Andersen begins this tale with such a detailed description of the watery world, home of the sea king and his family, it becomes a very real setting. In his magnificent palace, the king, a widower, lives with his aging mother and his six mermaid daughters. Each princess has her own garden, planned with individuality, with the youngest princess wanting only rose-red flowers and a beautiful marble statue of a handsome boy, the remnant of a shipwreck.
The king and his mother have been to the surface many times, and the princesses are intrigued with their stories of the world above. As each mermaid becomes fifteen years old, she is allowed to go up and look around for herself, and each returns to tell the others what she has seen of cities, nature, and humans. These descriptions also are written very imaginatively, so that the reader may believe that one princess is frightened by a small dog, another floats on an iceberg, and a third plays with dolphins and whales. At last the youngest mermaid becomes fifteen and makes the journey to the surface.
She sees a three-masted ship, on which a party to celebrate a prince’s sixteenth birthday is taking place. The little mermaid watches the handsome prince, whom she decides she loves. There is a severe storm; the ship is wrecked; the unconscious prince is left floating amid the rubble. The little mermaid manages to rescue him before returning to her undersea home but says nothing at first to her family...
(The entire section is 600 words.)