In her version of “Beauty and the Beast,” McKinley seeks to create complex, genuine personalities out of one-dimensional fairy-tale characters. Much love is reflected in the feelings of the family members for one another. The father is past sixty and, when he loses his fortune, begins to look his age. He becomes a broken man. The sisters are loving and considerate of one another and of their father. Grace and Hope are beautiful, while Beauty, who is twelve at the beginning of the novel, considers herself to be plain and avoids mirrors. An awkward and shy girl, she shuns other people, preferring the company of books. Many young girls reading this story can identify with Beauty’s feelings. When the family moves to the country, Grace and Hope divide the housework and Beauty does the remaining chores: She splits, chops, and stacks wood. Beauty believes that it would have been more convenient if she had been a boy and that she looks like one. Beauty takes pride in her intelligence, however, and has hopes of studying at a university. Although such ambition was unheard of for a woman at that time, Beauty’s father does not discourage her.

In Beauty, McKinley creates a young woman who is both ordinary and heroic. At first, Beauty is afraid of the Beast, but she tries not to let her voice or actions show it. She finds it difficult to look at the Beast’s face because he has human eyes. He is full of contradictions: His voice is gruff and harsh, yet he...

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