The figure of Bluebeard in the Grimm’s brothers’ tale is powerful. He has means, he’s used to getting what he wants and feel entirely entitled to it. He is wary of rivals and crushes them whenever possible. He may give lip service to a code of noble virtues but they serve as a cover to justify control by whatever means. He is possessive – people are objects and are his to manipulate. He demands loyalty above all. He holds weakness in contempt. Relationship is all about who wins and who loses, and winning is everything in his world.
The blue tint of his beard symbolizes coldness and absence of empathy, but also a distorted kind of single-mindedness. Just as the mantle of the virgin is traditionally blue symbolizing purity of devotion, this polar opposite represents a pure culture of devotion to rapacity. Hairyness in general and beards in particular can symbolize strength.
The story is a window into an amoral archetypal core typically associated with the masculine. Its appearance on the human plane can take many forms, from the bully coach such as Woody Hayes or Bobby Knight who justify tyrannical training methods in the service of winning to psychopathic figures such as Hannibal Lector in literature. In business, politics and the entertainment industry they are the narcissistic opportunists who crave power, fame and fortune over any relational or personal values. Their sadism can express itself in contempt, harassment, physical or sexual abuse and rape. In these areas, the profound intimacy of sexuality is violated in the service of domination and control.
What does the susceptible “bride” bring to this encounter? In the story she is a fatherless daughter who feels responsible for her widowed mother and her dependent sister. Vulnerable to intimidation, she is seduced by Bluebeard’s promises of wealth, power, and security, both for herself and her family. Unconsciously she basks in the external recognition of her superior worth! These overcome her initial wariness and her inhibitions. One is reminder of the character of Carmella Soprano in the HBO series “The Sopranos” who realizes her enmeshment in her husband Tony’s crime underworld too late. The pattern of the Co-Dependent partner or spouse can be a prison, protecting one from facing the terrors of change, insecurity, responsibility, decision-making and facing the world alone. It is the world of Psyche in the palace of Eros, where her every wish is granted, except that she is forbidden from seeing the true form of Eros.
Eventually, in both the bride and Psyche’s cases, curiosity goads them to break the arbitrary rules of the tyrant and see the truth for themselves. This launches conflict of homicidal proportions. They call for help and receive it, a testimony to the value of sharing one’s story and garnering support from the community. We certainly can see the power of this in the current “MeToo” movement and the need for vulnerable minorities to cultivate bonds of trust in community.