Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Appearances

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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.

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