Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast Characters
by Robin McKinley

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The pervasive theme of McKinley's novel is the inner nature of true beauty. Integral to this theme is the contrast of appearance and reality. Interestingly, the principle of interior beauty applies equally to the maiden and the bestial figure she eventually marries. The heroine is named Honour at birth but later nicknamed Beauty. The nickname of Beauty is in fact ironic, since the heroine is plain and somewhat boyish looking, particularly when compared to her handsome sisters, Hope and Grace. Her decision to live with the Beast in order to save her father's life, however, reveals an inner spiritual and moral strength. Similarly, the Beast, who is furred and clawed, turns out to be a gentle, caring, considerate, intelligent, and cultured individual.

He must have been seven feet tall at full height, with proportionate breadth of shoulder and chest...
Personal integrity is also important in this novel. For example, when the father agrees to return with his daughter to the Beast's castle, no one attempts to cheat on the bargain. Integrity enters into the subplot of the sister Grace, who waits faithfully during the six-year absence at sea of her fiance Robbie. Integrity also characterizes the family relationships in the story. When financial hardship afflicts the family, the father and his three daughters stick together and work hard to survive. The author touchingly portrays a close-knit and generous family.

Both principal characters, Beauty and the Beast, are effectively drawn. Beauty is a likeable young woman, tomboyish and independent of spirit, yet considerate of family and friends. Modest about her appearance, she feels no jealousy of her sisters' attractiveness. When she resides in the Beast's strange castle, she is polite and friendly toward him, accepting the gentle nature beneath his frightening exterior and in no way hinting that she is repelled by his more bestial characteristics. Her strong sense of independence, however, leads her to repeatedly reject his offers of marriage,...

(The entire section is 490 words.)