Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Foreignness and "The Other"

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Foreignness and "The Other"

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.

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