Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Society and Class

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Society and Class

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!

Questions About Society and Class

  1. How is Andersen's portrayal of the social class divide similar to or different from the way things are today in your home country? How about your home town, or your very own high school?
  2. What role do artists seem to play Andersen's vision of human society?
  3. Is the social hierarchy morally justified in Andersen's view? Which of his stories support this view?
  4. Which character's fate leaves you with the worst feeling in your mouth? Why? Did social class seem to factor into your feelings of sympathy or empathy for that character?

Chew on This

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.

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