For readers who take Andersen seriously, as an author who probes into social, psychological, and religious issues, the impossibility of designating a single worldview as Andersen’s may seem baffling. His views of life seem to fluctuate, and one text may easily contradict the next—for example, the harmonious tale “The Snow Queen” is placed next to “The Pine Tree” (1845), which ends with the unfulfilled protagonist dwindling into nothingness. A contrast can be detected by juxtaposing “The Ugly Duckling” with “In the Duck Yard” (1861). In the former, the ugly duckling goes through many hardships, but in the end all turns out well, for he is in reality a swan and has now found his true home. In the latter, a little songbird finds himself among philistines and eventually is destroyed. Both stories are strongly autobiographical: In one, a perfect future life is envisioned, and in the other a destiny that could have been Andersen’s is imagined. Andersen wrote often about artists and art, but, once again, one should not expect consistency: In “The Nightingale,” the artist is the vehicle for truth and beauty, and art is seen as a life-giving force; but in “The Flying Trunk” (1839), the artist is not only a parasite but also a subversive prophet of social change. In “The Professor and the Flea” (1868), the artist is a self-serving con man, and, in the late “Auntie Toothache” (1872), the artist belittles and rejects his own talent. Both the...
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