Today’s Meta is about how the Beast and Gaston could have easily become the same people under different circumstances. So where do these two characters compare? Where do they contrast? Let’s find out, by starting with the similarities. (There are a lot of them.)
Similarities between The Beast and Gaston
Now, you’re probably wondering: “Mel, what do you mean the Beast and Gaston share similarities? They’re completely different characters!”
Why yes, they are. But they do share plenty of similar traits.
They both display brutish behavior towards Belle. There’s something interesting about how the movie introduces both characters. We meet Gaston before the Beast during “Belle,” and our first shot of Gaston is him shooting down a bird from the sky. That’s a pretty brutal way to introduce a character. Yes, he’s a hunter, and not all hunters are brutal, but there’s this eeriness about Gaston, and how possessive he is as an individual. Especially because right after this, Gaston spots Belle in the crowd, and we hear all about how he deserves Belle, because he deserves the best. Apparently, he doesn’t care much about Belle’s feelings on the matter, because he keeps pushing her, even after she rejects him multiple times.
[One example: when he puts an arm around her shoulders and suggests that she go with him to look at his hunting trophies, Belle says “maybe some other time” and slides out of his grip, not letting him drag her around. She then tells him again, politely but firmly, that she needs to get home, despite him ignoring her initial no.]
One particular scene that stands out for me with Gaston’s brutish behavior toward Belle is the proposal scene. Let’s talk about the body language in this scene: Gaston forces his way inside; Belle backs away. He keeps striding toward her, ignoring the fact that she’s backing away from him, and leans toward her, invading her personal bubble. Belle uses barriers to keep Gaston away from her, like the table and the rocking chair. Her body language screams ‘stop coming toward me,’ and Gaston doesn’t care. He sneaks up on Belle, stalking her through the house like she’s his prey. In the end, her back is against the door, he’s leering over her, and Belle is clearly uncomfortable. She manages to get him out of the house by opening the door and moving out of the way, allowing him to trip into the mud.
And do you know what Gaston says after all of that? “I’ll have Belle for my wife, make no mistake about that.”
Belle is clearly not interested in him, she’s uncomfortable with his harassment, and she turned down his marriage proposal, but Gaston is still determined to get her. That screams ‘brutal guy who will not give up’ to me.
However, the Beast doesn’t make a great first impression, either. When we meet the Beast, it’s dark and he’s in the shadows, stalking toward Maurice. He shouts at him, demanding to know why he’s in his home, and when he’s not satisfied with his answers, he throws Maurice in a cell. Talk about brutal introductions.
The Beast also behaves brutally toward Belle. When he first shows her to his room, he attempts to be polite, but ends up snapping at her that she has to attend dinner. “That’s not a request!” he says. When she later refuses, he’s furious. He told her she had to join him, so why does she refuse to dine with him? He tries coaxing her out, but when his politeness fails, he shouts at her: “Fine! Then go ahead and starve!” His tantrum is much like one that a child would have, and it doesn’t endear Belle to him much. He feels entitled to her company, because she’s his prisoner. And that entitlement ties into our next discussion point.
They are both incredibly entitled characters. Gaston is super entitled. Just take a look at how Gaston talks about Belle early on in the movie; it’s very telling. He talks about how she’s “the most beautiful girl in town,” which “makes her the best,” and then, we get into the entitlement: “Don’t I deserve the best?”
Things only get worse from there. Gaston is so entitled to Belle, and so convinced that she’s his, that he sets up a wedding and then GOES INSIDE TO PROPOSE TO HER. I’m sorry, but how arrogant is this? He assumes that Belle will say yes to him, because he deserves her, and obviously she should see that he’s the best option for her, right?
Wrong, because Belle isn’t an object. Belle is a person who doesn’t appreciate Gaston’s assumptions. Belle turns down his numerous attempts and is obviously uncomfortable with his harassment. Instead of respecting her feelings and moving on, he keeps pursing her, even though she’s turned him down time and time again, because he feels entitled to her.
The Beast is also entitled. Look at how he treats his servant: he shouts at them and orders them around, not caring how they feel, because they’re his to command. He’s entitled about the castle as well; he refuses to let Belle enter the forbidden West Wing, because he doesn’t want her to see the rose or his former self. When Belle explores that area anyway, he’s furious with her and acts much like the beast he’s been turned into, shouting at her and stalking toward her, hitting things with his paws… he’s very brutal, and understandably, Belle runs away, getting herself out of that situation, much like she got out of the brutal situation she was in with Gaston. Interestingly, we see something here that we don’t see with Gaston; after Belle leaves, the Beast buries his face in his hands, as if he’s ashamed of his behavior and his brutality. This is the start of the change we later evidence in the characters (which I’ll talk more about later).
They look down on others. Gaston looks down on Belle’s father. He and Lefou laugh over how he’s a “crazy old loon,” and Gaston later refers to him as “crazy old Maurice”. Gaston clearly doesn’t understand that insulting a woman’s father is no way to her heart. When Maurice later comes to Gaston and Lefou, terrified for Belle and worried about her being in the grasps of the Beast, the duo laugh at him and toss him out into the cold. Let’s keep in mind that 1) it’s winter, and, 2) Maurice is an elderly man! Of course, just after that scene, he muses on Maurice, but instead of thinking ‘oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that’, he realizes he can use Belle’s father as a pawn to get entrap Belle. He tries to get Maurice put away in the asylum, and then tells her that he “might be able to clear up this little misunderstanding…if [she] marries [him].” That’s pretty twisted behavior, and Belle agrees, calling him a “monster” and refusing to even consider it.
The Beast gets put under the curse because of the way that he looks down on the old woman who shows up at his doorstep, with a single rose as tribute for allowing her to stay the night in his home to escape the bitter cold. Much like our situation above, with Maurice and Gaston, the Beast (at that time, the Prince) scoffs at her, “repulsed by her haggard appearance,” and refuses to let her inside. However, unlike Maurice, the old woman at his doorstep turns out to be the Enchantress, and she’s unhappy with both his cruelty and his vanity. And we all know what happens after that.
Finally, both are pretty vain. We see vanity more-so with Gaston, but the Beast does care a great deal about his appearance. After all: the curse that the Enchantress put him under wouldn’t affect him so greatly if he didn’t.
Gaston’s character thrives on vanity.The main reason he likes Belle is because she’s “the most beautiful girl in town.” He doesn’t care about her intelligence, or her compassion, or her kindness. He even tells us this in “Belle”:
Right from the moment when I met her, saw her
I said “she’s gorgeous” and I fell
Here in town, there’s only she
Who is beautiful as me
For Gaston, it’s all about beauty, especially his own. It’s particularly hilarious how while he’s singing about Belle, he’s checking himself out in the mirror. How vain can you be?
There’s also Gaston’s song, which 1) the title is his name (which screams vanity) and 2) it’s all about the townspeople complimenting Gaston and boosting his ego:
There’s no man in town as admired as you
You’re everyone’s favorite guy
Everyone’s awed and inspired by you
And it’s not very hard to see why
When I was a lad, I ate four dozen eggs
Every morning to help me get large
And now that I’m grown I eat five dozen eggs
So I’m roughly the size of a barge!
If you weren’t convinced before that Gaston is vain, I hope you are now.
The Beast cares a lot about his appearance. When he is the Prince, he judges the old woman outside the castle by her appearance, not realizing the power she holds, and when he realizes it, it’s too late; the woman already knows what kind of a person he is, and curses him, turning him into the Beast.
When he finds Maurice in the house, one of the first things he says to him is “So you’ve come to stare at the Beast, have you?” He is angered by the way that Maurice looks at him like he’s a monster because of his appearance. We’re told in the opening narration that the Beast is “ashamed of his monstrous form,” and honestly, who wouldn’t be a little ashamed if they were turned into a fearsome Beast by an Enchantress? The problem is that the Beast has let his vanity – or lack thereof – consume him. He is so caught up in his appearance, and how hideous he feels that he’s become, that he won’t let anyone in. It takes Belle’s encouragement (and ranting) to bring out the better side of him, the inner beauty that others don’t see. It’s only that, and her love for him, that allows the Beast to break the curse and retain his physical form – and get back his outer beauty as well.
Where the Beast and Gaston differ
But where the Beast and Gaston differ is in their attitudes toward Belle. Their divergence in how they deal with Belle is where the Beast begins to grow and Gaston does not.
Like I mentioned above, the Beast is pretty horrible toward Belle. However, the Beast also does something that Gaston never does: he realizes that his behavior is wrong, and makes up for it.
The scene with the wolves – and the scene afterwards – is a huge turning point in Belle and the Beast’s relationship. First, the Beast comes after Belle and protects her and her horse from the wolves. That’s a pretty big step for someone who initially cared so little for Belle that he didn’t care if she starved or not. This is also the first time we see Belle offer compassion toward the Beast; she covers him with her cloak after he passes out, and gets him back safely to the castle. She cleans his wounds, despite his grumbling, and here’s where we have their last big spat:
Beast: If you hadn’t run away, this wouldn’t have happened!
Belle: Well, if you hadn’t frightened me, I wouldn’t have run away!
Beast: Well, you shouldn’t have been in the West Wing! (There’s that entitlement again.)
But Belle isn’t cowered, because she responds with the point that finally gets the Beast to think about his actions: “Well, you should learn to control your temper!”
The Beast is about to shout back at her, and realization hits him. He lowers his head, realizing that he was wrong, and doesn’t say a word. Here is where we see the Beast’s entitlement and brutality come into question. Here is where we see a character change coming.
Belle thanking him for saving her life is also a big moment for the Beast. He hasn’t had anyone warm to him in this way since he became the Beast. He’s clearly surprised by her thanking him, evidenced by his stunned “You’re welcome.”
And it’s after this moment that the Beast begins to prove Belle wrong about his behavior. He shows her the library. He speaks cordially and politely to her, rather than shouting at her or treating her like a prisoner. And most importantly of all, he takes Belle’s wants and desires into account. When Belle needs to leave and go take care of her father, the Beast lets her go, even at his own detriment, because he’s grown past his earlier mentality: he refuses to keep Belle here as a prisoner. He is willing to sacrifice breaking the curse for her, because that’s what love is all about: sacrifice, and respecting the other person in the relationship, even if it means letting them go. In the Beast’s case, this works out for the best, because Belle comes back – and then the curse is broken.
Gaston, on the other hand, never learns from his mistakes. If Gaston had sat down and thought about his actions after Belle rejected his “proposal” (because “Say you’ll marry me” is not a “Will you marry me?”; one is a command, another is a question), if he’d come to his senses and realized he was being a jerk and atoned, maybe the movie would be different.
But unfortunately for him, Gaston stays on the same stubborn path. His arrogance and entitlement only grow, and in the end, that’s what leads to his demise. He is so determined to get Belle that if he can’t have her, he’ll just make sure that she can’t have anyone else either. When he goes to kill the Beast, he’s motivated purely by jealousy and hatred. How could Belle love a beast instead of him, Gaston, the most wonderful man in town? And even after the Beast spares his life, Gaston still tries to kill him, despite promising not to. It’s that arrogance and cruelty that leads to Gaston’s death.
There’s a phrase that applies well to Gaston: pride goeth before the fall. Gaston’s death results because he lets his pride get the better of him. When he tries to strike at the Beast again, Gaston slides off of the ledge and falls, which we can assume kills him, because it’s pretty impossible to survive a fall like that unless you’re Wile E Coyote.
The reason that Belle falls in love with the Beast, and not Gaston, is because unlike Gaston, the Beast grows and changes. He has a strong regard for her feelings. He treats her like a person, rather than a prize to be won (Princess Jasmine, anyone?), and she respects him for that. In fact, we only get a glimpse of Belle starting to fall for the Beast after he saves her life and stops being a jerk. That’s really important. It shows that Belle isn’t willing to put up with a man who doesn’t treat her well, and respects the Beast for changing his ways and becoming a better person.
The reason that the Beast changes for Belle, not anyone else, is because unlike everyone else in the castle, Belle doesn’t put up with the Beast’s behavior. While his servants cowered and acted polite, but weren’t too firm, Belle wasn’t afraid to tell the Beast off for being a jerk. And despite his initial annoyance at her, the Beast grows to realize that Belle has a point; he has been a jerk. Because she called him out on his behavior, he changes his ways and attempts to be a better person. That better person, the stronger man he becomes, is the one that Belle falls in love with, and it’s because of her that he embraces this better part of himself.
In the end, while Gaston and the Beast have many similarities, the paths they take are very different. One leads to death, the other leads to love and a happily-ever-after. Because the Beast grows and changes, he breaks the curse and finds the happiness and love he desires. Because Gaston refuses to change, he gets so caught up in revenge and possessing Belle that it winds up killing him. They started at the same level, but the Beast rose while Gaston fell.
What do you think of the Gaston/Beast similarities? Would you have liked to see Gaston mature? Or was it better to have left him as the villain?