Complexity and Individualism in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”
“The Little Mermaid” is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen about a young mermaid (girl) who longs to be part of another world; the result of having fallen in love with a prince and learning how to attain an immortal soul. Fairy tales like those by the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault tend to be quite simple, in the sense that they focus on general messages and lessons surrounding common initiations, or stages of life, that we all go through as human beings. “The Little Mermaid” is far more complex than any of the Grimms’ or Perrault’s tales. Andersen Provides the reader with a more individualized, realistic experience of life and its hardships, something not typically found in other tales. Through his highly refined detail and imagery, the symbol of a voiceless woman, and the little mermaid’s decision to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of ...view middle of the document...
Despite the fact that the princess represents the mermaid’s impending death, we see here that the mermaid is beginning to realize who she is meant to be. Rather than seeing the negative, she is able to look beyond it and realize that this princess will come to represent the happiness of the prince. This richness of emotion that is present in Andersen’s words, enables the reader to be more present during the tale, placing the reader in the position of the mermaid in order to experience the hardships she is enduring while discovering who she is along with her purpose in life. To emphasize this point further Andersen removes the little mermaid’s voice, leaving her much like the women of society during his time.
By becoming a voiceless woman the little mermaid epitomizes what it means to struggle with identity while enduring a life of hardships. Before going to the surface her voice was so much a part her identity. She was happy knowing “that she had the most beautiful voice of anyone on earth or in the sea” (96)! In longing for more she willingly parts with her most precious trait, becoming a voiceless woman. Unable to express herself like she used to, she must go deeper into her understanding of who she is in order to survive, and in doing so achieve a happiness more valuable than even the most beautiful of voices. Just as she sacrifices her voice for a chance at achieving an eternal soul, she decides to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of another’s.
By making the ultimate sacrifice and forgoing her chance at happiness, all for the sake of knowing that the person she loves will be happy, the little mermaid transcends the limitations of what it means to be mermaid or human. The sylphs tell her that “[she’s] suffered and endured” and that by doing so has been given a chance to “create an immortal soul for [herself]” (101). The little mermaid’s life of struggle and endurance shows the reader that it is how we handle the hardships of life that define the reward the individual is to attain. We are shown that perseverance amidst adversity and moving forward despite obstacles will bring us to a place where we are able to appreciate what it means to truly be an individual.