Beast vs Christian: Control or change? Fixation or surrender?

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

Who would have thought? I grin widely, the word progress running around my brain as I drift.
Fifty Shades Freed, p310

From the early pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian displays several unsavoury characteristics, even when you completely ignore his sadism (and I will generally ignore it for the purposes of this post).

He is overly controlling of Ana, saying that he’s afraid of losing her and knows what’s best for her. He’s also very possessive of Ana, not wanting her sexuality visible to anyone else and responds aggressively to the slightest hint of male attention directed towards her.

But, as this is trying to be a redemption story, we should judge Christian more by his behaviour towards the end of the books, rather than the beginning. After all, redemption involves change on the part of the person being redeemed.

But the sad fact of the matter is that Christian doesn’t change. 

CONTENT NOTE: This post mentions some of Christian’s coercive tactics towards Ana, including sexual violence, and quotes one of his threats of violence.

Possession is not redemption

Christian is fixated on his one wish to be with Ana. She is his absolute, his universe, his everything. EL James has embedded this theme throughout her books as he idolises Ana and emphasises that she is his.

But this is not romance.

Jesuit author, William Lynch, has written a lot on the subject of hope. According to him, there’s a difference between “absolute wishing” and “wishing for an absolute”.

“Absolute wishing” is about working the imagination to cultivate a vision of the future that can be hoped for. It’s about the imagination inter-weaving creatively with reality. Indeed, Lynch writes that it is a failure to wish that causes anxiety.

However, “wishing for an absolute” is about setting all one’s hopes inflexibly on one concrete or absolute thing. Lynch writes that this kind of wishing “is the father of the hopeless and adds that special feeling of weight that hopelessness attaches to everything it touches”. [1]

And that’s exactly what Christian does with Ana.

Because Ana – specifically and only Ana – is Christian’s embodied hope, he cannot live without her and fears losing her. This is what overflows into the lives of others when he’s aggressive and controlling. But this is not true hope. And Ana might enjoy his sex and marry him, but that is not redemption.

Ana’s “progress” with Christian

Fifty Shades Freed acknowledges that Christian has “issues” around Ana’s safety. When Ana exercises her own autonomy, going to a bar for drinks with her best friend, Christian is angry with her. Never mind her right to live as an adult or indeed the fact that she was safer in the bar than she would have been in their penthouse. When Christian takes an early flight home, it’s not to comfort her after a failed kidnapping attempt, it’s because she “defied” him.

Quite understandably, Ana is fuming with Christian over his reaction. There are even some pages in the book where Ana spells out explicitly the many objections I have with Christian (FSF, p229-230). How does he react? He’s still self-righteous and tricks her into agreeing to sex that she finds so awful she uses her safeword.

And then he goes all sorrowful and says how he needs her so – as if holding her up as his embodied hope is romantic. It’s not.

It’s a common tactic in abuse.

What’s worse, is that Ana makes no attempt to change Christian’s attitude. She comforts him by saying she’s stronger than his birth mother (FSF, p256) and therefore doesn’t need saving. When Christian says he needs Ana to need him (p258), she assures him that she does. When a blond man gropes Ana in a club and Christian punches him, Ana blames the “stupid nobody” for “derailing” Christian (FSF, p305). Contrary to Ana’s musings at the end of the chapter, this is not progress.

After Christian summarily fires one of his security detail (because he’s concerned about Ana’s safety), Ana gives him a speech about how they have the same argument over and over again (FSF, p345-346). He responds by distracting her into talking about how great sex is.

And after he goes out drinking with his ex-mistress and childhood abuser (because Ana is pregnant and now he’ll have to share her) Ana tells him how much this hurt her. He responds by being aloof and spending more time at work.

But then, strangely, Christian finally sees the light. Ana tells him she’s leaving him and he tells her can take $5m of his money and go. The thing is, this isn’t a plot twist, it’s a plot contrivance. Ana is actually lying in an effort to save his sister who’s been kidnapped. The reason for Christian’s out-of-character willingness to let Ana go is simply that if Christian had gone all domly-dominant in that conversation, then Ana wouldn’t have been able to withdraw the ransom money and save the day.

But hey, she does, and whilst she’s recovering in hospital Christian tells her how much he loves her and how he can now trust her completely.

“But no more recklessness. Because next time, I will spank the living s*** out of you.”
I gasp.
“You wouldn’t!”
“I would.” He’s serious. Holy cow. Deadly serious. “I have your stepfather’s permission.” He smirks. He’s teasing me! Or is he?
Fifty Shades Freed, p492

Because nothing says romantic as much as “you are owned by men”, “I have the right to punish you severely” and “I’ll keep you guessing about what I’ll actually do”.

Christian’s fundamental assumptions about himself and Ana don’t change.

Beast’s progressive change

Beast’s journey of reform starts when he remains silent after Belle rebukes him for not controlling his temper. Then he accepts her thanks for saving her life without begrudging what she did or the impact on him.

Then, he reaches out to her, giving her a gift that centres her, honours her, and resonates with her dreams (not his). (I wrote more on this in the previous post of this series.)

Then he starts to make an effort to adapt his behaviour, learning how not to make a mess with his food. Beast even accepts correction from a child when the teacup, Chip, prods a spoon in Beast’s direction. Although he doesn’t manage to handle it properly in that moment, he does later in the story. (Contrast with Christian, who doesn’t listen to Ana’s lucid objections to his behaviour.)

Beast is also willing to try feeding the birds with Belle – and this was her choice rather than his. Moreover, Beast is willing to receive Belle’s instruction in the process. Plus, he’s willing to engage in fun when Belle initiates a snowball fight. And, importantly, he takes it in a good spirit when he loses. Even in the special edition, Beast is willing to read falteringly to Belle despite his embarrassment at having not read for so long.

So when Beast lets Belle go, it is a natural progression from his preceding interactions with her. Having repeatedly stepped outside of his comfort zone and given up control, he demonstrates powerfully that he will not cling onto Belle as his embodied hope. He doesn’t want to be doomed, but neither is he willing to try and save himself by denying Belle her freedom. As such, he does what is possibly the bravest thing any of us can do: he surrenders himself to uncertainty.

COGSWORTH: Well, your highness. I must say everything is going just peachy. I knew you had it in you.
BEAST: I let her go.
COGSWORTH: Ha ha ha, yes. Splend– You what? How could you do that?
BEAST: I had to.
COGSWORTH: Yes, but why?
BEAST: Because, I love her.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)

[1] Wiliam Lynch, Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless, New York: Mentor, 1965

This is the fifteenth post in a series on redemption, comparing Beauty and the Beast with Fifty Shades. You can find an index of all the posts here.

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