Staci Poston Conner, UTK graduate student and member of the Nineteenth Century British Research Seminar, recently published a chapter titled “‘We are Beasts and This is Our Consolation’: Fairy Tale Revision and Combination in Joyce Carol Oates’s Beasts” in the 2016 collection Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Culture: A Mosaic of Criticism.
Conner’s fascinating chapter considers how Joyce Carol Oates’ Beasts (2001) blends fairy tale tropes and mythological archetypes in order to present a gothic revision of a well-known coming-of-age/sexual awakening story. The novella begins with undertones of a Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast plot—the protagonist, Gillian, fits the role of a “chosen one” or special girl selected by the “other” (a Prince or Beast or combination of both) as a love interest and thereby enters a new, magical existence that seems to vastly improve her previous life. However, the story soon merges Cinderella/Beauty with Bluebeard, placing the protagonist in a situation of impending danger. In using certain fairy tale archetypes, Conner argues, Oates dismantles expectations in presenting a new, feminist, gothic version of a coming-of-age/sexual awakening story. She deconstructs the male-rescuer archetype in presenting a female protagonist on a trajectory from helplessness to self-reliance. In doing so, she also subverts gender expectations by presenting the prince/beast as a married male/female couple rather than a single male. Examining this, Conner claims, provides a new lens through which to view Oates’s largely unexamined novella, placing it within the canon of contemporary, revisionary fairy tales that trace young female characters’ coming-of-age narratives while offering different ways to investigate questions of identity, growth, and change.