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Andersen's Fairy Tales

Andersen's Fairy Tales


by Andersen, Hans Christian

Character Clues

Character Analysis


The way Andersen's characters act can tell us about who they are and what they value. For instance, in "The Traveling Companion," our young protagonist Johannes is a pious and kind dude. How do we know? When he sees a beggar, "Johannes gave him a silver coin and then walked on, happy and content, out into the wide, wide world" (7.15). Spoiler: Johannes continues to be kind throughout the story. He's not the kinda guy you'd catch punting puppies off of bridges.

Social Status

When it comes to showing off your true class status, the proof is in the pudding. Or the pea, as it were. In "The Princess and the Pea," they do the mattress test on this bedraggled chick who shows up claiming to be a princess: "Now they knew that she was a real princess, since she had felt the pea that was lying on the bedstead through twenty mattresses and twenty eiderdown quilts. Only a real princess could be so sensitive!" (3.6). Granted, not all of Andersen's nobles act nobly (some are stuck up or foolish), but most of his peasants are hard-working, earnest types. They'd rather eat a pea than let it roll around their bedding, which makes a lot more sense to us common folk.

Type of Being

Not all of Andersen's characters are human. Clearly. Some are other living beings like plants and animals, and others are objects. Take this street lamp: "It is always pleasant for the old to reminisce, and each time the lamp remembered something different, the flame inside him seemed to grow brighter" (42.4). Like any old person, the lamp likes to remember things. But since it's a lamp, its memories are not about, like, its high school sweetheart. Nope, our little lamp remembers activities that occurred on the street it was responsible for lighting. And the main character of "The Toad" is a toad that wants to go out and explore the world, while the main characters of "Five Peas from the Same Pod" are peas that also go out into the world. All these critters/beings are capable of speech and thought in Andersen-land. But if you run into any nostalgic lamps or talking toads here in the really real world, we recommend you get that checked out.

Speech and Dialogue

How people talk gives us insight into who they are. For example, there's this one mayor who tells a boy that his alcoholic mother is no good in the most condescending way: "It is a pity what happens to people of that class. Tell your mother that she ought to be ashamed of herself! And don't you ever become a drunkard, but I suppose you won't be able to avoid it" (70.8). Um, thanks for the insight into the boy's future, Jerky Fortune Teller of Doom.

Direct Characterization

Seeing as a lot of Andersen's tales are fairy tales or similar kinds of stories, we're not surprised to see the same Zen-like direct characterization techniques pop up. A lot of characters simply are. For instance, one character talks about how he inherited a happy disposition from his father, who "was lively, chubby, round, and plump, both inside and out" (62.1). And when the Finnish woman in "The Snow Queen" is telling the reindeer why Gerda's got a good shot at getting Kai back, she says: "But she must never learn of her power; it is in her heart, for she is a sweet and innocent child" (29.190). Well, that about sums it up. Directly. In your face.