I’ve always loved Beauty and the Beast. Like me, Belle loves to read, and I love that she has an active part in the story rather than waiting for a prince to save her. However, one of my friends hates Beauty and the Beast because she feels that Belle is suffering from Stockholm syndrome — an idea that has been widely circulated and is a common Internet belief about Belle.
Frankly, I can see where my friend is coming from. Belle is effectively kept hostage, and after the Beast starts treating her with kindness, she falls in love and sympathizes with him — something that is classic of Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome, as defined by The Free Dictionary by Farlex, is characterized by three central characteristics:
- The hostages have negative feelings about the police or other authorities.
- The hostages have positive feelings toward their captor(s).
- The captors develop positive feelings toward the hostages.
It could be said that all of these easily apply to Beauty and the Beast. However, when describing what causes Stockholm syndrome, the definition refers to an FBI study in which researchers interviewed flight attendants who had been taken hostage during airplane hijackings; it was determined that three factors must occur for the syndrome to develop:
- The crisis situation lasts for several days or longer. (Beauty and the Beast presumably takes place over a lengthy period of time.)
- The hostage takers remain in contact with the hostages; that is, the hostages are not placed in a separate room. (Although the Beast and Belle, in the animated film at least, do remain in frequent contact, they are not constantly together, and Belle still has her own room and space.)
- The hostage takers show some kindness towards the hostages or at least refrain from harming them. Hostages abused by captors typically feel anger towards them and do not usually develop the syndrome. (Belle certainly feels anger towards the Beast, if refusing to go eat with him at the start of her capture is any indication. The Beast, however, does not ever physically harm her and even goes out of his way to protect her.)
So, as you can see, I’ve always been pretty torn on whether or not Belle is a victim of Stockholm syndrome, and this is a concern that Emma Watson also shared since she is playing Belle in the upcoming live-action remake. As a feminist, Emma Watson has been pretty vocal about the ways in which princesses in fairy tales have been repeatedly denied any agency in the past. This is also reportedly why she turned down the role to play Cinderella in the live-action remake before being offered the part of Belle.
She shared her thoughts on Belle’s alleged Stockholm syndrome in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly.
In the video clip, Emma Watson is asked by the interviewer, Anthony Breznican, whether she thinks Belle is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, and she reveals: “It’s something I really grappled with.”
Consequently, she “did some reading about Stockholm syndrome” (of course she did!), and she gives her reasons why she doesn’t think Belle is suffering from the syndrome:
1. “Belle actively argues and disagrees with him, constantly.”
As I’ve already mentioned, in the animated film this is certainly the case. Emma Watson explains that when the Beast is banging on Belle’s door, Belle is there banging right back! Therefore, unlike sufferers of Stockholm syndrome, she does not attempt to sympathize with her attacker in order to survive. Belle is ready to fight every step of the way.
2. “She keeps her independence.”
I can certainly see the argument for this. The Belle who I envision would not hesitate to have her own dreams or to do things by herself. It always felt like the Beast had to accommodate to her rather than the other way around.
3. “There is a very intentional switch… where Belle decides to stay.”
In the animated film, Belle attempts to escape, but she decides to stay when the Beast saves her from a pack of wolves. Although you could argue that she stays because she has developed sympathy for him, at the same time you could argue that she stays because it is wrong to leave him to die (regardless of whether he saved her or not).
4. “That’s a beautiful thing about the love story; they form a friendship first.”
We all have to admit that Beauty and the Beast is refreshing because you actually see Belle and the Beast fall in love rather than having an instant attraction and then getting married soon after. (In my mind, Disney must have a high divorce rate.)
5. “He’s a bit of an afterthought. She’s much more interested about getting out there and travelling.”
From the start of the film, it’s always made clear that Belle just wants to go out and see the world — “There must be more than this provincial life” — even though everyone around her is content and complacent with what they have. She refuses to be Gaston’s wife and does not want the future that he offers her. Although Belle reads stories of romance, she does not seem that interested in romance herself; and, in the castle with the Beast, for the most part she is more interested in the books that his library has to offer than the Beast himself.
Overall, I remain on the side that believes Belle is not suffering from Stockholm syndrome; but, like Emma Watson, I think that we should keep researching and talking about the subject. A discussion as important as this one should not be dismissed.