We're not saying Andersen was obsessed with social class… okay, yes, we are. Maybe it's because he was born poor and was always trying to claw his way to the top. Maybe it's because he worshiped the nobility while resenting them for holding him at arm's length. Maybe it's because, despite all that, he was dependent on the upper crust's patronage to create his art. Whatever the cause, Andersen's stories portray everyone from the Kim Kardashians of his day to the truly destitute. Some of the wealthy royals in Andersen's writing are noble of heart, so being rich doesn't automatically make a character bad. But other of his Richie Riches act like total schmucks. Andersen's sympathy for the lower class is obvious, as can be seen in "The Little Match Girl." And some of his lower-class characters manage to make it big, rather than just dying and going to heaven… which is way better than being poor in Andersen's world. Sorta like in our world? Ugh, let's turn that frown upside-down, everybody!
In Andersen's world, it is the duty of the nobility to look out for the lower-class folks.
Being pious is a better ticket to happiness than being rich.
OMG, we like, totally love Andersen. If he were still alive, we'd probably pass him a note that said, "Do you like us? Check 'yes' or 'no'." Plus, we know from Andersen's letters and diaries that that he suffered from one-sided feelings a lot, so we'd like to think our rabid Andersen-lovin' is some kind of karmic redemption for the poor guy. And, lucky for us, because Andersen sat around pining for this love stuff so much, his portrayals of love are actually incredibly creative and diverse. He wrote about everything from romantic love to platonic love, familial love, spiritual love, and more.
All these loves cause some of his characters suffering, but they also inspire them to accomplish great deeds. Furthermore, numerous obstacles are shown to get in the way of love, such as class differences, the desires of evil people, and God's will (even though God's supposed to be loving, go figure). So, even if his actual experiences of love were pretty one-sided, Andersen's tales make him seem like a bona fide expert on this love business.
Spiritual love may be the one true love, even if it's not yours.
Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars any heart… but it's still the best thing since sliced bread.
What's the deal with Andersen's obvious interest in art? There's a ton of art in Andersen's stories, from poetry to sculpture and music. There're a lot of artist characters too. We think there are two reasons for these tales being so arty farty. First, art is inspired by all of Andersen's characters favorite things: nature, human beauty, and by God. And second, Andersen was, obviously, an artist himself. And, as he knew all too well, being an artist has a bunch of pros and cons. For one, art doesn't always pay the bills. You have to convince people that your art is worth their money, time, and patronage. On the flip side, to not create art when you've got a gift for it seems like a waste of inspiriation, and, thereby, a waste of one's supposedly God-given talents. Oh, and one more thing: Andersen seems to think you shouldn't just do art for the fame. You have to believe in it. Wow, this whole "art" thing is turning out to be pretty complicated.
Either you've got it or you don't: there's no way to fake being an artist.
Andersen's tales portray more dude artists than chick artists because he was sexist, like most people of his day and age.
We're thinking Andersen was one giant history nerd, based on how much history (of Denmark and Europe in general) he includes in his stories. Famous kings and inventors pop up in his tales, and many of his characters think about the past and long for it. Some of them are haunted by old, unhappy memories, while others relive joyous memories as often as they can. But indulging in nostalgia can have a hefty price: if you live in the past too much, you'll neglect the present.
Living in the past is no substitute for living in the present.
If we can't learn from the past, we're screwed.
A lot of Andersen's stories are set in far-off locales. His characters like to travel, and they tend to encounter people from other cultures who are a bit on the strange side (those Finns and their saunas, man!). Other times, Andersen refers to the exotic-seeming customs of other cultures, like funeral pyres in India and Chinese tea-drinking. In the process, he can come off as kinda racist, and even more so when he talks about topics like the coloration of Jewish or Spanish characters. What can we say? In this way, the dude was a product of his times.
What's exotic is only a matter of perspective.
Pretty much everything must've seemed exotic to a Danish citizen of the 1800s.
Who would have guessed that the dude who wrote "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes" had some strong opinions about appearances? You, probably. Andersen seems to be trying to teach us that we shouldn't pay too much attention to appearances, since vanity is a tool of the Devil. But at the same time, he seems to think it's okay to be drawn to beauty, since God inspires artists, and He created nature to be beautiful. Hmm, way to contradict yourself, Andersen. Maybe if you can learn to appreciate beauty and art for what they are, but are not seduced into forgetting what's actually important—like loving God and all that jazz—you can get Andersen's stamp of approval. Maybe.
Beauty doesn't last, so, really, it's not all that important.
Don't judge a book by its cover, unless it's a really lousy book.
Andersen was Danish, and boy was he proud of it! Every third story or so contains some reference to Denmark, the Danish language, the Danish landscape, or Danish historical figures. So if you're not up on your Danish history or culture, Andersen will totally do you a solid and help tell you, like… everything. The way that Andersen writes about Denmark has us convinced that it's a beautiful country, filled with remarkable inventors and artists as well as sturdy, faithful peasants. Could Andersen have been seeing his country through rose-colored lenses? It's certainly possible. We'll let you know what we think once we get back from our field trip to Denmark on Shmoop's private jet.
Denmark shouldn't be so overlooked in European History courses.
Andersen's portrait of Denmark in his tales is completely one-sided.
If you read these stories not knowing anything about Andersen's life, you'd probably guess (correctly) that he was Christian. His tales contain a lot of stuff about God, angels, faith, the Bible, the afterlife, and sin (which gets so much attention that we gave it its own Theme section). Andersen reflects on what it takes to get into heaven, the various wicked things people do (that you shouldn't try at home!), and the nature of God, love, and forgiveness. Since he was writing in the 1800s, none of this surprises us. But, if you try to imagine someone publishing stories like this today, with such an obvious religious bent, we're guessing they'd be shelved in a special religious section of a bookstore, rather than having the broad appeal we tend to associate with Andersen's work… Or would they? Ann Lammott is pretty popular, right?
Andersen's vision of Christianity is ultimately optimistic.
Art is only meaningful when it serves God.
Bored of your run-of-the-mill, Everyone Poops brand of self-celebrating children's stories? Well, Andersen's tales are pretty remarkable in that they dwell on about the darker side of being human: people sin, and darkness often lives in our hearts. Andersen's take on sin is simultaneously pretty standard for a Christian and pretty optimistic. He thinks that all humans are sinners and should live in fear of God, but he also keeps reinforcing the redemptive powers of love and faith. So many of Andersen's characters learn the error of their sinning ways, and finally make it up to heaven when they repent and beg for mercy… even though they know they don't deserve it. Cuz up until now, they've been kinda crappy people.
Andersen was obsessed with writing about sin because he feared that he was a sinful (hence unlovable) person.
Andersen was optimistic about redemption because, like any good Christian, he, too, wanted to go to heaven.