Hans Christian Andersen is a well known of children’s literature. He is well-known as a writer of fairy tales, along with Brothers Grimm and even Charles Dickens. Back in his time, though, he was considered much more than a children’s book author. He was also a novelist, a playwright and a poet, among others. It is no secret that Hans Christian Andersen lived a hard life. He was borne from a poor family but he was constantly exposed to the upper-class by virtue of his talents like singing, writing, etc. This fueled a thirst for him to be part of the upper-class, even if he was poor. He strived to be rich and he did. He died a prosperous man, but not without a lot of struggle and rejection.
Because of this struggles, author Jack Zipes argues that Andersen’s stories are critiques of the Danish society at the time. It’s understandable, since Andersen was in a perfect position to observe the high society: he was always in it but he was never a part of it. He yearned to be a part of it but he was always rejected. Zipes almost pictures him as a grudging sycophant, loving and hating the high society at the time.
As stories are most often reflections of realities, Andersen’s stories may as well be autobiographical in the least sense, or metaphorical. He puts his experiences in the stories he writes. Take for example Inchelina, Emperor’s New Clothes and Clod Hans.
Inchelina is one of his most popular stories. It has been translated into many languages, has been made into movies, retold and rewritten. It has been renamed. It is now popularly known as Thumbelina. The story tells of an inch-tall girl named Inchelina, who was bought from a witch/fairy by a woman who wished she had a child; then Inchelina was stolen by a toad who wanted her son to marry the girl; then she was again captured by a cockroach who decided to reject her after figuring out she was ugly; after that, she was kept by a field mouse who had a neighbor (a mole) willing to marry her. Just before the wedding to the mole, however, she was rescued by a swallow who then flew somewhere with a lot of little people in flowers – her kind – where she met her prince and married him. This story is metaphorical in a sense that Inchelina was a girl who never fit in the society. She was always deemed too small, too ugly but in reality, she was very beautiful. Inchelina was always paired off to someone she does not want, primarily because they are not the same kind. This is similar to Andersen’s plights: he never fit in his society as a small boy: he was too tall, too poor, too quiet, too awkward, but he thought, deep in his mind that he was something special, and that was what fueled him to pursue his craft. He was always rejected by people, just like Inchelina. In the end, Inchelina found her kind and was accepted. Andersen’s reality was similar: he was finally accepted in the Danish society a legitimate author.
Emperor’s New Clothes, like Clod Hans, is a more scathing remark against the Danish society. The story tells of a gullible king who was forced to walk down a road naked because he believed the scammers’ tale about weaving the cloth only smart and deserving people can see. Of course there was no such cloth, but because of pride, all the king’s men believed that they were seeing something. This is somewhat subversive, in a sense that he is actually implying that the people from the lower classes are smarter than the ones in the high society. The story also implies that the high class society is proud and would do so much as be dishonest about their selves.
Clod Hans, or Jack the Dullard, is also similar. It pokes fun at the high society, especially the intellectually “superior” by portraying them as shallow people. The story tells of three brothers who were out to impress the princess so that she would choose one them to be king. Two of them are “smart”: one was a journalist and one was a corporate lawyer. The last brother was a simple man who the princess liked because of his practicality and his honesty. He wasn’t practicing lines like his other brothers, he was the real deal. At the end of the story, we read that we should not believe what was written in the press release of the wedding because it was written by the journalist and was presided over by the corporation. It was as if Andersen was saying that all the things that come from the press are lies, driven by jealousy within characters in his social circles.
Overall, his stories are entertaining. However, his status as an entertaining writer prevented people from understanding his works in a deeper level. Zipes’ analyses might not be accurate but at least he gives away pointers that Andersen is something more serious than a writer for children. He is an astute observer of the human condition and also a very sensitive man, in a sense that he never forgets where he comes from; he always remembers everything, and most of the time takes it personally as evidenced by his works.
Andersen, Hans Christian. Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories. Trans Eric Christian Haugaard, Virgina Haviland. New York: Anchor Books. 1983. Print.
Wullschlager, Jackie. Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2002. Print.
Zipes, Jack. Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller. New York and London: Routledge. 2005. Print.