights, their hands, their nightsticks, their guns. Prince Jones, murdered by the men who should have been his security guards, is always with me, and I knew that soon he would be with you.” (90)

     For the 15% of the students at my all-girls’ school who identify as African American, Coates’ words are not shocking. However, for many of the remaining 85% of students at my school, it is unimaginable that a father, today, in the United States, would feel powerless to protect his child. While our school has been educating faculty and students about white privilege, it is understandable that my students have a hard time talking about race when the country as a whole struggles to do the same. It is difficult to see an issue from another person’s point of view when the majority of our schools and neighborhoods are not integrated. And while most of my white students can share experiences of how it feels to be viewed suspiciously as potential shoplifters when they go shopping, they do not experience being the subjects of the gaze because of their race. When a parent is pulled over by the police for speeding, they may fear that their parent may have a pay a hefty speeding ticket. However, I doubt it would ever cross their minds that an encounter with the police may result in bodily injury. So how can students who are not black gain a fuller understanding of Coates’ words? Is the Black Lives Matter movement only a result of the past few years of police brutality? If slavery ended so long ago, how could it possibly be relevant today? In 11th grade, students at my school study American history. Reading literature allows them to see human faces beneath the textbook and to connect with other people’s experiences on a more emotional level. In my English class, reading poetry written by black Americans not only validates these writers as artists worthy of study in a high school curriculum, but also allows all students to reach a new critical understanding of how our country’s history has shaped the experiences of the black community.

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Read Them Together: Paired Book Reading for Global Literature

Read Them Together: Paired Book Reading for Global Literature

by Jongsun Wee and Barbara A. Lehman

[pdf version here: Wee-Lehman-ReadThemTogether]

Abstract:  The need for global literature is growing as the society rapidly becomes more diverse. This study documented American children’s responses to global literature when it was paired with a home country book. The data were collected in a third grade classroom in a midwestern state. The results showed that in paired book reading, the children naturally compared two books and analyzed the characters’ problems by comparing them with their situations. The children did not discuss the foreign settings in global literature unless they were prompted to talk about them. They also did not treat the main character in global literature as a foreigner. The results suggested that pairing global literature with a home country book may be helpful for children to understand the global literature. However, the teacher needs to intentionally direct students’ attention to global settings and the foreign character’s experiences and culture, otherwise, children may miss an opportunity to discuss those topics emerging from the global literature.

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Minnesota Preservice Teachers Perceptions of LGBT-themed Children’s Literature

Minnesota Preservice Teachers Perceptions of LGBT-themed Children’s Literature

By Jongsun Wee

[pdf version here: Wee-Perceptions of LGBT-themed Children’s Literature]

Diversity is an important topic that preservice teachers need to explore a great deal before they launch their career. The state of Minnesota recognizes the importance of understanding diverse learners in education and lists it in standard 3 in Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice for Teachers  (see: MN Standard of Effective Practice for Teachers. Standard 3. diverse learners: A teacher must understand how students differ in their approaches to learning and create instructional opportunities that are adapted to students with diverse backgrounds and exceptionalities). As expected teacher behaviors, the standard 3 states that, teachers need to “understand the contributions and lifestyles of the various racial, cultural, and economic groups in our society” and pay “attention to a student’s personal, family, and community experiences” (Minnesota Department of Education). My college, where I have taught a diversity class and children’s literature class, emphasizes recognizing and appreciating diversity in many forms. We also try to develop students’ awareness of diversity through classes in our teacher education program. Students also have other opportunities to be exposed to LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) related issues through university-wide events, such as seeing LGBT-themed films, listening to a guest speaker, discussing LGBT issues, and participating a LGBT conference. Continue reading

Students teaching teachers to teach students

Students teaching teachers to teach students

by Michael MacBride

Every semester I tell my students that I learned from them, and I’m sure this is something that most teachers say, or at least think, at the end of the semester. This last semester, Fall 2014, I thought my students should take this to the next level by writing their own pedagogical essays. The logic being, since we all learn from our students, why not tap directly into them as a resource and see how they would teach us to teach material to other students? They were all part of a topics English class focused on banned books and censorship. When I was constructing the book list for the class, I really struggled with the confines of the 15 weeks that I had at Minnesota State University. There was a whole unit on young adult literature or children’s literature that I simply couldn’t fit into the class, so I made that the focus of these pedagogical essays. Students had to choose a young adult or children’s book that had been banned, challenged, or censored, and come up with a way to teach this to a particular audience. I let them choose what that audience was, essentially which grade to teach this book to, and left them to their own devices to come up with a method for teaching that book. As usual, I was pleasantly surprised, and greatly impressed, at what they came up with.

What follows this short introduction are three of essays from that class. One essay is dedicated to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and one on Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. Each essay takes a unique approach and offers practical activities that can be directly applied to any classroom. The essays follow a standardized format: an introduction and overview, summary and background about the book and the challenges against it, and suggestions for teaching the book. The hope is that by using this standardized format, that instructors can navigate to the sections that are most relevant to them. Beyond the direct benefit of the lessons themselves, however, I believe the true gift of these essays is an opportunity to see these texts, and our classrooms, through a fresh set of eyes. Students teaching teachers to teach students. Enjoy.

Teaching The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree: Pedagogical Essay

by Kandi Heenan

[pdf version here: Heenan-TeachingTheGivingTree]

 

Introduction

The struggle is real. Defending the significance of using literature across the curriculum is something many instructors face—especially teaching “kid’s books.” Lessons, moral or academic, can be gained from any type or genre of literature. Children’s books specifically, even those as perceivably simplistic as works by authors like Seuss and Silverstein, hold a valuable and relevant place in the instruction of high school and even college-age students in a context not limited to Children’s Literature courses. Continue reading

Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen: Unusual History of Censorship

Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen: Unusual History of Censorship

By Laura Cattrysse

[pdf version here: Cattrysse-Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen]

Every child has their favorite fantasy book that mom and dad read every night five times before they can actually fall asleep. Maurice Sendak’s book In The Night Kitchen is a fantastical story that parents actually enjoy reading because of Sendak’s clever rhymes and other-worldly, yet relatable illustrations. The story is about a boy who falls asleep until he hears a noise that jolts him awake. He falls out of bed, out of his pajamas, and in to the Night Kitchen. There he meets three bakers who stir him in to cake batter, thinking he is milk. He tells them that he is not milk, but he can get some milk for their batter! He jumps out of the cake, covered in batter, and in to bread dough which he kneads in to the shape of an airplane. He uses the airplane to get in to the extremely large milk bottle sitting in the Night Kitchen. Once in the bottle, he loses his batter coating, grabs a pitcher of milk for the batter and brings it down to the bakers, where they bake their cake. The story ends, “And that’s why, thanks to Mickey we have cake every morning” (Sendak, 40). I will discuss the publication history of In The Night Kitchen and why it has been widely banned, and then I will offer a two-part lesson plan informed by the book focused on discussing both graphic novel terminology and censorship. Continue reading

Approaches to Teaching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Approaches to Teaching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Jennifer Thiel

[pdf version here: Thiel-Approaches to Teaching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory]

Introduction

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of the most popular children’s books in the last 50 years. The following essay is about certain options of how this book can be used in a teaching context. In the beginning I will focus on some theoretical background knowledge and why this book was challenged, and I give a quick summary of the plot. I will then follow with one possible lesson plan for a 45 minute class and give some more ideas how the material can be used for teaching. Continue reading