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Every story has an outsider or someone who just is set apart from others. These characters often create a different point of view from the rest of the characters, allowing the audience to think in different ways. Outsiders are played pivotal roles in books, movies, plays, and musicals, as they move the plot in a more interesting direction. Two characters that exemplify this type of role are Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Maria from West Side Story. Both Belle and Maria start out as outsiders; Belle because her father is eccentric and she is educated, and Maria because she is Puerto Rican.
They both go on to make choices that make them even more different. Belle chooses to think for herself and falls in love with the beast. Maria chooses to fall in love with Tony from a rival gang. Although the two characters begin as outsiders through no fault of their own, they make conscious choices that separate themselves even more from their communities.
Belle is an outsider within her community. The other villagers think she is strange because she reads books and thinks for herself. They only like her for the way she looks (‘her looks have no parallel’). The people do not understand dreamers such as Belle who want more than to find a line of work or get married. There is a line from the song “Belle” that says, ‘Look there she goes, that girl is strange no question. Dazed and distracted, can’t you tell? Never part of any crowd.
‘Cause her head’s up on some cloud. No denying she’s a funny girl, that Belle!’ The other townspeople do not understand Belle for who she wants to be.
Not only is Belle labeled a ‘funny girl,’ but her not fitting in is thought to be a sin. Despite societal pressure, she keeps doing what she enjoys. Belle’s passion for education sets her apart from the crowd, and her drive to be different is what ultimately leads her to the beast. She eventually has to find her father who has been captured, but women of this time were not the ones to go out and save the day. Also in the song “Belle,” women are shown doing work such as cleaning washing clothes, while Belle is off doing her own thing.
Her father, Maurice, is an inventor, falling into the peculiar side of things, which is where Belle gets her different nature. The villagers dismiss him as insane, however, and try to have him committed. since Belle is his daughter, she automatically receives some backlash. In the film, Maurice says, “my dear Belle, you’re so ahead of your time. This is a small village and it’s small-minded as well. But small also means safe.” He explains that she’s something special, but stuck in a town that’s a bit behind the times.
Meanwhile, both Belle and Maurice find the abandoned castle, where the people who live there have deliberately set themselves apart from society. Before this all takes place, an enchantress disguised as an old beggar woman arrives at the castle during a ball and offers the host, a cruel and selfish prince, a rose in return for shelter from a storm. He refuses the rose. Due to his lack of compassion, the enchantress turns him into a beast and his servants into household objects. All of their precious memories of their loved ones and everything else is erased, so now they are alone in the castle until Belle and her father show up.
Maurice sets out on an adventure and gets lost in the forest. He happens upon the castle and seeks refuge there. Belle ultimately goes out looking for him and offers to take her father’s place as a captive, which the beast agrees to. The beast is shown as this terrifying creature. All of the furniture in the castle is eccentric and are other talking characters, such as Lumiere (the candle), Cogsworth (clock), and Mrs. Potts (tea kettle). “Be Our Guest” is the song that welcomes Belle into this other world. Belle starts to figure out that the beast is turned into a beast from a prince due to his selfishness and mean heartedness. She has to go on to teach him to be beautiful on the inside, otherwise, he will remain a beast forever.
Later in the film, the Beast saves Belle from a wolf attack, and their first not-so-great relationship begins to turn into a friendship, in which those feelings are shown in a song called “Something There.” Small hints of romance are beginning to be seen as well. This song strongly emphasizes the fact that Belle and the Beast are falling in love with one another. The main characters are beginning to think maybe something was absent within the first few hours Belle and the Beast met, causing them to clash. Earlier on, the beast claims, “she’s so beautiful and…well, look at me!” The Beast knows he’s monstrous-looking and assumes that Belle will see him just as others do. But now that the ‘something’ is here, the love is growing, and they realize they are not very different from one another after all.
The audience is positioned to root for the outcasts in the castle. Once they all embrace who and what they are – when Belle admits her feelings for the Beast, she is also acknowledging that she will not conform to society’s expectations for her – all of the so-called outsider characters are rewarded with a happy ending. If it were not for Belle, none of the other ‘peculiar’ characters would have that ending, so her willingness to be outside of the box is what makes the story turn around. The ending to Beauty and the Beast may not be quite the same as that of West Side Story. However, Belle and Maria share similar stories, even though they are shown in vastly different ways.
In West Side Story, The Puerto Ricans in general is seen as poor dirt that does not belong in America. When the gangs get into a fight near the very beginning of the musical, the Puerto Ricans sustain a great amount of abuse from the law enforcement officers. No one wants them there and they act as if the Puerto Ricans have less of a right to be there. If there had been no racism and no issues with this new immigration group, then the groups would have not been taught differently one from the other. Action, one of the members of the Jets, says, “Them PRs’s the reason my old man’s gone bust.” When the scenes cut to the Puerto Rican hangouts, they also talk a lot about how they are seen as vermin and annoyances. The policeman states one thing that really summarizes how the Puerto Ricans are treated in the movie; he says, “Get your friends out of here, Bernardo, and stay out!… Please! Boy, oh, boy…As if this neighborhood wasn’t crummy enough.’
Later on, the “Dance at the Gym” takes place. It is a scene that is essentially a challenge between the two gangs. Maria and Tony see each other there, and it seems as though they are the only two in the room amidst the obvious tension. Maria is an outsider because she is not American, but she could also be considered an outsider within her own Puerto Rican community; she falls in love with Tony, who is in the rival gang. She initially is set up to marry Chino, who is also Puerto Rican. She confesses to Anita that she is not in love with Chino, however. Maria is also a recent immigrant to America and ready to explore her new world. “It is most important that I have a wonderful time at the dancing tonight…because tonight is the real beginning of my life as a young lady of America,” she says. That gives her energy and enthusiasm that not a lot of other characters possess. She is ready to get out there and go, and she really is not afraid of the consequences, even though her brother and Anita try to keep her in.
Later in the film, the scene on the fire escape has the song “Tonight.” There is a rush of sudden new love the couple feels, along with all the overwhelming factors that they are up against: Tony naïvely believes love will conquer all the prejudices. However, Maria recognizes the dangers they face, yet she still goes along with him. Their innocent belief in love’s power is sweet, all the more so since we know the tragic outcome. There is set to be a rumble between the gangs in which Tony tells Maria he stop, but the rest of the gang has other plans which they sing about in the “Tonight Quintet.”
Happily unaware of the gangs’ plans for that night, Maria is with her friends, Rosalia, Consuelo, Teresita, and Francisca, and dreams about seeing Tony. She sings “I Feel Pretty,” where she is just giddy about her budding romance. Later, as Maria dances on the roof happily because she has seen Tony and believes he went to stop the rumble, Chino brings the news that Tony has killed Bernardo. Maria flees to her bedroom, praying that Chino is lying. Tony arrives to see Maria and she initially is very mad at him, but she still loves him. They plan to run away together. They find themselves in a dreamlike world of peace. A naive Tony believes that there is a place where he and Maria can be together happily. After Maria cries out, ‘It’s not us…it’s everything around us.’ Tony replies, ‘Then I’ll take you away, where nothing can get to us.’ This is where the song “Somewhere” falls into place. That somewhere is a place where they can be accepted.
Maria and Tony’s love is so strong. That gives Maria the strength to overcome the biggest obstacle of all: Tony’s death. Angry at the death of another friend, the Jets move towards the Sharks but Maria takes Chino’s gun and tells everyone that ‘all of them’ killed Tony and the others because of their hate for each other, and, ‘Now I can kill too because now I have hate!’ she yells. However, she does not end up shooting anyone or herself. Gradually, all the members of both gangs gather around Tony, showing that the feud is over. The Jets and Sharks form a procession and together carry Tony away, with Maria the last one in the procession. Like Tony, she is stronger than anyone else in the story, which means she gets to suffer for the world’s sins, too. Things do not go well for the innocents in this movie, and Maria is the most innocent of all. But while it may hurt her more than anyone, she can bear it. She is the one who fights for what she believes in, and although it ends in tragedy, like Belle, Maria spends the entirety of the film fighting for what she believes in.
At first glance, Beauty and the Beast and West Side Story seem like quite different musicals, but they have similarities when it comes to the two female ‘outsiders.’ One story is a fantasy, while one is realistic fiction. But they both have a female lead who is thought of as an outcast. They do not want to conform, so they both choose to be different even though they pay a price for it in one way or another. They have an inner strength that drives them to follow their hearts. Falling in love with someone from outside their community sets them apart from the crowd; it is a happy ending for Belle and a tragic one for Maria. The fact that Belle and Maria choose to go their own ways makes them more powerful. And although the films end in their own distinct manner, The women’s strength shines bright.
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