There comes a turning point, in each of these relationships, which makes the ultimate breaking of the curse possible. This happens when the beast, moving past his own hurt to see what he has inflicted, comes to love the beauty enough to let her go.
By the time the beauties dare ask for an escape, relationships have drastically improved. The beauties are still enamored with the men they meet at night, but in the daytime their relationships are friendly. One might, perhaps, cry Stockholm Syndrome, but the beauties are eager to escape, and often return only from some sense of duty, or, perhaps, an interest in the trappings of captivity, love and devotion coming slightly later. Dreams of princes and lives in palaces, however, are not enough to cure homesickness.
In The Beauty and the Beast, Beauty begs for a two month visit with her family, promising to return at the end of that time. He responds, “I can’t refuse you anything, even though it may cost me my life” (Zipes 181). He explains that he thinks he will die without her, but though he asks her to return, and though she promises to do so, the matter is left entirely in her hands. He presents her with a wishing ring which can transport her to any location she chooses, and she wishes herself away. He makes no attempt to follow her or summon her back when she passes the two month line, but sits quietly in his castle, dying of sorrow. He has seen that she deserves the freedom he was denied, and he has given it freely, no longer expecting anything in return.
The heroine of “East O’ the Sun, West O’ the Moon,” too, has expressed some homesickness, “[so] one Sunday the White Bear came and said, now they could set off to see her father and mother” (Asbjørnsen 12). She rides his back to her parents’ home, and he leaves her there, with a promise to return and a request that she not speak to her mother alone.
Of course, this is only the first act of the story, so things cannot go too smoothly. She does speak to her mother alone, and her mother raises admittedly reasonable concerns about the unseen figure her daughter is sleeping with every night. This will significantly complicate the story arc and the traditional pattern of Release and Return. After the bear sets her free, the Beauty will respond with a betrayal—worried by the conversation with her mother, she will light a candle to see with whom she sleeps at night. This violates the terms of his curse, a curse of which she was never made aware, and sets off a chain of events in which she is once more released. Left to her own devices after he is swept away by his troll stepfamily, she must make a much more serious decision to return to him, described in the following section, in order to set the story back on its natural path.
The white bear was to last one year without the girl succumbing to curiosity, and failed a month short of the goal. Had he not returned her home for that one month, the curse would already have been broken by that time, but he chooses to put her freedom before his own.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” one can see one of the greatest examples of sacrifice for the beloved. The mermaid—the beast of this story—has already given up her family, home, and voice for a chance to be with her prince, but now her life is at stake. There is no chance for a happy ending with the prince; he has already married another. She has a choice, now, having failed in her mission to win his love. Either she can die, or she can take his life instead. Provided with this escape clause by her sisters, “she looked at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes upon the Prince… and the knife trembled in the sea maid’s hands. But then she flung it far away into the waves” (Andersen 558). The mermaid chooses a beauty who cannot even return her affections over herself, and she releases him from any expectations or obligations by sacrificing her life for him.
This section begins with monsters loving in the same way they have been loved: selfishly, possessively, with little concern for the feelings of the beloved. Until they move past this, toward a purer form of love, the story is stalled. The beast must heal emotionally before he can be healed physically, and he must learn to love others not as he has been loved in the past, but as they deserve to be loved, freely and unselfishly. The beast must learn not to act like a monster before any transformation can occur. Then, “[having] truly become himself, the hero or heroine has become worthy of being loved” (Bettelheim 278).