Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Sin

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"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.

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