The mer-king had been a widower for many years; his mother kept house for him. She was a very intelligent woman but a little too proud of her rank: she wore twelve oysters on her tail; the nobility were only allowed six. (The Little Mermaid.3)
Even non-humans have a social hierarchy in Andersen's world. Kinda gives the phrase "top dog" a new meaning, eh?
Oh, God! Poverty breaks the strongest will. (The Magic Galoshes.71)
This line from a poem by one of Andersen's characters hits the nail on the head. No matter how stubborn or driven you are, always worrying about where your next meal will come from is freakin' exhausting.
It does not matter that one has been born in the henyard as long as one has lain in a swan's egg. (The Ugly Duckling.76)
So, ultimately, like as far as the Christian God is concerned and such, nobility comes from inside of you. It doesn't matter what conditions you grow up in. But, um, it clearly helps to be born to higher-class parents. See: a lot of the other quotes in this section.
But the poor boy looked down at his wooden shoes and pulled at the sleeves of his tunic to make them a little longer. His poverty made him shy, and he excused himself by saying that he feared he could not walk as fast as the prince. (The Bell.18)
Can't afford clothes that actually fit? Sucks to be you. The poor boy in this story is super self-conscious because standing next to a prince, it's obvious just how poor his family is. Like if you were to wear your ratty old sweatpants to a restaurant that serves hundred-dollar entrees. Ouch.
Now the little girl walked barefoot through the streets. Her feet were swollen and red from the cold. She was carrying a little bundle of matches in her hand and had more in her apron pocket. No one had bought any all day, or given her so much as a penny. (The Little Match Girl.2)
Walking barefoot through the snow on New Year's Eve trying to sell matches so your dad doesn't beat you? That sounds. Well. Less than ideal. But it's probably not too far from ordinary for some people. So we're glad that Andersen draws attention to how much poor people suffer under an unjust social system.
"I know it is the fashion of the day—and many a poet dances to that tune—to say that everything aristocratic is stupid and bad. They claim that only among the poor—and the lower you descend the better—does true gold glitter. But that is not my opinion; I think it is wrong, absolutely false reasoning. Among the highest classes one can often observe the most elevated traits." (Everything in Its Right Place.29)
Interesting. So, while a lot of writers are quick to portray poor people as more noble at heart—including Andersen, in some of his other tales—the speaker in this story (a parson's son) believes that the upper class actually displays the majority of awesome traits. We're guessing that Andersen liked to have some of his characters play Devil's Advocate to his class activism.
"I respect the poor, and know that in heaven many a poor man will be seated nearer God than many rich men will be. But here on earth, a carriage has to follow the tracks in the road or it will turn over; and you two would overturn!" (She Was No Good.35)
It sounds as though this lady is actually pretty prejudiced… she's okay with poor people in the abstract, but she doesn't want her kid to marry one. Again, we think Andersen is voicing an opinion that might have been popular amongst noble people during his time, even if he doesn't necessarily agree with this view.
The general lived on the second floor and the janitor in the cellar. There was a great distance between them: all of the ground floor plus the class difference. (The Janitor's Son.1)
Your social class plays a pretty big role in where you sleep at night. Being stuck in a cellar because you're poor is probably no fun, so this quote demonstrates a pretty nice metaphor: the general lives "above" the janitor in more ways than one.
"The poor have too many chicks in their nests," grumbled the noble owner of the castle. "If they could drown some of them, as one does with kittens, and only keep one or two of the strongest, they would be better off." (The Story Old Johanna Told.12)
Yeah, that sounds like a great idea! Let's prevent the poor people from having too many mouths to feed by killing some of their children! …said no one ever. Well, apparently this noble guy said it. But, um. Ugh. Make it stop.
"Human beings are like milk. Some are churned into sweet butter and some become whey. Why should some always be lucky, be born to a high station, and never experience sorrow or want?" (The Cripple.39)
This is one of those metaphors along the lines of "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get." The quote suggests why some people are born into a life of ease and general awesomeness, while others always have to struggle: that's just the way things are, some people are rich, and some people are poor. We don't think being churned into butter sounds any more pleasant than being made into whey, but, hey, whatever works.
Cupid is a rascal! Don't ever have anything to do with him! Imagine, he once shot your poor old grandmother, right through the heart; it's so long ago that it no longer hurts, but she hasn't forgotten it. (The Naughty Boy.16)
Oh, that Cupid, always going around and shooting people with his arrows in order to make them fall in love. That doesn't make falling in love sound very appealing, does it? Maybe if you could choose whom you fall in love with, and make sure that they love you back, it wouldn't be so bad. But love doesn't work like that, at least not as far as we can tell.
Day by day the prince grew fonder and fonder of her; but he loved her as he would have loved a good child, and had no thought of making her his queen. (The Little Mermaid.85)
We like to call this getting friend-zoned! The tragedy here is that the little mermaid loves the prince with all her heart, but she can't express her love for him, since she gave up her voice in the bargain with the sea witch (we guess she never learned to write, since what could you write with under the sea?). Platonic love isn't a bad thing, but since her life's on the line, we can see why the little mermaid is pretty bummed about the whole thing.
Her delicate hands picked the horrible nettles, and it felt as if her hands were burning and big blisters rose on her arms and hands. But she did not mind the pain if she could save her brothers. (The Wild Swans.53)
Elisa will go to any lengths to save her brothers from the curse that turned them into swans, and that includes weaving nettles into shirts for them. If you've never accidentally run into some nettles, be thankful—those suckers sure sting! The fact that Elisa works with nettles day in and day out really says something about how much she loves her brothers.
The more the top thought about the ball, the more in love with her he was. And because he couldn't have her, he wanted her all the more. (The Sweethearts.13)
Okay, so this is a love story with inanimate objects as the main characters, but it still proves a point: people always want what they can't have. Ah, human nature.
But Kai sat still and stiff and cold; then little Gerda cried and her tears fell on Kai's breast. The warmth penetrated to his heart and melted both the ice and the glass splinter in it. (The Snow Queen.203)
Gerda's love helps to free Kai from the Snow Queen's spell. Guess it really is one of the strongest forces in the world.
"Life is given to use by the grace of love. How incredible it is!" (A Story from the Dunes.6)
From a religious viewpoint, yeah, God's love is what led to the creation of life and all that stuff. It seems like Andersen subscribes to this point of view, since he puts it in the mouths of his characters, and doesn't contradict them. In this case, it's a young married couple talking. They're both really religious, really happy, and really in love. Coincidence? We think not.
"Then I would take Morton, for it is he I love. But you can't live on love." (A Story from the Dunes.114)
Here's a sad truth: love won't pay the rent. Even Andersen's characters, who are good and pious, have to acknowledge that there's a gap between how love makes us feel and what love can actually accomplish.
Rudy was jealous and this amused Babette… She was so young that love was still a game to her. (The Ice Maiden.251)
If love is a game, how does one win? That might be worth thinking about before you toy with the emotions of someone who loves you, as Babette does with Rudy. They sort of break up because of it, but luckily they get back together, since they really do love each other.
"Now I know what life is," rejoiced the young man. "It is love! And it is to be able to appreciate loveliness and to delight in beauty." (Psyche.17)
We already covered the whole love = life thing, but here it appears again with an additional element. Apparently, it's also important to be able to appreciate beauty wherever you see it, whether it's in the arts or nature.
"No suffering is so heavy that true love cannot lighten it." (Godfather's Picture Book.98)
This line is written about a king's daughter who is exiled with her husband. The basic idea is that since they're together, life can't be all that bad. Our reaction: yes and no. Sure, misery loves company, and being able to share your sorrow with someone makes it suck less. But would having a loved one with you lighten a truly terrible situation? Ehhhhh.
"You poets are so happy and free. You can fly wherever you want to; the rest of us have a chain around our ankles." "True," the poet replied. "But the other end of that chain is fastened to a breadbox. You don't have to worry about tomorrow; and when you grow old you'll have a pension." (The Magic Galoshes.125-126)
Ah yes, the age-old artist vs. 9-5er debate. Artists can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and not worry about showing up to a regular job, while people holding down so-called normal jobs have a regular paycheck coming in. But maybe, in our times, this is no longer an "either/or" choice? We think there are some pretty rad, wage-winning job opportunities out there these days…
"You have rewarded me already," said the nightingale. "I shall never forget that, the first time I sang for you, you gave me the tears from your eyes; and to a poet's heart, those are jewels." (The Nightingale.70)
Please, don't repay us with your tears. Unless they are tears resulting from laughing to hard. Otherwise, read a darn book. But, we get where the nightingale is coming from: some days, a little appreciation for your work can be all the payment you need.
"You are a splendid person, a practical man, but you have no more idea of what poetry is than that old barrel over there." (The Pixy and the Grocer.4)
Hm. Are practicality and artsiness always opposed? We here at Shmoop say: do all the things!
Humanity! Can you understand the bliss in such a moment, when your spirit, your art, knows its mission? The moment when all the pain endured along the thorny path—even that self-inflicted—becomes knowledge, truth, power, clearness, and health? (The Thorny Path.23)
If you dedicate your life to pursue art or knowledge, you may be in for a world of pain. Think of that relative that's always telling you to "quit doodling" and "do something useful!" Still, you've gotta do what's in your heart.
But all too often he saw ugliness receive the praise that should have been given to beauty. The good was hardly noticed, while mediocrity was applauded instead of being criticized. (The Philosopher's Stone.18)
Clearly Andersen's not bitter about this issue or anything. While he was trying to establish himself in the art world, he, too, faced criticism for art that he poured his soul into. Clearly, we're reading his stuff now, though, so maybe the lesson here is: don't give up!
"What about something to eat? Is there anything more important than eating? A dead musician more or less doesn't matter. There are plenty more where he came from." (In the Duckyard.54)
The dead musician in this quote is actually a songbird, which a duck had killed in this story, but it's the same idea: there are a lot of wannabe artists out there who never make much of themselves. But a life without any music would be pretty miserable, we're guessing. How else could you possibly annoy your siblings on long road trips? That license plate game gets real old, real fast.
Here lived a young artist who was poor and unknown. But he had friends—other artists with the hopes and ideals of youth—who told him that he had great talent and skill and that he was a fool for doubting it. The young artist was never satisfied with his work. (Psyche.3)
This artist (like Andersen himself) feels like he has something to contribute to the world. And he does, in fact, end up making an awe-inspiring statue of Psyche. Do you think that every artist feels like he or she has a mission to make art that people will consume? Or do some artists create simply because they enjoy the process of making things?
It was as though his instrument were a human voice of such purity and beauty that all who heard it felt the ecstasy of art. His name flew from country to country, it spread like fire, the fire of enthusiasm! (The Golden Treasure.73)
This musician is apparently pretty hot stuff. If just listening to his music fills audiences with "the ecstasy of art," then yeah, we'd agree that he has a marketable skill.
Inside the farmhouse lived two young students: one was a poet, the other a scientist. One sang and wrote joyfully about everything God had created that mirrored itself in his heart. He sang about it in brief powerful verses. (The Toad.37)
Andersen loves these artist types whose work is all about the glory of God. It's almost as though he thinks that's the purpose of art: to praise God and all of creation. What do you think?
There was once a young man who was studying to be an author, and he wanted to become one before Easter; then he would marry and live by his pen. It would be easy, if only he could find something to write about, but no ideas ever came to him. He had been born too late; everything had been thought about and written down before he came into the world. (A Question of Imagination.1)
Man, it must be hard to want to be an artist when everything under the sun has already been invented, painted, and written about. How do artists these days do it? Especially today, when the Internet puts endless amounts of information (and adorable gifs) at your fingertips.
It was late and Councilman Knap, who was getting ready to go home, was so engrossed in thinking about the times of King Hans that he put on the magic galoshes instead of his own. As he stepped out onto East Street, he was back in the time of King Hans, which means that he put his foot down in half a foot of slush and mud because in King Hans's times there was no such thing as a sidewalk. (The Magic Galoshes.7)
Sure, maybe some things were better in the past, but sanitation wasn't one of those things. So we guess we shouldn't romanticize the days gone by so much? Also, since kitten memes weren't invented yet, we're really not interested anyway.
"Well," said the little girl in the tree, "some people call me Mother Elderberry; others call me the dryad; but my real name is memory. I sit in the tree that grows and grows; I can remember everything and therefore I can tell stories." (Mother Elderberry.54)
This Mother Elderberry chick, she's both a tree and the embodiment of memory. She pops up in several of Andersen's tales, not just the one that's named after her. Seems like memory is, indeed, an important thing to notice in Andersen's writing.
This was to be the last night that the old lamp would shine down upon the pavement…Other thoughts came: memories of all he had seen. He had cast his light upon many a curious sight and had seen more than all the six and thirty men of the town council put together. (The Old Street Lamp.4)
Close your eyes and imagine what the inanimate objects in your living room have witnessed. Like, whoa, right? We think Andersen's getting at something here about inanimate things being containers for human memories.
"My parents say that you are terribly lonely," said the little boy. "Oh," the old man smiled, "that is not altogether true. Old thoughts, old dreams, old memories come and visit me and now you are here. I am not unhappy." (The Old House.17-18)
So apparently awesome memories make good company and can keep you from getting lonely. So, um, let's go make some!
"The seed planted in your soul this night shall grow and produce poetry. For all that is truly good and all that is truly beautiful on this earth is not forgotten, it lives in songs and legends." (The Old Gravestone.9)
Word. So, not only do people, events, etc., that have passed survive in the memories of the living, they also survive in art! Our art is our legacy to future generations. But does art only record "all that is truly good and… truly beautiful?" Judging by the existence of some very controversial (and very famous) artists like Damien Hirst, we think not.
"I can fly now, Mother," said the child, "fly together with all the other happy children, right up to God. I would like to so much, but your tears hold me back. When you weep I cannot leave you, and I want to. Please let me go, may I?" (The Dead Child.22)
Sometimes the past can weigh you down and shackle you to earth… as in this case of a dead child who can't go to heaven because his mom keeps crying over him. Not exactly your typical example of being punished for clinging to the past, but it works.
The color of the bonnet tells of mourning, and the expression in the girl's face tells of it even more plainly. The sorrow is hidden in the heart but it will never be forgotten. (Hidden But Not Forgotten.19)
People don't exactly wear their memories on their sleeves. Just like you, we've got a lot in our hearts that's hidden, but not forgotten.
"We are the old… We should like to spend the time we have together in telling you what has happened to us and to our great-grandparents. It will be the history of a city, Copenhagen." (Godfather's Picture Book.12)
Part of the point of remembering the past is to transmit it to others. In a way, our personal experiences are what, over time, make up history. And who better to illuminate the past than a lamp? (Corny, we know.)
"In the old times they used to burn old wise women like me at the stake, and the poets had empty stomachs as well as empty pockets." (A Question of Imagination.9)
The past wasn't all fuzzy bunnies and rainbows. Some bad stuff went down, ya know? Like witch hunts, the Bubonic plague, and bellbottoms. At least only one of those came back.
Great-grandfather was such a kind and intelligent old man, we all admired him… "Old times were good times," he would say. "Life was more leisurely and you knew what to expect. Now everything has to move so fast—at a gallop—and values have been turned upside down." (Great-Grandfather.1)
There'll always be people who say, "Blah, blah, blah, the past was so great, blah." Chances are, though, these are the same people who would benefit from maintaining the old systems of government and social class. Think about it.
The windows were open so that fresh air might enter; but even quicker than the air were the mutilated arms of the beggars and the sound of their whimpering… The walls were decorated with inscriptions, and half of them had nothing pleasant to say about bella Italia. (The Magic Galoshes.186)
This poor guy wishes upon the magic galoshes that he can travel to Italy, but only misery awaits him there. Beggars are constantly asking for money, the food is terrible, and there are mosquitos everywhere. Sometimes, there's no place like home!
"In Africa, Mother," began the south wind, crestfallen. "I have been hunting lions with the Hottentots in the land of the Kaffirs…There I met a caravan; they had just slaughtered the last of their camels, to get a little to drink…You should have see the face of the merchant; he pulled his caftan over his head to protect himself and then threw himself down in front of me, as if I were Allah, his God." (The Garden of Eden.37)
Because clearly this African merchant knows so little that he'd confuse the wind with God. Er, right. Andersen sure paints a fanciful picture of Africa, but we doubt it's very accurate.
The emperor thought that they, too, should hear the bird. They did and they were as delighted as if they had gotten drunk on too much tea. It was all very Chinese. They pointed with their licking fingers toward heaven, nodded, and said: "Oh!" (The Nightingale.47)
Where to start with this one? First, how do you get drunk on tea, and why haven't we heard about this before? Does China have a monopoly on alcoholic teas? Oh, and which "Chinese" are we talking about, of the multiple ethnic groups and language groups and religious groups that make up China? Finally, what is a "licking finger"? Or do we not want to know?
"Listen to the woman's song of lament; hear the priest chant. The Hindu wife is standing on the funeral pyre, dressed in a long red gown. Soon the flames will devour her and her husband's body." (The Snow Queen.73)
The fact that this story appears as one of the many anecdotes in "The Snow Queen" is just a little odd. Like, why does burning one's self to death crop up in a kid's story? Andersen probably thought this funeral scene was all frightful and savage, so maybe it'd scare kids into behaving better, or provide the adults reading the story to kids with an added bit of freaky deaky entertainment.
Goodness me, it was hot inside! The Finnish woman walked around almost naked. (The Snow Queen.184)
Andersen had probably met actual Finnish people in his lifetime, so we're not sure why the Finnish woman in "The Snow Queen" gets portrayed so inaccurately. It sounds like her whole house is a sauna, which is impractical. It'd be like living in a spa: nice at first, but is there anything you wouldn't sweat on?
Then the airship will fly over that country from which Columbus sailed and where Cortes was born: Spain… Beautiful dark-eyed women will still inhabit its fertile dales; one will hear the names of el Cid and the Alhambra in the old songs that people will still be singing. (The Millennium.7)
It's not like Spanish people will be any different in the future, when they already have airships and other inventions. Nope, they'll still be singing looking all exotic and singing their happy peasant songs… and the land will totally still be fertile, and not ruined by all that rapidly expanding civilization stuff. Riiiight.
A N**** sits on the marble stairs of a palace in the capital of Portugal; the dark-skinned man mumbles pleading words to passers-by. He is Camoëns' faithful slave. (The Thorny Path)
This story, "The Thorny Path," was published in 1862, so that was before the U.S. had abolished slavery; Denmark, where Andersen was writing from, had abolished the slave trade even earlier. In any case, we doubt that this slave had a whole lot of choice in being "faithful" to his masters—save getting brutally beaten, killed, or (if we're going to be optimistic) managing to escape.
Years later in one of the more modest homes in a small town in Jutland, there was a poor servant of the Jewish faith. Her name was Sara. Her hair was as black as ebony, and her eyes shone with the brilliance and luster of a daughter of the Orient. (The Servant.7)
Why are we mixing our cultural stereotypes here? I'm confused. Also, newsflash to Andersen: not all Jewish people have ebony-black, lustrous hair, and all "daughters of the Orient" probably don't have googly, hologram type eyes either.
The story had taken place a long time ago. It was about a Hungarian who had been captured by a Turk: a pasha of such cruelty that he had ordered that the poor knight be treated as a beast of burden; and like a horse or a mule, the Hungarian had been hitched in front of a plow and driven forward with curses and the lash of a whip. (The Servant.11)
Eek. We doubt that actual Turkish people are, or even were, into making foreigners act like horses. But, ya know, Ye Olde Exotic Orient Is Exotic (in Andersen's head, at least).
"I think he is Jewish," said some. "He looks so dark." "He could just as well be an Italian or a Spaniard," said the minister.
Again with the dark skin = foreign and "exotic" bit. Yawn.
The princess was riding by. She was so beautiful that anyone who looked at her forgot how wicked she was; and that's why everyone was now shouting, "Hurrah!" (The Traveling Companion.50)
This just goes to show that how you look and how you act aren't necessarily related. Just in case you've never, ever realized this before: hotness does not = awesomeness.
"But if you take my voice," said the little mermaid, "what will I have left?"
"Your beautiful body," said the witch. "Your graceful walk and your lovely eyes. Speak with them and you will be able to capture a human heart." (The Little Mermaid.67-68)
Is having some great curves and some sexy moves enough to make someone fall in love with you? The sea witch apparently thinks so. As we see in the tale, though, this "talk with your body" plan doesn't go so well for the little mermaid. She really coulda used that voice thingy to stand up for herself.
Many, many years ago there was an emperor who was so terribly fond of beautiful new clothes that he spent all his money on his attire. He did not care about his soldiers, or attending the theater, or even going for a drive in he park, unless it was to show off his new clothes. (The Emperor's New Clothes.1)
Sure, we all get a little obsessed with our appearances from time to time, but it seems like that's all this emperor ever thinks about. We have to wonder who's running the empire while this guy is, like, trying to decide whether to wear the cream coat or the eggshell colored one.
Then the mechanical nightingale had to sing solo. Everyone agreed that its song was just as beautiful as the real nightingale's; and besides, the artificial bird was much pleasanter to look at, with its sapphires, rubies, and diamonds that glittered like bracelets and brooches. (The Nightingale.41)
Ooh, shiny! Who doesn't love things that sparkle and glimmer? But some of them lack substance. What's that old adage, "everything that glitters isn't gold"?
The poor little duckling did not know where to turn. How he grieved over his own ugliness, and how sad he was! The poor creature was mocked and laughed at by the whole henyard. (The Ugly Duckling.27)
It can sure suck to feel like you don't fit in cuz of your looks. But the characters in this story are all birds, right? This totally isn't a commentary on how judgmental humans can be, right? Now let's go watch Mean Girls for some real "high school is a terrible, judgey jungle" type stuff.
When the old bishop laid his hands on her head and spoke of the solemn promise she was about to make—of her covenant with God to be a good Christian—her mind was not on his words. The ritual music was played on the organ; the old cantor sang, and the sweet voices of the children could be heard, but Karen was thinking of her red shoes. (The Red Shoes.11)
Pro tip: when worshipping God, don't obsess over how pretty you look in your nice new shoes. This does not go well for Karen, and it probably wouldn't go well for you, either.
"'Now he sees your beauty, but beauty fades,' she said." (She Was No Good.35)
Okay, okay, we get it. Beauty is impermanent. So you shouldn't make important life choices, like who to marry, based solely on appearances. But people do make choices based on beauty sometimes, like when they buy a painting. When is it okay to let appearances influence your decision-making, and when is it not?
Inger dressed in her very best clothes and put on her new shoes. She lifted her skirt a little as she walked and was very careful where she trod, so that she would not dirty or spoil her finery. That one must not hold against her; but when the path grew muddy, and finally a big puddle blocked her way, she threw the bread into it rather than get her shoes wet. (The Girl Who Stepped on Bread.12)
This, dear Shmoopers, was a terrible idea. Inger ends up spending many long years doing penance as a horrible frozen statue before she can get this bread-wasting stain off her soul. So don't prioritize your appearance over food, especially not food you could feed your poor family with.
Anne Lisbeth was like milk and blood: young, gay, and lovely to look at. Her eyes were bright and her teeth shiny white. She stepped lightly in the dance; she was thoughtless and frivolous. And what did all this beauty and lightheartedness get her?… An unwanted child… (Anne Lisbeth.1-2)
Since Ann Lisbeth likes strutting around, being all beautiful and lively (which is what "gay" was used to mean back then), she ends up with an unwanted child. Um. Luckily, here in the 21st century, we know that you have to do more than look pretty to get pregnant.
The next day the master and mistress went down into the garden. They wanted to pick one of the marvelous flowers themselves... At last they called the gardener and asked him where the blue lotus flower grew... "It is only a humble flower from the kitchen garden. But beautiful it is, like a blue cactus, though it is only an artichoke." (The Gardener and His Master.31-33)
How can something so humble be so beautiful? The noble master is clueless on this front, but the gardener knows how to recognize beauty wherever he sees it, even if it's just the flower of a common (but tasty) plant like the artichoke. This seems like a worthy lesson: even common things can be beautiful, if you look at them the right way.
The more he and the ferrymen talked, the less comprehensible they were to each other. "I can't understand your dialect," he said finally, and turned his back on them. (The Magic Galoshes.20-21)
This is amusing because the councilman has been transported back in time by a pair of magic galoshes, but instead of realizing what's happened, he assumes that the ferrymen speak a different dialect than he does. Turns out there are a bunch of dialects of the Danish language, so this is actually a plausible explanation… if you've already discounted time travel, that is.
The little girl showed him the whole country of Denmark; and everywhere they went there was the smell of elder flowers; and there flew the flag with a white cross on the red background, the same one that flew from the mast of the ship on which the old sailor had sailed. (Mother Elderberry.50)
This boy hallucinates that Mother Elderberry shows him the whole Danish countryside, in all of the different seasons. Sounds like a decent way to learn to appreciate your country.
The old castle dominates the scene and deep down in its cellar, in a dark room where no one ever comes, sits Holger the Dane. He is clad in iron, his head resting in his hands. He is sleeping and dreaming… Should Denmark ever be in danger, then he will rise, grab his sword, and fight so that all the world will hear it. (Holger the Dane.3)
You've heard of King Arthur, right? And about how he's sleeping in Avalon until Britain needs him as a hero again? Yeah, Holger the Dane is like that, but for Denmark. We definitely don't want to get on his bad side.
The book lay open on the table beside him. He was supposed to learn where all the towns of Zealand were, and everything else that was important about them. The only one that he knew anything about at all was Copenhagen. (Little Tuck.2)
Even small countries like Denmark have tons of cities and towns with their own distinctive features. But, like many kids, this student learns best firsthand; lucky for him, an old lady shows up in his dreams and takes him on a tour of the towns he was supposed to be reading about. (Note: we do not necessary endorse slacking on your studies in hopes someone will magically teach you stuff while you're asleep.)
Between the Baltic and the North Sea lies an old swans' nest called Denmark. In that have been and will be hatched swans whose fame will never die. (The Swans' Nest.1)
A metaphor that equtes a country to a swans' nest… not bad, eh? Plus, the swan is the national animal of Denmark, so this metaphor packs an extra literal punch.
I am not so young any more, I have neither wife nor children or library; but I do subscribe to the Copenhagen News. It is sufficient for me as it was for my father. It is useful and contains all the news of real importance, such as, who is preaching in which church on Sunday and who is preaching in which new book on weekdays. (A Happy Disposition.4)
Apparently Andersen thinks old people only like reading about things that directly affect them. We'd like to state, for the record, that this isn't a problem unique to old people. But, c'mon, dude, there's a big world out there.
Do you know what a rammer looks like? It is a tool that workmen use when they pave a street with cobblestones. In Denmark it is called a "maiden"; and therefore, it is appropriate to use the feminine gender when describing it. (The Two Maidens.1)
Why, thank you, helpful narrator, for giving us this background information! Now we understand the premise of this story, where two of these tools think of themselves as "maidens" and consider themselves to be above the dirty manual labor they're made for. Way to fashion a whole story out of language-specific slang, Andersen.
A ship is sailing from Denmark, the man standing before the mast looks toward the island of Hveen for the last time. Tycho Brahe, who lifted Denmark's name high above the stars—and who received as reward only insults and injury—is sailing into exile in foreign lands. (The Thorny Path.20)
Tycho Brahe, for those not in the know, was a famous Danish astronomer. He made a lot of contributions to astronomy but wasn't appreciated in his homeland, so he eventually left for other parts of Europe. Kinda like Andersen… Hm…. Coincidence?!
The railroad here in Denmark stretches only from Copenhagen across Zealand to Korsør. It is a string on which many pearls are strung. Of such pearls Europe has many; the costliest are Paris, London, Vienna, Naples…Yet many a person does not consider these great cities the most beautiful pearls, but instead points to some little, humble, unknown town, for that to him is home, there live those whom he holds dear. (A String of Pearls.1)
So maybe Danish cities can't compete with other, better-known cities in Europe for titles like "Raddest City in Europe, 1857," but Andersen's believes that little towns have a charm all their own. Because every little town has people in it that make it their home.
"Copenhagen's history is filled with consolations: Hans Christian Oersted's discoveries were building a bridge to the future. A great building was being constructed to house the sculpture of Thorvaldsen. All the people of Copenhagen, rich and poor alike, had given money to make it possible." (Godfather's Picture Book.139)
Even in the middle of some nasty wars and such, the people of Copenhagen were interested in and inspired by science (represented by Oersted, a physicist) and the arts (represented by Thorvaldsen, a sculptor). Kudos to you, Danes.
"We can live until we are three hundred years old; but when we die, we become the foam on the ocean. We cannot even bury our loved ones. We do not have immortal souls. When we die, we shall never rise again… But men have souls that live eternally, even after their bodies have become dust." (The Little Mermaid.47)
Sorry to ruin a childhood favorite, but the original "The Little Mermaid" is totally about religion. Mer-people are screwed in that they don't have immortal souls the way humans do, and so part of the little mermaid's reason for wanting the prince to marry her is so that she can gain a soul. To be honest, we're not sure exactly how this math works out: 1 soul + 0 souls = 2 souls?
The queen's pale cheeks took on a pinkish shade, and her eyes became big and clear, as from the pages of the book grew the world's most beautiful rose, the one that grew from Christ's blood on the Cross. "I see it," she said. "And those who have seen that rose, the most beautiful in the world, shall never die." (The World's Most Beautiful Rose.14-15)
So, Christ's blood is a rose, and it'll grant people eternal life. But the rose also heals this queen who's sick, because some wise doctor said that she'd be healed when she saw the world's most beautiful rose. So, is Andersen implying that religion can heal the body as well as the spirit? Maybe so, amigos.
The most sacred of all the days of our life is the day we die. It is holy, it is the great day of change, of transformation. Have you ever seriously thought about the hour that is certain to come and will be your last hour on earth? (On the Last Day.1)
Well that was morbid. This story is like the goth kid of the Andersen story family, all decked out in skulls and chains and dark eye makeup. So, why is the day of your death the most important day in your life? Because religion. What you believe and how you live will influence what happens to you when you die. If you agree with Andersen, that's a darn good reason to believe in God and live a good life.
"If your daughter is to continue in school, then she must become a Christian," he began, and then he tried to explain, "I see in her eyes such longing; it's as if her very soul sought Christ's teaching." (The Servant.5)
Yeah, sometimes people convert to other religions. It happens. But the fact that Andersen wrote a story about a Jewish girl longing to become a Christian reveals which religion he thinks people should convert to, if they're gonna do it at all.
"How absurd it would seem if the bow and the violin should be proud and haughty about their accomplishments. Yet we, human beings, often are; the poets, the artists, the scientists, and even the generals often boast in vain pride. Yet they are all but instruments that God plays upon. To Him alone belongs all honor. We have nothing to pride ourselves upon!" (The Pen and the Inkwell.7)
This poet's musings on the nature of art pretty clearly state that even the best artist is just an instrument of God. Anyone who gets too proud or vain is fooling himself or herself, since God is the real creative genius at work. It's amusing to see this view coming from Andersen, who so clearly sought recognition for his writing. Hypocritical much?
He had plenty of time to contemplate his fate. Why had all this happened to him? This would all be explained in the life after this, which he knew awaited him. This faith in eternal life had grown within him in the poor cottage on the dunes and was now beyond doubt. (A Story from the Dunes.130)
Some of Andersen's characters are absolutely certain that there's a life after this life, and that God exists, and all that Christian stuff. It usually brings them comfort. So it seems like Andersen is saying that religious faith can be a positive force in people's lives.
From prison directly to an almost heavenly freedom, to love and friendship; that also Jurgen was to try. No man would offer another man a glass to drain that contained nothing but bitterness. How should God then be able to do it, He who is all goodness? (A Story from the Dunes.137)
And here's that old religious conundrum: If God is so good, why do bad things happen in the world? It's comforting to know that even a pious, smarty pants like Andersen struggled to answer this question for himself.
"Amber is the most beautiful incense; from it comes the smell of God's great church: Nature." (The Sunshine's Story.18)
Nature = God's great church. It's a cool metaphor, if you think about it. So, like, could hiking be a form of prayer? Is littering an actual sin?
His bookshelf was filled with books, and one of them, which he called the book of books, he read often. It was the Bible, and in that was the whole history of the world and humanity: the creation, the flood, and the King of Kings. "Everything that has happened or will happen is written about in that book," claimed Godfather. "So much in one book, that is worth thinking about!" (What the Whole Family Said.9-10)
The Bible is the number one best seller of all time for a reason. But we here at Shmoop think there are other books out there that are worth reading as well. Like Andersen's, for example.
"Why, children are a blessing sent by God. Every child is one more prayer rising to heaven. For each little new mouth to be fed, one works a little harder, tries a little more. God will not desert one if one does not desert Him." (The Story Old Johanna Told.13)
This is a nice idea. But that last bit, about how God won't desert people who don't desert Him, sounds a little bit like victim blaming. Plenty of people have faith in God but still live and die in poverty. Is it their fault for not believing strongly enough? We're not entirely sure what to do with this line of religious thinking.
"What have I done?" he sighed. "I have sinned as Adam did. Sinned and caused paradise to sink deeper into the earth." (The Garden of Eden.93)
No, friends, that's not an exaggeration: this dude literally messed up badly enough to cause paradise (a.k.a the garden of Eden) to sink deeper into the earth. Sucks to be him. Or, ya know, any human being at all, since in Andersen's Christian view, all humans are sinners.
The executioner opened his door and came outside. When he saw Karen he said, "Do you know who I am? I am the one who cuts off the heads of evil men; and I can feel my axe beginning to quiver now."
"Do not cut off my head," begged Karen, "for then I should not be able to repent. But cut off my feet!" (The Red Shoes.36)
Well, this is a gruesome little exchange. Karen knows that she sinned and now she wants to repent. But she can't repent if she's dead. So it's apparently better to have an executioner hack off your feet than it is to die from dancing yourself to death in a pair of cursed red shoes. We'll keep that one in mind.
The soul bowed down lower and lower as the godly wisdom entered him; and at last he felt what he had never felt before: the burden of his own arrogance, hardness, and sin. (On the Last Day.27)
So this dude dies, and his soul goes on a journey and finally reaches heaven. But before he can get in, he has to recognize that even though he's lived a more or less good life, he—like all other humans—is full of sin. We guess there is something kinda nice about admitting that none of us are perfect, right?
"For a kiss is not a sin between two people who really care for each other." (She Was No Good.33)
This quote seems to position love as a force potentially more powerful force. But, uh, who could judge whether two people really care for each other, and aren't just candy heart-deep in an endorphin-fueled crush?
"There is an old legend about a saint who was ordered to experience one of the seven deadly sins. He decided that drunkenness was the least of them. But as soon as he got drunk, he committed the other six sins." (The Watchman of the Tower.23)
"A saint walks into a bar…" Ba-dum-tsh! This quote serves as a good reminder that if even a saint can mess up and fall into sin, any of us can. After all, we're only human.
She heard her master and mistress, who had been like parents to her, talking. "She was a sinful child," they said. "She did not appreciate God's gifts but stepped on them; it will not be easy for her to find grace." (The Girl Who Stepped on Bread.27)
When Inger is punished for stepping on the bread she was supposed to bring to her folks, part of the punishment involves hearing what people on earth are saying about her. So all day long she gets to hear about what a sinning, good-for-nothing girl she was. That is, until she finally accepts the truth of those comments. Because that, folks, is the first step to redemption.
Within our hearts are all virtues and vices—in yours and in mine! They lie there like grains, so small that they are invisible; then, from outside a sun ray or an evil hand touches them. You turn a corner, whether to the right or to the left may be of supreme importance. And the little seed grows til it suddenly bursts and enters your blood. From then on it directs where you will go. (Anne Lisbeth.38)
What Andersen seems to be saying here is that we're all equally capable of being good or bad. But various factors determine which of these "grains" will grow inside of us. External forces will shape us into the people we are today, stimulating our impulses toward piousness or evil. Doesn't exactly sound like we have a whole lotta free will in the process, huh? Andersen seems to think a Christian's free will lies in the choice to accept that we're all sinners. So, repent, repent, repent, people.
She remembered the words she had spoken and what she had wished for Rudy's sake and her own. "Woe is me! Was the seed of sin in my heart? Would my dream have been my future, had not the string been snapped for my sake? Oh, how wretched I am!" (The Ice Maiden.338-339)
Babette, Rudy's bride-to-be, thinks it's a good thing that Rudy died before they got married… because otherwise she would've sinned by being unfaithful. Oh, the huge manatee! Er, the humanity. But, we wonder what Rudy would think of Babette's logic.
Unclean, evil thoughts come from inside yourself, he learned. What were these strange flames that seemed to set his body on fire? Where did the evil come from that he wanted no part of, yet that always seemed to be present within him? (Psyche.58)
Yep, here we are again. To be human = to be a sinner. Trust in this, trust in God, and you cool (by Andersen's Christian standards, at least.)
"Those beatings I get now would have done me good when I was a child. I suppose they come now because of my sins. How my husband beats me everybody knows, but the good that man has done me only I know." (The Family of Hen-Grethe.75)
Let's get this straight. Domestic violence is totally fine when the woman believes that she's being punished for her sins? No, no, no. And everyone should beat their kids, because then they'll grow up into less evil adults? Um, we doubt that. But we'll give each other a few smacks over here at Shmoop and let you know if we start writing better jokes.