2 Chapter 2: The Animal Husband

“Beauty and the Beast”

“The Frog King or Iron Heinrich”

“The Tiger’s Bride”

Note: These links will take you to the versions of the stories in this e-book or, in one case, a link to the library’s course reserve version. You must read these versions. If you read other versions, some of the lecture and discussion may not make sense to you as there can be great differences among different storytellers’ versions of these tales.


We begin with stories often known as Animal Groom stories. They are well-known, found in most cultures around the world, and they clearly illustrate the function of fairy tales within cultures.

Remember we’re talking about culture, not society. Here’s an extended definition of the difference, which may be important in writing your essays.

“Culture” vs. “Society”


What might it mean to a culture to tell a story in which the bridegroom is an animal? Many fairy tales are based on a groom, or potential groom, who is some kind of animal: lion, frog, or other animal, even sometimes a non-specific animal, who is called simply “the Beast.” These kinds of stories are found in many cultures around the world, so there must be reasons why they are so popular. Let’s try to tease out some of those reasons by looking closely at the story, keeping in mind that fairy tales were designed to teach people, especially young people, to know and conform to the expectations and demands of their culture.


But let’s consider a more basic question before that: Do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing—that fairy tales teach us to be compliant cultural subjects, to show us what our culture wants of us and teach us to do those things?


“Beauty and the Beast”

Let’s think of this story in terms of cultural expectations.

The ultimate event in this story is marriage, right? For a very long time, people have been pairing off and getting married. So is getting married a cultural expectation? Does our culture want us to be married? How do we know, one way or the other?


There are other ways to approach Animal Groom tales, but a story involving a bride and groom has something to do with marriage, and we owe it to the story and to ourselves as readers and creatures of our culture, that is, cultural objects, to attempt to understand what that something might be.

Consider some of what marriage brings with it:

  • Sometimes choice, sometimes not. Arranged marriages would have been common in the time when many fairy tales were first told.
  • What about all the other things that are going to happen after the wedding? Can those be a cause for uncertainty?
  • What about sex? Some people are inexperienced in that sense when they get married. So it may be a scary thing to face. In fact, it used to be that the word “marriage” itself was a euphemism for “when you start having sex”—that certainly would’ve been the case when these stories were first told.


Traditional marriage is the TRANSFER of the daughter’s love/devotion from the father/family to the new husband/new family, because traditionally, the bride went to live near or even with her husband’s family (not the other way around). So, she became a member of the groom’s family and community.


So maybe an important point in Animal Groom stories is this transfer of the woman from one man to the other, and that even though it’s the law of the culture (of many cultures—most cultures), it can be frightening and difficult for the young woman. What does Beauty’s behavior suggest about that?


By the way, even today, in our own culture, this idea of the transfer of the woman from father to husband is still upheld. How? Think about the typical marriage ceremony today: Who is “given away”? Still today. Is it possible that this is ONE meaning, and ONE reason the story of “Beauty and the Beast” remains popular?


We learn about the problems of this transfer in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Could it be scary? Could it be something the bride (and the groom—Animal Grooms in the next module) might resist?

And yet, we’re supposed to get married, even though it may not always seem appealing.


If you’re a young woman who’s marrying a man you hardly know, if at all.

If by chance your mother is no longer here, so there’s no parental wisdom to tap into about dealing with fears of your marriage and your intended groom.

Could this unknown and unknowable groom seem scary to you? What else is scary? Monsters? Beasts?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow be assured that the scary guy would turn out to be a wonderful husband? A prince even? Might your parents or your grandparents, or even aunts and uncles, tell you stories to calm your fear of the unknown groom, to help you feel not just unafraid but actually eager to get married?


Another thing this story can teach us is to look beyond the main characters, and to think about what’s happening at the margins of the story.


The SISTERS: In addition to the idea of marriage, what about that whole sibling rivalry? What’s going on there, with two women hating and even conspiring against their sister? Do they have their reasons? Are they valid? What might that mean? Aren’t the sisters also cultural objects who are supposed to get married? They do get married, so what’s the problem?


And what about what the beautiful fairy does to the sisters at the end of the story? What meaning might that have? Of course, the story is showing us that evil works are punished. But that’s fairly obvious—what ELSE might be going on here?


Finally, consider the concept of beastliness, of monstrosity. Is the Beast a monster?

If so, how?

If not, how?

Might the answer be, somehow, “yes and no”?

This, then, may be one of those Not Quite Right situations. That is, if it is problematic to read the Beast as a monster, why? And why, then, is the Beast called a monster? Why does the concept of monstrosity appear in the story?

This is a case of irony. Look up that word if you don’t know what it means.

If the Beast is at least problematic as a monster—that is, it’s questionable that he is a monster—then what is the function of monstrosity in the story? That is, if some characters SEE him as a monster, and yet he actually is not very monstrous, what is the point of this irony?

For the reader to recognize that it is problematic to identify the Beast as a monster?

To question the meaning of monstrosity?

To suggest that there are other monstrosities in the story and, therefore, in life?

That is, if the Beast isn’t much of a monster, is there someone or something else in the story that is a monster, and maybe one goal of the story is to teach something about what constitutes a monster and what does not?


Coming back to our study of fairy tales as texts that teach cultural expectations, what expectations does this story seem to honor and illustrate for the reader? Is the story’s irony related to these expectations?


Imagine yourself as a young person who’s about to be married to someone you did not choose for yourself—an arranged or forced marriage to a partner chosen by your family or your community or someone else. How would you feel about that? Might it help if you’d been hearing stories all about your life about how wonderful such marriages could turn out to be? That the scary stranger could become a handsome prince? And, by the way, that the people who’d been mean to you and unflattering to your groom would get what they had coming to them?

“The Frog King or Iron Heinrich” and “The Tiger’s Bride”

These texts will be covered in class according to the ideas discussed in this chapter.



The comparison between culture and society is from LibreTexts Social Sciences, Chapter 3.1B: Culture and Society, which is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts. This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.



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Introduction to Literature Copyright © by Judy Young is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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