Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hans Christian Andersen

“The Little Mermaid”

This week we read two tales by Hans Christian Andersen: “The Little Mermaid” and “The Red Shoes”. Andersen’s stories are very unique in a few ways. First, his use of detail in “The Little Mermaid” is out of this world. He describes the setting in such detail that we haven’t seen before in fairy tales. He uses lots of colors, and the reader gets a very vivid picture of the under-the-sea life; for example, Andersen writes, “Outside the palace was a large garden with trees of deep blue and fiery red; the fruit all shone like gold, and the flowers like a blazing fire with stalks and leaves that were never still” (217). I love description, so for me all of these details helped me become more absorbed with the story. The Christian motif is also much more prominent in Andersen’s stories than in others we have read. In “The Little Mermaid”, her desire for an immortal soul—like humans have—motivates her desire to marry the Prince (although she fell in love with him even before she knew marrying him would give her this soul) (220). Sadly, the Little Mermaid does not marry the Prince and therefore doesn’t get an immortal soul. The story ends when the Little Mermaid dies and meets the “daughters of the air” and learns that by “three hundred years of good deeds” she can gain an immortal soul for herself (232). 

The motif of suffering in order to earn the forgiveness and salvation of God is also seen in Andersen’s “The Red Shoes”. In this story, a young girl named Karen wears her shiny red shoes to church and to a ball, against the will of her elderly caretaker. As punishment for her vanity and pride, an angel condemns Karen to perpetually dance; Karen repents for her sins and has the executioner cut off her feet so that she may free herself from the possessed shoes. When the church service comes to Karen, alone in her room, “Her heart was so full of sunshine and peace and joy that at last it broke, and her soul flew on the sunbeams to heaven, where there was no one to ask about the red shoes” (245). Andersen condemns his two female protagonists to suffer, physically and mentally, so that they may earn God’s mercy and go to heaven. The motif of repentance is much more explicit in Andersen’s stories than in other fairy tales.

An illustration of “The Red Shoes”, by John Patience.

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